One of the coolest things I’ve gotten to do in writing about Afghanistan is guest blogging over at the Afghan Analysts Network. It’s run by some of the smartest people around when it comes to Afghanistan, and it’s a no-kidding privilege to be able to write for them on occasion.Before we learned yesterday that ISAF can’t seem to do the maths, and doesn’t understand how long it takes for things to you know, die on the internets, I’d been taking a look at the latest report by the Department of Defense (DoD) on the state of the war in Afghanistan.
These reports come out a couple of times a year, and are mandated by Congress under the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) of 2008. They’re the only comprehensive source of information available to the public from ISAF/NATO, and even at that it’s pretty shabby.
The biggest issue I have with ISAF’s data releases is that they never let anyone see the source information. We as the public (and in my case an American taxpayer) are left to rely on ISAF’s charts and graphs, but we never have the opportunity to look at the raw data. And when they do get down to some kind of actual data, what we see isn’t terribly pretty.
I took a look specifically at the state of the Afghan National Army (ANA) for this post, and what’s in the 1230 report this time around (last released in December of 2012) is about as ugly as it’s ever been.
The data in the report reveals three major challenges facing the ANA: attrition, fighting ability and the effectiveness of its logistical systems.
Based on the 1230 report’s figures, the ANA lost 27 per cent of its fighting force to attrition from October 2011 to September 2012. For the same period the previous year, the ANA lost 30 per cent of its personnel due to attrition, which means that 57 per cent of the ANA has been lost to attrition over the last two years. It gets worse: if the time period from March 2010 until September 2012 is considered, that number climbs to 72 per cent. So nearly three quarters of the ANA’s total force over the course of 31 months was lost. Granted, each percentage is drawn from an annual sample, but those lost due to attrition have to be replaced with new troops. Given this current trend, approximately every three years nearly the entire ANA will be replaced with new recruits. By way of comparison, imagine if the US military lost over 30 per cent of its fighting force every year, particularly during wartime; the concern would likely result in the complete halting of combat operations.
That last part is key: 1/3 of Afghan’s military is disappearing nearly every year. Which, even for a first world military like the United States, would be a problem. In a developing security situation like the one in Afghanistan, that’s even more problematic. And they’re not convincing those that do stay to stick around after completion of initial enlistments.
Unfortunately for the ANA, retention has stayed about the same, around 7 per cent, over the last two years, with a total of 19 per cent of the total force retained over the course of the period from March 2010 to September 2012. On average, then, the ANA is only retaining 7 per cent of its force.
And the forces that do remain?
Even more troubling, however, is the number of kandaks which have not been assessed; that rose from zero in April to 25 in October.
What those numbers translate into is 17 per cent of the ANA’s most essential fighting element has not been assessed. ISAF has no idea how capable those units are and is going to be hard pressed to complete those assessments given the pace of transition in the coming months.
The “kandak” is the battalion-sized element in the Afghan Army, and the most critical element in order to assess security capabilities. As goes the quality of your battalions, so goes the ability of your army to fight. The fact that ISAF has no idea as to the capabilities of 17% of those units is more than a little troubling.
And finally, the army that isn’t there and isn’t trained is going to have a hard time keeping itself supplied:
Logistics in even the most modern and capable armies is a complex, arduous undertaking. The fact that ISAF and the NTM-A have left this fundamental capability till last and are now making it a primary focus does not bode well for the success of the transition. In a break with the usual Orwellian logic that abounds in much of ISAF communications, the 1230 report acknowledges the challenges lying ahead.
Despite this focus [on logistics], NTM-A anticipates that the ANA will continue to require assistance with logistics and acquisition processes beyond December 2014. The ANA logistics enterprise is in the early stages of development, and capabilities are widely variable, with some hubs functioning at a high level and others struggling to establish a basic level of self-sufficiency. Overall, the various Afghan logistical processes and organizations, regardless of proficiency level, do not operate as one national logistics system in an integrated and cohesive manner.
The lack of logistics capability was an early ISAF decision. In a typically short-sighted decision, they opted to teach the Afghans how to fight (well, sorta) first, and figure out the logistics stuff later. Well, it’s later, and they’re about out of time.
So you can’t keep people, can’t train people, and can’t equip the people you managed to keep and train. How can this possibly be anything but a smashing success?
Until next time, you stay sunny!
- ISAF Walks Back Insurgent Attack Numbers, Does Not Understand the Interwebs (republicofsnarkistan.net)
- ISAF Explains (Poorly) How More Dead ANA Mean Progress (republicofsnarkistan.net)
- Nato admits Taliban figures ‘error’ (bbc.co.uk)