It’s Possible Afghanistan Can’t Protect Its Own Bases
Kabul wants a new force to guard former NATO sites
Starting in January, Afghan authorities will be in charge of defending their own country, including many bases previously run by NATO troops. But it’s not entirely clear Afghanistan is ready for this responsibility.
On Sept. 13, Afghan national security adviser Dr. Rangin Dadfar Spanta signed a deal with U.S. Army general John Campbell, head of the alliance’s International Security Assistance Force, calling for a new force to protect old ISAF facilities that are now Afghan government property.
Until recently, the Afghan Public Protection Force—a.k.a., the APPF—had been looking after five major sites across the country. Pres. Hamid Karzai established the APPF four years ago to replace foreign contractors he accused of undermining the central government.
But in February, Karzai disbanded the APPF, too—because he “was not happy with its existence,” according to a recent report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, a U.S. watchdog agency.
“It was not clear why Pres. Karzai was dissatisfied with a program he created,” SIGAR stated.
Now, the 5,000-strong Facilities Protection Force will guard the same bases, according to the recent pact, which was released as part of a contract announcement.
These locations include the former British hub Camp Bastion and the U.S. Marine Corps’ old Camp Leatherneck, both in the southern part of the country. Militants pose an imminent threat to these sites and others.
In November, the Taliban attacked Bastion—now called Forward Operating Base Shurab—sparking a battle that lasted for days. Insurgents killed at least five Afghan soldiers.
The posts are “irreplacable” and “vitally important” to the country’s security, according to the policy document. Despite the fact these camps house Afghan soldiers, the new protection force is “crucial” to keeping them safe.
The Pentagon is footing the bill for the guards’ salaries—more than a million dollars per month, combined. Afghan authorities can also call on American or NATO troops to help stand up the new FPF.
The new personnel will be “employed by the Ministry of Defense, but not as members of the Afghan National Army,” the agreement explains. The Defense Ministry will train the new troops and supply their weapons and other gear.
The old organization answered to the Interior Minister. Kabul originally expected the country’s police to fill in for the departing security personnel.
Kabul’s decision to stand up the new unit “again raises the question of why the APPF is being dissolved” in the first place, SIGAR notes in its latest period review. But regardless of the reasons, current Afghan president Ashraf Ghani has good reasons to call up the replacement troops.
For one, causalities are a significant issue for Afghan forces. Since January, Taliban fighters have killed more than 4,000 government soldiers and police.
“This is not sustainable,” U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Joseph Anderson, the outgoing head of ISAF Joint Command, told reporters on Nov. 5.
Casualties aren’t the only issue. “They have a desertion problem,” John Pike, director of the military information Website GlobalSecurity.org, said of the Afghan security forces. Starting in September 2013, Kabul lost more than 30,000 security personnel to all sorts of attrition including desertion, SIGAR found.
Afghanistan’s military could “eventually disintegrate” from all these losses, Pike told War Is Boring.
“We saw that in Cambodia, we saw it in Vietnam [and] we just saw it in Iraq,” Pike added.
In June 2014, Islamic State fighters routed Iraqi troops and seized control of significant portions of the country. In the mid-1970s, American-trained Khmer and Vietnamese forces also collapsed, leading directly to communist takeovers in both southeast Asian nations.
The Afghan government might also be worried that the previous security guards were corrupt, disloyal or otherwise unreliable. Historically, countries often create new military units when they “can’t count on the loyalty of the existing forces,” Pike noted.
The new personnel “will not be drawn from local areas, local groups or local organizations surrounding particular facilities,” the recent policy prescriptions explain. This provision would imply Afghan officials are concerned about insurgent groups infiltrating the new FPF.
Disaffected individuals could also be dangerous for Kabul’s soldiers and their foreign partners. “Insider threats pose the greatest risk to advisers,” declares a NATO handbook obtained by War Is Boring.
In August, an Afghan soldier murdered U.S. Army major general Harold Greene—the highest ranking casualty of America’s 13-year war—and more than a dozen other NATO troops as the foreigners toured the Afghan army’s officer school in Kabul.
Amid these concerns, the Afghan government has six months to make the new arrangement work. Next June, Kabul must submit a detailed plan to the Pentagon on how it will secure its bases—and pay for that protection.
After that, American commanders will decide whether to shell out another $13 million to fund the security guards for just one more year. By 2017, the Pentagon and NATO both expect Afghanistan’s troops to be able to stand entirely on their own.
That is, assuming Afghanistan hasn’t “imploded” by then, Pike warned.