Grow the ANSF

"Grow the ANSF"

By ISW Senior Fellow Lieutenant General James M Dubik, U.S. Army (ret.),       December 1, 2009

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Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal reports that President Obama has rejected General McChrystal’s request to rapidly double the size of the Afghan army and police to 400,000.  According to the article, the President has opted instead to increase the Afghan forces more gradually to 200,000.    Such a decision, if the report is accurate, would be short-sighted and counterproductive.  To succeed in Afghanistan, the President must add U.S. forces and rapidly expand the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF).   
The 400,000 total Afghan army and police called for by General McChrystal is about  200,000 less than the size of the Iraqi Security Forces—and Afghanistan is larger, more populous, more geographically compartmentalized, with less road infrastructure, and fighting a rural insurgency.  The Afghans need to be able to secure their own population, and 400,000 might well prove to be the minimum requirement, not the cap.

The Afghan Army can, indeed, grow rapidly to a large end-strength.   I conducted a study of this issue in Afghanistan in July 2009, and concluded that it would be possible to reach 134,000 Afghan soldiers in a fourteen-month period, the timeframe requested by Defense Minister Wardak.  Additional soldiers would be trained thereafter to reach an end-strength of 240,000.  Growing a professional police force to 160,000 would require more time, but could be accomplished. Partnering of Afghan and Coalition units during a surge, as we did in Iraq, would ensure that the new forces grew by leaps and bounds in size, capability, and confidence.

Had we not grown the Iraqi Security Forces by 125,000 during the 2007-2008 counter-offensive while improving their capability and confidence at the same time, we would not have been in the position to negotiate the Status of Forces Agreement—as we did—nor would we be able to reduce our troop presence under satisfactory security conditions—as we are.  One of the key lessons we should have learned from Iraq is that we can act simultaneously, using a counteroffensive to wrest the initiative from the enemy and to accelerate the growth of local security forces.   

Given the fact that President Obama seems concerned about how to reduce U.S. presence in Afghanistan after a surge, expanding the quality and quantity of the Afghan forces ought to be a priority.  Without sufficient, capable Afghan forces, it will be more difficult to reduce U.S. troop presence.  And expanding the ANSF, though costly, is certainly more cost-effective than maintaining the large U.S. footprint that would be required to secure Afghanistan if the ANSF is not ready to handle security.  A decision to limit the growth of the ANSF would be penny-wise, pound-foolish.

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