Can the Afghan Army Become Self-Sufficient by 2015?

(Photo by US Army Sgt. Mike MacLeod)

The history of fielding, supplying, and repairing the thousands of ground vehicles given to the Afghan Army and Police hasn’t always been a happy one, and as NATO heads for the exits in a little over a year, western forces are scrambling to leave behind as much capacity as possible.

That’s why the NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan (NTM-A) recently convened a summit at Camp Eggers in Kabul that brought together dozens of Afghan military leaders for what it called an “Afghan-led working group” that pushed the process of working though how the Afghan National Army keeps its wheeled vehicle fleet humming.

The meeting came after months of smaller meetings around the country that produced a set of 30 recommendations of things that the Afghan government needs to work to get right before NATO pulls out.

The 30 items covered areas like training and maintenance as well as setting up Afghan-led “facility and equipment assessments, the standardization of forms, periodic inspections and instituting more robust readiness measurements,” an NTM-A release said.

It’s basic stuff, but it’s critical if the ANA has a chance of actually being able to use its vehicles in the years after the US leaves.

And that’s a real concern, since the NTM-A has traditionally focused on training the Afghan Army to fight, and left logistics largely on the table as a task to be conducted by US forces. Only over the past year or so has there been a push to teach Afghans the intricacies of keeping a large field army in bullets, bread, and spare parts.

In July, the Pentagon released a sobering assessment of the capability of Afghan forces to do just this, while saying that the Afghans will need plenty of help for years to come.

Not only are the ANA’s logistics capabilities “in the early stages of development,” but “overall, the various Afghan logistical processes and organizations, regardless of proficiency level, do not operate as one national logistics system in an integrated and cohesive manner” the report said.

A big part of the problem is attrition. From October 2012 to May 2013, anywhere from 4,000 to over 7,000 soldiers a month simply disappeared—numbers that would be debilitating for any force, but especially so for the newly-formed 195,000-stong force that Kabul is trying to maintain.

But while troops walk away, the US keeps on buying new vehicles and shipping them to Kabul. On Sept. 30, the US Army spent $10.2 million to purchase 75 refrigeration vehicles from Navistar Defense for use by the ANA, and by next year a new Quick reaction Force equipped with 650 brand-new mine-resistant US made vehicles will be up and ready to go—at a cost of over $500 million to the US taxpayer.

Seven kandaks including two special ops units (each Kandak is about the size of a battalion) will be capable of driving to the fight in the ANA’s fastest, most advanced and well-protected vehicle: mobile strike force vehicle, a derivative of Textron Marine and Land Systems’ M1117 armored security vehicle, used by U.S., Canadian and other forces around the world.

While vehicles flow in and the Afghans try and get a handle on things, a Congessionally-mandated watchdog has flagged quite a bit of waste and abuse in the way that spare parts are being handled.

The Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR) said this past summer that an audit of the contract with Automotive Management Services FZE to maintain vehicles paid for by the US found that the US government wasted more than $6 million over the past two years because staffers forgot to take 7,324 destroyed vehicles off of repair lists. The auditors also found that hundreds of repair reports were missing from files.

Afghan Integrated Support Services—another company with a $32 million contract to fix army vehicles—was found to have placed $2.8 million in questioned costs according to the auditors.

With US and NATO forces drawing down quickly next year—American force strength will drop from about 66,000 to 33,000 by the spring—time and manpower are running out, and there is no guarantee that any western forces will remain in Afghanistan beyond 2014.

Negotiations between the United States and the government of Hamid Karzi over a post-2014 security agreement have become strained in recent days as Karzai has balked at the US desire to run counterterrorism operations there.

While talks continue, without a security agreement president Obama has said that he would pull all American troops out, as his administration did in Iraq in 2011.




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Paul McLeary

McLeary covers national security policies at the White House, Pentagon, the Hill, and State Department.
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