Developing Afghan security forces

  • Last updated: 12 Feb. 2015 16:58

Developing professional, capable and sustainable Afghan security forces is a priority task for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), as requested by the Afghan Government and mandated by the United Nations Security Council. The NATO Training Mission–Afghanistan (NTM-A) and the ISAF Joint Command (IJC) work together with the Afghan Ministries of Defence and Interior to achieve this objective.

The Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) are made up of the Afghan National Army (ANA), Afghan Air Force (AAF) and the Afghan National Police (ANP), along with the Afghan Local Police and Afghanistan’s intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Security (NDS).

Since the launch of the fifth and final tranche of the transition process in June 2013, the Afghan security forces are in the lead for security across the country. ISAF no longer plans, executes or leads combat operations but continues to support the ANSF, including with combat support as necessary. Meanwhile, ISAF is pursuing a measured redeployment of its forces in a coordinated, coherent and progressive way. By the end of 2014, this transition process will be complete, the Afghan security forces will be fully responsible for security in Afghanistan and the ISAF mission will end.

NATO is planning a follow-on mission to train, advise and assist the Afghan security forces. It will focus on national- and institutional-level training and the higher levels of army and police command, and will be carried out across Afghanistan. NATO is also planning to continue to do its part, as part of the broader international community’s effort to support the long-term sustainment of the Afghan security forces, through the NATO-ANA Trust Fund. Rules governing the use of the ANA Trust Fund after 2014 were agreed by foreign ministers in December 2013 to ensure that money given by the donors is spent in an accountable, transparent and cost-effective way.

Afghan National Army

Created in 2002, the Afghan National Army (ANA) has grown to more than 189,000 personnel, including nearly 11,000 Special Operations Forces. It is developing both fighting elements and enabling capabilities - such as military police, intelligence, route clearance, combat support, medical, aviation and logistics.

The Afghan Air Force (AAF) was created in 2007 as part of the ANA. It now has approximately 6,800 personnel, including aircrew and maintenance and support personnel, and has a fleet of 102 fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft. Airlift and air power are essential elements of the Afghan counter-insurgency, while combined helicopter gunship and, eventually, close air support and fixed-wing capability, will allow Afghan security forces to conduct largely independent operations. The AAF has begun the development of an airborne medical evacuation capability, providing specialised emergency medical care in remote areas. Afghan crews are now flying solo transport and rescue flights in Afghanistan.

Throughout 2013, the Afghan Air Force has exceeded expectations in close air support and evacuation mission. By 31 December 2013, more than 1,500 patients have been flown by the Afghan Air Force for treatment, compared to approximately 400 in 2012.

Afghan National Police

Currently, the Afghan National Police (ANP) consists of approximately 153,000 personnel. Its role is progressively shifting from countering the insurgency to a more civilian policing role, by further developing capabilities from criminal investigations to traffic control.

The primary branches of the ANP include:

  • The Afghan Uniformed Police (AUP) is the police force designed to provide basic law and order services to the people in villages and districts. They are assigned to Police Districts and Provincial and Regional Commands. The AUP also includes Traffic Police, Fire and Rescue and a United Nations Protective Force.
  • The Afghan National Civil Order Police (ANCOP) is the premiere counter-insurgency (COIN) force. It is a nationally deployable police force that works closely with the Army as part of its COIN mission and maintains the rule of law and order utilising proportionate armed capabilities.
  • The Afghan Border Police (ABP) provides the Afghan Ministry of Interior (MoI) with a general law enforcement capability at international borders, entry points and in the Border Security Zone, which extends 50 km into Afghan territory. In addition, the ABP controls pedestrian and vehicular traffic at border crossing points, deters and detects illegal entry and other criminal activity along the border and is responsible for airport security at five international airports.

Afghan Local Police

Established in July 2010, the Afghan Local Police (ALP) programme is led by the Afghan Ministry of Interior. It is village-focused and complements counter-insurgency efforts by targeting rural areas with limited to no ANSF presence in order to enable conditions for improved security, governance and development. The ALP programme exists in districts where the local populace has requested an ALP presence. These communities then select local defenders to serve as their ALP. The United States supports the ALP programme through the provision of funding, training, equipping and technical assistance to the Afghan Ministry of Interior.

To date, about 27,000 ALP personnel are serving in 134 validated districts. The ALP programme remains on track to achieve the goal of 30,000 members.

  • NATO Training Mission–Afghanistan (NTM-A)

    At the April 2009 Strasbourg-Kehl Summit, NATO Heads of State and Government decided to expand the ISAF mission to oversee higher-level training for the ANA, and training and mentoring for the ANP. NTM-A was established in November 2009 to bring together NATO and national training efforts in this regard.

    • Upon its creation, NTM-A’s key tasks included the provision of training and mentoring to the Afghan National Security Forces, support the ANA’s institutional training base, and the ANP reform at the district level and below. It also aimed to address the ANA enabling capability shortfalls (including close air support, medical evacuation and intelligence) through ‘train the trainer’ programmes.
    • NTM-A’s efforts are complemented by those of ISAF’s Joint Command (IJC), which is responsible for developing fielded ANSF units through advising and assisting teams. Originally, these teams were the Operational Mentor and Liaison Teams (OMLTs) and the Police Operational Mentor and Liaison Teams (POMLTs). These have gradually evolved into Military Advisory Teams (MATs) and Police Advisory Teams (PATs), respectively. All these teams are now more generically called Security Force Assistance Teams (SFATs).
    • As the ANSF grew in size and capacity, NTM-A has been reorganised and its functions are now performed under IJC command. With most training now being performed by the Afghan security forces themselves, NTM-A’s role is now focused on providing advice at the ministerial level.

    Target growth

    The total strength target for the ANSF is 352,000 personnel, as agreed by the Security Standing Committee of the Joint Coordination and Monitoring Board in June 2011. This target has been reached.

    Attrition does, however, remain a problem. Reducing attrition is essential for the long-term viability of the ANSF, especially with respect to retaining quality personnel. Steps have been undertaken by the Afghan security leadership to address this issue, including measures to prevent Absence Without Leave (AWOL) and the establishment of the Special ANSF Leave Travel Program (SALT-P) aimed at facilitating soldiers’ leave through the use of contracted commercial and military aircraft.

    The sustainment of the ANSF post-2014 remains the responsibility of the Afghan Government and the international community as a whole. At the International Afghanistan Conference in Bonn on 5 December 2011, the wider international community decided to support the training, equipping, financing and capability development of the ANSF beyond the end of the transition period. At the NATO Chicago Summit in May 2012, NATO Allies and ISAF partners reaffirmed their strong commitment to continuing to their part in the financial sustainment of the ANSF after 2014.

    A representative force

    There are over 2,500 women in uniformed positions across the Afghan National Security Forces (more than 700 in the ANA, more than 50 in the AAF, and more than 1,700 in the ANP). Considerable efforts have also been invested in building an inclusive army that provides a cadre of women soldiers and reflects the overall ethnic make-up of the country. The Ministry of Defence has developed a special recruitment drive to increase the level of southern Pashtun participation, which has been on the constant rise.

    Recruitment and vetting

    The recruitment of potential Afghan soldiers and police follows a strict vetting process, which includes eight steps: an identification check, two guarantors, personal information verification, a criminal check, a verification stamp, drug screening, medical screening and personal data (biometric) screening.

    A nation-wide programme to screen and re-validate every ANSF member already in service is currently ongoing. All ANSF members are re-screened following return from leave.

    Counter-infiltration plan

    On 14 March 2012, following a request by NATO Defence Ministers, the North Atlantic Council endorsed a plan to reduce the risk of attacks on ISAF by ANSF personnel. The plan was developed by the commander of ISAF in close cooperation with his Afghan counterparts and is being implemented.

    The plan is aimed at strengthening ISAF security measures; revising and improving vetting and monitoring procedures for the ANSF; and intensifying cultural awareness training for both ISAF and the ANSF to bridge the cultural gap.

    In cooperation with ISAF, the ANSF have also undertaken several initiatives to improve their recruitment, vetting and screening processes. In addition, counter-infiltration staff have been embedded with the ANSF and in training schools to monitor the behaviour of Afghan service members. The ANSF are also to focus on strengthening leadership; ensuring that soldiers and police get adequate leave and regular pay; that weapons are accounted for properly, and that all ANSF are medically screened and drug tested.

  • Sustaining the ANSF

    Since 2009, NATO’s ANA Trust Fund has been the main conduit for the international community to support the long-term sustainment of the ANA, while the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Law and Order Trust Fund for Afghanistan (LOTFA) remains the primary vehicle for supporting the sustainment of the ANP.

    The NATO-ANA Trust Fund

    The NATO-ANA Trust Fund supports the following activities:

    • transportation and installation costs for equipment donations by ISAF nations to the ANA;  
    • purchase of ANA equipment and services for engineering projects;
    • in- and out-of-country training;
    • support to the long-term sustainment of the ANA. The NATO-ANA Trust Fund complements other bilateral and multinational trust funds which support the ANSF financially and with equipment donations. The US Afghan Security Forces Funding represents the most significant bilateral financial initiative.

    As of February 2014, national contributions and pledges made to the NATO-ANA Trust Fund total more than €637 million.

    The NATO-Russia Council Helicopter Maintenance Trust Fund

    Launched in March 2011, the NATO-Russia Council (NRC) Trust Fund provides vitally-needed maintenance and repair capacity, including the provision of spare parts and technician training, to the AAF helicopter fleet. As of November 2013, some 40 personnel have received training under the project. The second phase of this project, launched in April 2013, includes activities on more types of helicopters and in support to the development of the AAF medical evacuation capabilities.