War on Terrorism

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Report Points to Afghan Progress, Challenges

 By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 30, 2014 – While Afghan security forces did an outstanding job protecting their people during the April election, they are not yet ready to shoulder the burden alone, according to the Defense Department’s congressionally mandated semiannual Report on Security and Stability in Afghanistan.

The report, released to Congress today, said Afghan forces grew in numbers and capabilities over the reporting period that ended March 31, and held their own against the insurgency.

Disrupting the April 5 election was an insurgent goal, yet their “territorial and kinetic capabilities remained static,” according to the report.

The election was a test of Afghan forces and the electoral process, and all reports indicate they did well. “The [Afghan national security forces] and Afghan election institutions laid the groundwork for a successful election, registering millions of voters and securing thousands of polling sites, with minimal international assistance,” the report said. “These preparations far surpassed Afghanistan’s efforts in the 2009 and 2010 elections.”

Afghan forces defended the election sites and prevented high-profile attacks across the country. Voter turnout was high.

The election is just one example of the real progress Afghanistan has made, the report says, noting that the government maintains control of the cities and all provincial capitals. Insurgent attacks are away from these centers. Polling data shows most Afghans view the security forces favorably. Afghan forces now conduct almost all operations independently.

American and coalition casualties are a quarter of what they were in 2010, the report says, and violence indicators are down from a year ago. These include a 2 percent drop in enemy-initiated attacks, an 8 percent drop in complex attacks and a 24 percent drop in improvised explosive device events.

Still, there are challenges. Logistics and sustainment capabilities lag well behind the operational progress. “Afghan National Army attrition was higher than its target, and corruption continued,” the report says. “Although the International Security Assistance Force continues to develop capabilities, [Afghan forces require] more time and effort to close four key high-end capability gaps that will remain after the ISAF mission ends on December 31, 2014: air support; intelligence enterprise; special operations; and Afghan security ministry capacity.”

International funding and coalition force assistance will be critical to sustaining the force after 2014, the report says. If a second-round runoff election is required -- and indications today are that it will be -- securing the runoff during the summer fighting season will test Afghan forces.

But uncertainties dog signs of progress. Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s refusal to sign the already negotiated bilateral security agreement with the United States means uncertainty for what follows the end of the International Security Assistance Force mission. No coalition country can forecast their post-2014 presence. The Taliban are trying to capitalize on the absence of an agreement to instill fear among Afghans.

While NATO planning has been for a post-2014 force to train and advise with 8,000 to 12,000 troops, President Barack Obama has not yet made any decision on the number of U.S. troops that may be kept in Afghanistan if the Afghan government signs the agreement.

Part of this effort is because of the lack of logistics expertise. From the ministries down to the tactical level, Afghanistan’s national government faced a major challenge in developing an effective, integrated logistics and sustainment system for the Afghan forces, the report says, adding that a lack of trained maintenance technicians, combined with a logistics system that struggled to resupply units in the field, adversely affected every component of Afghanistan’s security forces. Afghan forces relied on coalition forces for limited enabler support, particularly in the areas of close-air support, casualty evacuation, logistics, counter-IED, and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance.

Problems in the government mean Afghanistan cannot capitalize on security gains. “Challenges in governance and sustainable economic development slowed the reinforcement and consolidation of security gains,” the report says. “Ongoing insurgent activity and influence inhibited economic development and improvements in governance. Predatory corruption, criminal patronage, weak rule of law, and reliance on the funding for the insurgency from narco-trafficking are factors which hindered the ability of the [Afghan forces and the national government’s local] governance structures to maintain a secure environment and provide essential service delivery.”

Immature infrastructure exacerbates these problems, the report adds.

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