President Joe Biden has announced plans to pull all US troops out from Afghanistan by September 11, ending the longest war in American history. In Kabul, many fear that Afghan security forces won’t be able to defend the country after the US pullout. According to a report published by the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) last month, the Taliban are much stronger now than at any point since they were ousted in 2001. Currently, Taliban forces number around 85,000 full-time fighters. The Taliban also controls one-fifth of the country and continues to launch deadly attacks.
But a valid question needs to be answered by the Afghan government as to why its numerically superior and more resourceful forces are not able to hold off the Taliban? The US has spent around $88 billion on the Afghan security forces since 2001 but they are still struggling to keep the Taliban at bay. The Afghan government deliberately doesn’t want this question answered as it will reveal its own shortcomings.
It is not that Afghan security forces are not brave enough. It is the flawed policies and mismanagement of the Afghan government which has undercut the lethality of Afghan security forces. Let’s have a look at some factors responsible for the weakening of the Afghan security forces.
Weak intelligence. Afghan forces require a robust intelligence collection and targeting capability if they want to turn back the tide of a reinvigorated Taliban insurgency. The Afghan intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Security (NDS), not only suffers from an inability to share and disseminate actionable intelligence but also is plagued by the controversy of favoritism and nepotism and its ethnic composition dominated by Panjshiris Tajiks from Panjshir, a group affiliated with the former Northern Alliance. The NDS ethnic composition poses challenges to the intelligence agency’s ability to infiltrate Pashtun groups most likely affiliated with the continued insurgency in Afghanistan.
Corruption. Public opinion and observers recognize the military as a deeply corrupt and inept organization, even failing to provide enough food, ammunition, and proper clothing to its personnel. Such ineptitude is said to be the main reason that the Taliban have been able to make advances against government forces across the country.
Sectarian composition of the armed forces. The Tajiks occupy more top posts in comparison to their population against other ethnic groups. For example, the presence of the Hazaras and other ethnic groups are smaller in size compared to their population. Pashtuns are also included but a large number of Pashtun personnel are from the eastern areas of the country. Only a small number of the southern Pashtuns who make up an ideological and ethnic base of the Taliban are included in the armed forces. Such an imbalance creates mistrust and misunderstanding among different sectarian groups towards the military, making it look like a foreign force.
No clear military strategy. The country’s security apparatus lacks security and strategic analysts to lay the foundation of a combat policy ahead of the Afghan policymakers to press forward against the militants using a well-studied defense program. Rather than just focusing on responding to insurgent’s attacks, Afghan military strategists should chalk out a proactive strategy that engages the enemy in their strongholds.
Highly understaffed. The Afghan National Army, which is meant to be the country’s backbone of defense, and the national police, tend to bear the brunt of Taliban attacks. They are operating at roughly 50 to 70 percent of their official maximum capacity of 352,000, due to a combination of corruption, attrition, and difficulty finding replacements.
Unless some immediate corrective steps are taken, Afghan security forces could meet the same fate as the previous Afghan army under Mohammed Najibullah, which disintegrated after the president’s downfall due to deep ethnic and factional divisions, the absence of good leadership, and declining financial and technical support from the Soviet Union. To fix all the above issues, Afghans don’t need any outside help. It’s high time that Afghans take charge rather than just complain as it’s a bitter truth that no one else is coming to fix their country.