Afghan National Army troops arrive at the site of the attack on the base in Mazar-i-Sharif. Photo: Reuters
Afghan National Army troops arrive at the site of the attack on the base in Mazar-i-Sharif. Photo: Reuters

Afghanistan again started 2018 with a bloodbath. The Taliban insurgents launched their military campaign throughout the country, undermining Afghan security. More than 1,000 Taliban stormed the capital of Farah province, killing at least 15 army soldiers, 10 policemen and five civilians. Some 300 insurgents were also killed during the clashes.

It was not the first time the Taliban had battled to take over a province. Insurgents attempted to capture Kunduz city in 2015 after intense fighting with the Afghan army, but they were pushed backed by the Afghan National Army and commando units.

A significant number of Afghan police officer are believed to be involved in different facets of the drug trade; a large number of them are illiterate and some have defected to the Taliban over the past year in Farah. Standardizing provincial police and make them force modeled on the military would enhance security every Afghan province.

Afghanistan’s failure to bring reform to the security establishment means the continuation of violence around the country. The military has no free time to get rest and put in place adequate measures in security reform. In 2017 alone, Afghan security forces lost more than  2,000 personnel battling with insurgents and more than 800 civilians were killed in a long, bloody war.

After US commanders mingled their ethnic militias into the Afghan National Army (ANA), Afghan National Police (ANP) and National Directorate of Security (NDS), these militias lacked proper military training, as they were all the products of civil war and a large number of them were deeply involved in maintaining ties with the political party Jamiat-e Islami. Meanwhile, most generals in the Afghan army are inclined to their personal interests and political views rather than to the national interest of the country.

Many Afghan army generals are of Tajik ethnicity and at the same time have strong bonds to Jamiat-e Islami. The ANA, ANP and NDS are increasingly politicized by factions in Kabul and ethnic-based polarization.

Most army men including generals even lack high-school diplomas and rose to the highest position within a speedy timeframe.

The Pentagon plans to spend US$45 billion in Afghanistan this year, adding $5 billion to Afghan security forces and $13 billion for US forces inside the country, while much of the rest is for logistical purposes. Despite US spending on the security of Afghanistan, the country still lacks professional generals in the armed forces.

The Afghan military has more generals than the US, and while some of them worked hard to reach that rank, others took shortcuts. For instance, if you are the son of a warlord, you can assume that you will achieve a high position in government such as deputy minister or become a general in the Afghan army after the death of your father.

Most of the time when an important security issue is brought to the president, the warlords who are active generals in the army interfere in case the president is not in line with their interests. Currently, there is a lack of coordination in security institutions, a waste of military resources, and incapable and corrupt leaders who have failed to prevail against Taliban tactics in most of the country’s provinces.

Reforming the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) will determine the future of the warfare in Afghanistan.

How to do it

First of all, the ethnic militias have to be removed, as they are impediments to any reform. The militias function based on ethnicity and political affiliation. Some politicized generals in the army are using their power against a rival ethnic group during combat operations. The ANSF could play a more effective role without politicizing its ranks.

Second, newly graduated military cadres should get put into leadership positions, as they have no political or ethnic quests.

Third, a sophisticated strategy should be coordinated among the military institutions. This strategy would push back the Taliban and their affiliates. Also, all the military institutions must be transparent and accountable to the central government.

Fourth, inclusive reform in the ranks of the ANA, NDS and ANP is the need of the day. Previous army generals connected with human-rights violations and nefarious actions should be placed under retirement. At the same time, illiterate individuals should be removed from high posts in the ANSF.

Fifth, a number of generals who have long enjoy the army facilities without making any contribution to a direct fight with Taliban militants should be removed. The Afghan army should be provided with more heavy artillery, gunship helicopters and speedy coordination between the Resolute Support Mission backed by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the intelligence wings of the ANA and ANP.

Finally, a result-oriented commission should be established to oversee the activities of the military apparatus, moreover making a countrywide structure to strengthening check posts, deploying maximum numbers of troops to the border with Pakistan in order to check the movement of the terrorists.

All of these measures would be advantageous to the Afghan government.

Ihsanullah Omarkhail

Ihsanullah Omarkhail is a PhD candidate in the field of non-traditional security management at Zhejiang University, China. His research areas include terrorism, peace, state building, and China-US competition.