Monday, November 29

A Tale of Two Armies: Why Afghan Forces Were No Match for the Taliban | Afghanistan

The Taliban have 80,000 soldiers compared to the nominal 300,699 serving the Afghan government, yet the entire country has been effectively invaded in a matter of weeks, as military commanders surrendered without a fight in a matter of hours.

It is the story of two armies, one poorly equipped but highly ideologically motivated, the other nominally well-equipped, but dependent on NATO support, misdirected and riddled with corruption.

The watchdog on US aid spending for Afghanistan warned last month that the US military had little or no means of knowing the capabilities of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) when it was necessary to operate independently of the US forces, despite spending $ 88.3 billion on security. related to reconstruction in Afghanistan until March 2021.

It found the US military to be persistently over-optimistic about Afghan military capability, despite having no reliable evidence to make that assessment, and said the departure of thousands of US contractors, agreed by the US with the Taliban in 2020, “could have a significant impact on the sustainability of the ANDSF, in particular its ability to maintain aircraft and vehicles.”

The watchdog, he said, repeatedly warned of “the corrosive effects of corruption” within the force. With its reliance on advanced equipment and widespread illiteracy in its ranks, the force was unable to reliably maintain its strength and combat readiness.

Of the $ 88.3 billion spent, the watchdog said: “The question of whether that money was spent well will ultimately be answered by the outcome of the fighting on the ground, perhaps the purest M&E exercise.”

The US Congress is likely to review the report’s clear warnings as it seeks to understand why such a large spending on training the Afghan army has led to the collapse of the Taliban in a matter of weeks, leaving Western politicians in shock and bewildered.

It also raises the question of why the Biden administration once thought it was safe to leave Afghan forces on their own after decades of reliance on the US for key skills, including air cover, logistics, maintenance and training support for ANDSF ground vehicles and aircraft; security; base support; and transportation services. The US president said as recently as July 8 that Afghanistan was not likely to be invaded.

At the same time, the level of attacks by the Taliban was increasing. In each three-month period since February 29, 2020, the date of the agreement between the United States and the Taliban, there were significantly more enemy-initiated attacks than in their corresponding quarters the previous year.

However, a week before Biden said that Afghanistan would not be invaded, the independent Afghan Analyst Network reported that the Taliban had captured 127 of the 420 district centers, about 25% of the total, and by July 21, General Mark Milley, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the figure was more than half. In June, he said, it had been just 81. It was noted that some of the districts that fell were in traditionally anti-Taliban areas.

The additional problem was a central government facing a severe fiscal crisis precipitated by loss of customs revenue and declining aid flows. Many officials complained that they had not been paid for months.

Fear was one more factor. As momentum turned towards the Taliban, fueled by Taliban social media, the speed of events was fueled by fear of revenge and personal reckoning under the cover of a takeover, especially in a big city like Kabul.

The Afghan government did not provide any counter narratives.

By then, the US withdrawal was under way and was almost irreversible; its withdrawal was more than 90% complete on July 5. The process included 984 loads of C-17 aircraft that were transported out of Afghanistan, more than 17,000 pieces of equipment were delivered, and 10 facilities, including Bagram Airfield, were delivered to the Afghan Ministry of Defense.

Sigar said that as of March $ 88.3 billion had been allocated for security-related reconstruction, compared with $ 36 billion for governance and development, but found that the Pentagon had always found it “extremely difficult” to assess combat capability. and administrative authority of the ANDSF.

He began his multi-million dollar training of the Afghan forces in 2002 and three years later took control of training from both the police and the army, so American military trainers have had nearly two decades to prepare Afghan forces for a Taliban insurgency.

At first, the United States began to transform the Afghan National Army from a light infantry force to a combined arms service with elements of the army, air force, and special forces.

The Sigar report found that since 2005 the US military had been trying to assess the battle readiness of the troops they had been training, but by 2010 it recognized that its monitoring and evaluation procedures “failed to measure more intangible readiness factors, such as leadership, corruption and motivation: all the factors that could affect a unit’s ability to use its personnel and equipment during actual warfare ”.

The evaluation mechanism changed again in 2013, but in 2014, with little sign of progress, it was decided that the evaluation reports should be classified. The focus shifted from battalions to command headquarters.

The report also found a trade-off between what the generals told Congress and what lower-ranking officials reported. Sigar reports, for example, that in March 2011, in his testimony before Congress, General David Petraeus, then commander of the International Security Assistance Force, stated that “investments in leadership development, literacy and the institutions have paid significant dividends “for the ANDSF, that Afghanistan forces were taking on important anti-Taliban combat roles, and Afghan local police units were increasingly limiting the Taliban’s ability to intimidate communities.”

Many other American generals made equally optimistic claims. But other reports indicated “the absence of success at practically all levels.”

In a 2012 Armed Forces Journal article, Lt. Col. Daniel Davis, who spent a year in Afghanistan talking to US troops and their Afghan counterparts, wrote that his remarks “do not resemble the optimistic official statements of US military leaders. on the conditions on the ground. ” .

The Sigar report also criticized the tendency of high-ranking politicians and military men to seek good news. He says there is a “natural desire for the good news to be passed down the chain of command.”

“In the words of a former senior military officer: ‘As intelligence rises, it consolidates and dissolves; it is politicized. It gets politicized because once the legislators put it in their hands and, frankly, once the operational commanders put it in their hands, they put a twist on it. Operational commanders, state department policy makers, and Department of Defense policy makers will be inherently optimistic in their assessments. They won’t accept blunt intelligence. ”

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