Tuesday, November 30

Afghanistan fiasco calls into question the military mission model

The fiasco of the NATO mission in Afghanistan, verified after the collapse in eleven days of an incapable army and a corrupt government, will be scrutinized by the Spanish Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces to extract the appropriate ‘lessons learned’ after almost 20 years of mission together with the allies where no an effective security environment could be built.

Neither the advice, nor the training, nor the assistance, nor the military equipment provided by the West to the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces served to counter the advance of 70,000 Taliban with their AK-47s and his shoulder grenade launchers. The Taliban emirate was reestablished two decades later.

It is worrying since at the moment the Spanish troops are immersed in three other missions that, with their obvious differences, have the main objective of helping to create capable security and defense institutions so that their own governments can face threats of a jihadist nature.

Mali, great concern

These training and advisory missions take place in Mali (600 Spanish military, with the EU), Somalia (16, with the EU) e Irak (265, with the Coalition against Daesh and with NATO). Of course, the Malian scenario worries much more, because of its proximity and because European efforts have already completed eight years without progress in the construction of a reliable army, which even interferes in coups d’état (something that has caused France to rethink your mission).

Spanish soldiers form the new Somali Army.
Spanish soldiers form the new Somali Army. – Eduardo Sanchez

But, the question is clear: What went wrong in Afghanistan? ABC has questioned two active military sources who are very knowledgeable about this type of training and advisory mission. The conclusion is unanimous: we must ask ourselves and calibrate with measurable parameters the level of governance and, above all, the capacity of that government to control and correctly employ its Armed Forces.

“The reality is that we work in societies without a defense or democratic culture, and sometimes the aim they pursue is that we continue there since the presence of Western troops is a business in itself, and if we leave, a source of income disappears” , they explain. But on the other hand, “neither can we go right off the bat because we would leave room for jihadism, as Daesh or Al Qaida refuge states appear.”

“Neither can we go straight away like that because we would leave room for jihadism”

At this point “governance” is the key word that appears. “Are we training in this governance correctly?”, The same sources ask themselves, who do not doubt the military training offered with a comprehensive approach, but the fact that if there is no government and development, violence reigns as coercive force disappears.

“Governments welcome collaboration in the field of security (to form armies), but not so much in the political, economic and social spheres –which many consider interference–. If we do not act in all three areas: security, development and governance, we can create more problems than solutions. We know how to measure the effectiveness of our training and apply corrections / improvements (well accepted by governments); You can also measure the effectiveness of the government, the protection of its population, the level of development, but who can apply corrective measures?

In the case of Mali, there are other military voices that advocate a change of course: «If we have troops on the ground, it must be to combat Al Qaeda, with a mission like the one launched by France with special operations from various European countries (known as ‘Takuba’), with intelligence support and drones. And the advisory missions must be at the highest level, creating the support structures, and that they decide, “defends another source that is pessimistic about the degree of effectiveness that an Army like the Malian one can achieve.

“If we have troops on the ground it must be to fight Al Qaeda, with a mission like the one launched by France”

“Drones, Intelligence and specific special operations” seems to be the other short-term recipe to ensure that Daesh or Al Qaida do not proliferate in certain states: “but knowing that with these capabilities the objectives to be achieved are different from those intended by a mission of training and education. In Afghanistan, intelligence support and drone attacks worked great, until it withdrew and the Taliban breathed … we are already seeing the rest.

Defining the term of each mission, through tangible and measurable parameters and indicators is another of the ‘lessons learned’ after the resurgence of the Taliban. “What happened in Afghanistan has been a brutal reality bath. Traumatic. They are still in shock at the NATO level.

The question of armaments

This state of daze is exemplified these days by the image of the Taliban with American Humvee military vehicles, while British military paratroopers used the typical ‘pick-up’ vehicles of irregular forces to move through the Kabul airport.

That is to say, What to do with the military equipment provided? “It will have to be properly audited. Give them the material but have the most important systems controlled (something that was done in Bosnia where we left the surface-to-air missiles but the batteries and the triggers we kept in the NATO mission).

One of the transport helicopters deployed by Spain in Iraq
One of the transport helicopters deployed by Spain in Iraq – ABC

Carrying out a study of the key personnel who are trained in each army, carrying out certification exercises or unit evaluation are other proposals that emerge. “Without a doubt, once the evacuation at the Kabul airport has been successfully completed, these types of questions should be analyzed”, they point.

In Afghanistan, it has also been shown that the population only trusted the international community and not its government institutions – “the massive flight is a clear example of this” – therefore, it is necessary to invest the effort in other scenarios, in measuring the capacity of government, the strength of the institutions and the confidence of the population in their authorities. “None of this was done in Afghanistan. On the contrary, we all knew the weakness of the Afghan institutions and the levels of corruption at the entire political level, which in the end seeps into all areas, economic and social, “he warns.


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