Afghan army and police forces must grow much larger

Afghan army and police forces must  grow much larger

The Washington Examiner, National Security Column, August 18, 2009

By Dr. Kimberly Kagan, ISW President



More U.S. troops are needed in Afghanistan in part because there are too few Afghan National Security Forces, and they are not yet effective enough to conduct counterinsurgency missions. The growing strength of the insurgency and the limitations on the ANSF create a security gap that only additional international forces will be able to fill over the coming few years.

Yet achieving the president's stated objective of establishing an Afghan state that will not provide sanctuary to al Qaeda requires an ANSF that can control the territory of Afghanistan with reasonable external assistance. Only the development of a much larger and more effective ANSF will permit the gradual withdrawal of international -- especially American -- military forces from combat roles.

American policy decisions under President George W. Bush limited the size and growth rate of the ANSF because Afghanistan -- the fifth poorest nation in the world -- could not pay for the force over the long term. President Barack Obama's March 27 speech outlining his new policy in Afghanistan committed to only a modest acceleration of ANSF growth, but no expansion of the size of the force. According to the current strategy, the Afghan National Army will grow from 90,000 to 134,000 by the end of 2011, instead of 2014. The Afghan police force will grow from 82,000 to 87,000 in the same time period.

But Afghanistan is 50 percent larger than Iraq with a population of about 32 million. The 221,000 combined soldiers and police in the projected force will not be enough to maintain public order in the face of continued insurgent and terrorist attacks. Iraq today, by contrast, has more than 600,000 troops in its army, police and counter-terrorism forces for a population of 28 million. In 2007 alone, the Iraqi Security Forces grew by more than 100,000 troops, a critical factor in extending the success of the surge and permitting the ongoing reductions in American forces in Iraq.

The threats facing Iraq were greater than those that face Afghanistan -- Iraqis fought al Qaeda and associated movements, Iranian-backed extremist groups and sectarian violence, whereas Afghanistan faces only a Pashtun insurgency. On the other hand, Afghanistan's terrain is far more daunting than Iraq's. Terrible roads and poor communications require forces in Afghanistan to be dispersed into more self-contained elements. The much greater complexity of Afghanistan's ethnic, linguistic and tribal groupings also argues for more security forces.


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