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Matt Zeller Headshot

The End of the Afghan War?

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Mark your calendars. The War in Afghanistan entered its final phase on Sept. 18, 2012 with ISAF's announcement that its forces will suspend partnering with the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) below the Kandak (battalion level).

The current draw down in ISAF forces (i.e. "combat" units coming home) is supposed to lead to a 10-year period of intensive ISAF mentorship of the ANSF combined with continued Special Operations targeting of Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters. Currently, ISAF evaluates ANSF units (at all levels) on a four level scale (from 1-4). An ANSF unit rated at Level 1 can hypothetically conduct its own operations without any ISAF mentorship or presence, whereas a unit at Level 4 needs almost constant ISAF mentorship/presence in order to achieve its objectives. Under the current rating scheme, ANSF units can only progress up the levels after they consistently demonstrate improved and independent operational proficiency over a lengthy period of evaluation. ISAF's announcement ends that rating scheme entirely -- and thus, effectively ends its legitimate training of the ANSF.

ISAF painstakingly pointed out that the new policy only means that its forces will end their partnership/training of the ANSF at the company level and shift all remaining resources to focus on training the Afghan Army Kandak (battalion) and Afghan Police District level commanders and staff. In essence, ISAF waved its magical wand and expects the entire ANSF to suddenly operate at Level 1 at all companies and below. The now (thankfully) dead CSTC-A tried the same scheme for several years with the Afghan National Police (ANP) starting in 2008 -- and found that training units to arbitrary time standards produced grossly ineffective units. One only needs to look at the current state of the ANP to see the disastrous effects of the policy.

As a former mentor to the ANSF, I can attest that the bulk of their effective operations occur at the company level and below. Thus, ISAF cannot hope to build effective and competent ANSF forces without first ensuring that the Afghan Army and Police can function independent of ISAF mentorship at the company level. If the ANSF were an American football team, ISAF just announced that they will cease training the players (most of whom have never played football) and focus entirely on training the coaching staff, with the expectation that the team will win the Superbowl this year.

Without proficient Afghan National Security Forces to effectively combat a resurgent Taliban, the current Afghan government cannot hope to survive ISAF's eventual total withdrawal. ISAF can try and spin this all it wants -- but one cannot deny the benefit to the Taliban in halting (if not ending) effective ISAF mentorship to the ANSF. And, if the Taliban are truly behind the dramatic spike in Green-on-Blue attacks (i.e. the apparent cause behind ISAF's announcement), then one must view the shift in ISAF policy as a major Taliban strategic victory.