Afghanistan Under Security Transition
By: Osman Khan
The clock appears to be running faster towards advancing US and other troops scheduled withdrawal in 2014. The milestones initially set for the plan to unfold are being achieved faster then anticipated. Considering the huge US financial and material investments made in Afghanistan’s war over the decade, the haste being shown by the United States in quitting Afghanistan is becoming unprecedented. The surge in terror activities and associated rampant killings in Afghanistan in the first four months of the current years, supposedly the year in which relative peace could have heralded a successful end of the war and exit of foreign forces in Afghanistan on a winning note, the confusion and anxiety amongst Afghans on their fate beyond 2014 has increased manifolds. An independent security group in Afghanistan has already warned that the year 2013 is on track to be one of the most violent years of the war.
With the increase in violence the persistent doubts over US commanders in Afghanistan proclaiming that Afghanistan National Forces (ANF) are trained enough and equipped with all the modern weaponry to thwart Taliban’s bid to retake Kabul once they quit Afghanistan are coming true. Just recently, on April 21, Afghan insurgents killed six police officials at a check point and a suicide bomber killed three civilians at a shopping market in eastern Afghanistan. To add to the growing environment of doom, a private helicopter made an emergency landing in eastern Afghanistan and nine surviving passengers were taken into custody by the Taliban. The confusion on the identity of the passengers persists. Some say they were Russians and Turks whereas Taliban say that they belonged to NATO or US forces. So far, as one Afghan based NGO has estimated that in the first quarter of the current year, a huge figure of 2331 Taliban initiated attacks were registered, a forty-seven percent rise if we consider the same time period during, 2012. This should raise serious concerns amongst the international community especially when a negotiated settlement of the Afghan imbroglio in Doha, Qatar is nowhere in sight.
In the coming few months, security responsibilities across Afghanistan will be handed over to Afghan forces. The NATO/ISAF commanders nevertheless say that Afghan forces will continue to have a back-up available in the shape of their combat forces presence till the time they are in Afghanistan. An ISAF commander, Lt Gen Nick Carter showed his unease over the rate of attrition that the Afghan forces have been exposed to while NATO/ISAF and US forces look towards an expedited withdrawal from the war in Afghanistan. while talking to BBC on the issue the General said that “ what we cannot afford the Afghans to do during the course of this summer is to fall...we regard Afghan confidence as our center of gravity.”
As the confusion amongst the Afghan war commanders on the dynamics of speedy withdrawal on security aspects in Afghanistan surges, General Joseph F Dunford, who has replaced General John Allen as the US commander of ISAF in Afghanistan, has inherited great responsibility to train the ANFs to a level where they can effectively confront inimical forces challenging the security and integrity of Afghanistan beyond 2014. The current spring season in Afghanistan is being touted as a milestone that has transformed the role of foreign forces deployed in Afghanistan from combat to support, training, advising and assisting Afghan forces. In a joint press conference with the visiting Afghan President in January this year, President Obama declared that “...by the end of the next year, 2014, the transition will be complete – Afghans will have full responsibility for their security, and this war come to a responsible end.” How did he come to conclusion in the absence of any guarantee that Taliban will stop fighting by then and that peace will prevail in that country by year end 2014 remains a big question mark. Obama’s statement indicate that come what may, victory will be declared sometime during 2014 to provide US forces an alibi to quit Afghanistan. President Obama’s declaration during a televised debate with Mitt Romney, the Republican Challenger in the run up to the last US elections had also made his intentions clear when he said that,” There is no reason why Americans should die when Afghans are perfectly capable of defending their own country” also points to that would be proclamation of victory in Afghanistan.
Afghans working in the government or non governmental organizations are increasingly getting worried over the prospects of Taliban regaining the seat of power in Kabul. With the fading away of gigantic funds with which the Americans previously managed to buy Afghan loyalties and their own security throughout their deployment in Afghanistan, many of the Afghan employees working in those organizations may be laid off. This apprehension coupled with the prospects of Taliban returning to power in Kabul, has put such Afghans in a state of sheer frustration and anxiety.
The total strength of Afghan security forces as it stands today is 350,000. Out of this huge number, many are novices and need full training and equipment. The ISAF is rushing up through training the ANFs to enable them take over security duties as soon as possible. General John Allen, the former ISAF commander on the eve of his departure admitted that ANFs are still not effective and self sufficient fighting machine. This leaves a big question mark on the ability of Afghan Forces to handle security in Afghanistan which the large deployment of foreign forces in Afghanistan for over a decade could not handle. The financial pledges made in Tokyo or elsewhere by international community beyond 2014 will in no way contribute towards improving the security environment in Afghanistan. What Afghanistan needs is an immediate and a sincere effort by the international community to enable various Afghan stakeholders reach a political settlement much before foreign forces quit Afghanistan in 2014.