By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Nov. 8, 2013 – Afghan soldiers and police are holding the hard-won gains International Security Assistance Force personnel took during the surge, but they will require more support to be successful, according to a report Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel sent to Congress today.
Afghan forces are defending their fellow citizens, but sustaining those forces remains a problem, according to the Report on Progress Toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan -- also known as the 1230 Report.
The report says there has been a fundamental shift in the battle in Afghanistan with the move to Afghan forces in the lead.
"During the 2013 fighting season, the [Afghan National security forces] led the fight, and have consolidated [the Afghan government's] control of Afghanistan's urban areas," the report says. "The fact that the ANSF -- a force in its infancy five years ago -- can now maintain the gains made by a coalition of 50 nations with the best trained and equipped forces in the world is a significant accomplishment."
Afghan forces now conduct 95 percent of conventional operations and 98 percent of special operations in the country. Compared to last year, there has been a six-percent drop in enemy-initiated attacks, a 12-percent drop in security incidents and a 22-percent drop in improvised explosive device events.
This has had a cost. Casualties to Afghan forces increased 79 percent compared to the same period last year. Casualties for the NATO-led coalition dropped 59 percent. Insurgents also consolidated gains in some of the rural areas in which it has traditionally held power.
The International Security Assistance Force continues a large advise-and-assist effort and provides many supporting functions to Afghan operations. These include logistics, maintenance, airlift support and close-air support.
"This enabling support will decline through 2014 and will be difficult for the ANSF to fully replace," the report says. "ANSF capabilities are not yet fully self-sustainable, and considerable effort will be required to make progress permanent."
With the conclusion of the NATO mission slated for the end of 2014, sustaining the Afghan forces "will be at high risk without continued aid from the international community and continued coalition force assistance including institutional advising," the report says.
"With assistance, however, the ANSF will remain on a path towards an enduring ability to overmatch the Taliban," the report added.
If you could look at Afghanistan solely through security glasses, the view is encouraging. But military progress is only one aspect of what is needed.
"In addition to uncertainties about ANSF sustainability and challenges to security outside of urban areas, challenges with the economy and governance continue to foster uncertainty about long-term prospects for stability," the report says.
This uncertainty causes Afghans to hedge their bets and exacerbates instability. While the economic situation in the country has improved, Afghanistan remains one of the poorest countries in the world. International aid will continue to be the mainstay of the country's economy.
"The Afghan government is increasingly able to execute parts of its budget and to deliver very basic goods and services," the report says. But corruption and inefficiency, the report added, remain as problems.
Looking ahead, the Afghan military gains remain dependent "upon the size and structure of the post-2014 U.S. and North Atlantic Treaty Organization presence, the Afghan election in 2014, the level of international support provided to Afghanistan after 2014 and whether Afghanistan can put in place the legal and other structures needed to attract investment and promote growth," the report says.