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Contrarian thoughts on increasing the Afghan Army/Police

July 19, 2009

imagesThe latest idea to stabilize an increasingly chaotic Afghanistan has been to increase the numbers of troops in the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police over the next several years.  To be contrarian:

Increasing the size of the Afghan Security Forces (ASF) beyond current levels would undermine Afghanistan’s ability to maintain a stable, self-sustaining fighting force even with significant long-term foreign financial support and military assistance.   By tripling the manpower in the ASF over the next several years at the cost of $10-20 billion may further weaken the already fragile Afghan government because:

Afghanistan cannot independently afford increased military expenditures.
The annual budget for Afghanistan is $1.1 billion; an annual approximate $2 billion increase in the military budget would dwarf the nation’s ability to maintain these forces without prolonged, sustained foreign assistance.

•    Afghanistan’s GDP is approximately $10.2 billion, according to the Afghan Central Statistical Office; without a rapid expansion in the national economy, Afghanistan would not be able to sustain such expanded military infrastructure for many years into the future.

•    Many military aged males are illiterate, suggesting the average Afghan recruit will require rigorous training programs to overcome deficiencies in education to become an effective military professional.

Expanding the ASF will probably undermine current infrastructure. Tripling the size of the military’s manpower in less than a decade without requisite long-term institution structures in place will probably cause much misallocation of funds and spur corruption, and even perhaps assist the Taliban.

•    Increasing Afghanistan’s National Army from 90,000 men to 260,000, and the Afghan National Police from 80,000 to 140,000, will overwhelm Afghanistan’s current military infrastructure, as well as cause many bottlenecks in logistics, procurement and training.

•    A rapid increase in military funding without effective, aggressive oversight probably will create significant bureaucratic bloat, waste and corruption, as well as provide the Taliban or Taliban sympathizers the opportunity to infiltrate the ASF with relative ease.

images-1Afghanistan’s ethnic divisions may undermine ASF unity and sap fighting spirit. It remains unclear whether members of various ethnic groups would be willing to serve under the leadership of another ethnic group, especially if there is a perceived bias toward a specific ethnic group in the military.

•    Afghanistan’s population have had a long history of warring with each other, often along ethnic lines; a rapid expansion of the ASF might exacerbate these tensions, leading to armed conflict within the organization.

•    Afghanistan’s lack of effective national institutions and weak nation-state status suggest individual soldiers would prefer to maintain loyalty to a particular ethnic or confessional group over a national institution; furthermore, it remains unclear whether ethnic Pashtuns – who make up approximately 40% of the country – would be willing to effectively combat the ethnic Pashtun Taliban in an expanded ASF.

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