The US Taxpayers Spent More Than $18b To Equip The Afghan Army, Yet The Taliban Are Winning
While the dual-hatted US/NATO commander in Afghanistan is largely responsible for reconstructing the Afghan security forces, as with all NATO operations, the commander lacks absolute authority to dictate the exact methods and activities each NATO country must use when training, advising, or assisting the Afghan security forces and the Afghan ministries of defence and interior.
This impeded the standardisation of security assistance programs and failed to optimize the international community’s significant contribution.
These are the findings of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, which has launched a latest lessons learned report ‘Divided Responsibility: Lessons Learned from US Security Sector Assistance Efforts in Afghanistan’.
The report examines the patchwork of security sector assistance programmes undertaken by dozens of US entities and international partners to develop the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF), Ministry of Defense (MOD), and Ministry of Interior (MOI) since 2001.
The other main points of the SIGAR report are:
There was no single person, agency, military service, or country responsible for the oversight of all US and international activities to develop the Afghan security forces. Even within the US government, no organization or military service was assigned ownership of developing key components of the mission.
The United States taxpayer has expended more than $18 billion to equip the Afghan security forces, providing over 600,000 weapons; 70,000 vehicles; and more than 200 aircraft.
While advisory experience is preferred in Security Force Assistance Brigade (SFAB) personnel, about 20 per cent of the 1st SFAB had never previously deployed. Even though the Army offered a number of incentives for volunteers, the 1st SFAB was filling billets right up until its deployment. Advisor roles continue to be seen as not career enhancing, which contributes to high attrition rates – up to 70% – limiting continuity and institutional memory.
While pre-deployment training for SFAB units has improved, training still fails to provide instruction tailored specifically to the SFABs’ mission in Afghanistan. For example, many advisors were unaware that the Afghan security forces prioritize the evacuation of deceased personnel over critically wounded based on religious customs. Knowledge of these critical command and control relationships and important aspects of Afghan military culture are important for U.S. advisors to be successful from day one of their deployment.
It is difficult to judge the true impact of the SFAB’s deployment because the units lack a monitoring and assessment tool to assess their Afghan counterparts and mid-deployment reassignments such as having to switch from advising an Afghan army unit to an Afghan police unit.
While the pseudo FMS process allowed the United States to rapidly equip the Afghan security forces, the United States was unprepared to take on the responsibility of equipping a force at the scale required in Afghanistan.
The Afghan security forces have just 38 armoured ambulances for 352,000 authorised personnel. The Afghan Ministry of Defense has requested that the US provide additional armoured ambulances. In 2017 alone, the US Army sent 287 surplus armed ambulances to be destroyed, rather than provide them to the Afghan military.
If and when the US military transitions to a more traditional security cooperation mission in Afghanistan, the Afghans will need to be able to play a larger role in the direction, execution, and tracking of their own equipment procurement, training contracts, and sustainment.