The Afghan National Army: A Force in Fragments
12 May 2010
Although the Afghan National Army could help stabilise the country, many challenges remain, including lack of leadership, low literacy, and poor logistics capabilities.
A Force in Fragments: Reconstituting the Afghan National Army
, the latest report from the International Crisis Group, examines the development of the Afghan national defence forces. The report assesses the corrosive effects of an arcane military bureaucracy, of ethnic factionalism and of corruption, and identifies measures to improve cohesion through legislative initiatives and the empowerment of government institutions.
“The army enjoys more popular support than many other state institutions, and its strategic role in stabilising Afghanistan should not be underestimated”, says Candace Rondeaux, Crisis Group’s Senior Analyst. “History has shown that failure to build a cohesive national army has often led to the diffusion of state force among disparate actors, hastening the collapse of governments in Kabul”.
Since the ouster of the Taliban in 2001, the Afghan National Army (ANA) has developed its operational capacity and increased its numbers under the international community’s direction. The Afghan military has been promoted as the cornerstone of counterinsurgency in the country. Yet, there appears to be little agreement between the government of President Hamid Karzai and its international backers on what kind of army the country needs and how to build it. Ethnic frictions and political factionalism among high-level players in the Ministry of Defence (MOD) and the general staff have also stunted the army’s growth. As a result, the army is a fragmented force, serving disparate interests, and far from attaining the unified national character needed to confront numerous security threats.
Failure to develop a sustainable, comprehensive long-term defence posture could risk the army’s disintegration after the withdrawal of international forces. The Afghan government as a whole must assume a more prominent role in shaping its defence doctrine and assessing the strengths and weaknesses of its armed forces, so that they are no longer perceived as serving NATO first and Afghanistan second.
Greater civilian control of and input into the Afghan military is imperative. The Afghan government must be encouraged to strengthen its Office of National Security Council (ONSC) and to forge more dynamic institutional links between its members, the defence ministry, and parliament. Failure to increase civilian input in shaping the army will heighten Afghanistan’s historic dependence on external actors and make it a permanent pawn of regional and international power games.
As a necessary first step, parliament should pass the proposed law on ANA personnel, clarifying demarcation of authority between the defence minister and the army chief and rationalising rank and promotions. Enhancing the quality of military leadership depends greatly on well-defined lines of authority and a clear delineation of soldiers’ and officers’ rights and responsibilities.
“International support for the ANA must be targeted not just toward increasing the quantity of troops but enhancing the quality of the fighting force”, says Samina Ahmed, Crisis Group’s South Asia Project Director. “Developing the national army cannot be done on the cheap, but the price tag will be considerably higher without a broad national review of military policy”.