Congressional Testimony: DoD Officials Describe Afghan National Defense Forces

The Afghan security forces are a work in progress, DoD witnesses testified to the House Armed Services Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee on Friday.

The subcommittee is following up on testimony last week from Army Gen. John F. Campbell, the commander of the Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan. U.S. strategy is in Afghanistan is based on the goal of not allowing the country to become a haven for extremists.

To do that, there are two major American and coalition efforts. The first is anchored on training the Afghan forces to handle security in the country on their own. The second, is a small group of American special operations personnel conducting counterterrorism missions.

Christine Abizaid, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia, told the subcommittee that U.S. personnel in Afghanistan have the resources, authorities and guidance they need to accomplish their mission.

Afghan National Defense Security Forces

Her office constantly assesses the status of Afghan National Defense Security Forces, or ANDSF, and while there are holes, the forces are doing better.

Last year, President Barack Obama halted the drawdown in the country and 9,800 American service members will remain in Afghanistan through most of this year, Abizaid said, but by Jan. 1, 2017, the total will draw down to 5,500. Most U.S. troops are based in Kabul, Kandahar, Jalalabad and Bagram Airfield.

“This decision provides U.S. forces with sufficient capabilities to continue the development of Afghan ministerial capacity along with key ANDSF capabilities in aviation, intelligence, special operations, logistics and maintenance,” she said. “This presence will also allow U.S. forces to pursue counterterrorism targets and to assist the ANDSF in further developing those counterterrorism capabilities that we know are critical to our mutual security interests.”

Afghan government has responsibility for security for more than a year now. The situation remains fragile.

Diverse Threats

Afghanistan continues to face a diverse collective of threats from insurgent groups, extremist networks and narco-terrorist networks, said Kent Breedlove, a senior analyst with the Defense Intelligence Agency. “This includes names we are familiar with like the Taliban, the Haqqani network and al-Qaida, as well as the emergence of groups like the Islamic State in Khorasan and al-Qaida in the Indian Subcontinent,” he said. “This menagerie of insurgents, terrorists and criminals constitute a persistent threat to Afghanistan’s stability and general stability in the region.”

Abazaid said Afghan forces will require U.S. and coalition support for many years. Still, “we have witnessed important progress in their development over the years,” she said.

Manage Complex Tasks

Even as forces are in the fight, the headquarters is working to develop their capacity to manage complex tasks, such as budgeting, personnel management and to address key capability gaps in aviation and intelligence, she said.

Afghanistan is making particular progress in close-air support. “Of note, in 2016 the Afghan aerial fires capability will nearly triple,” she said. “We are also spending a lot of ground equipment which has a high sustainment cost. We have fielded significant numbers of up-armored Humvees and other vehicles to the ANDSF to improve survivability.”

Afghan security ministry pay and personnel expenses are a major cost driver, the deputy assistant secretary said, with about 20 percent for the roughly $5 billion total cost for the ANDSF. “We have been working with the ministry for an integrated pay and personnel system so we can verify that we are paying the right people for the right jobs,” she said.

Corruption remains a huge problem, but Afghan President Ashraf Ghani “has been an excellent partner and is working to institute procurement reforms in the ministries of defense and interior,” she said.

Army Col. Stephen L.A. Martin of the Joint Staff said the current assessment from the Joint Chiefs is “the ANDSF is resilient, it is a force we should partner with, this is a force that deserves our support.”

John F. Sopko, the special inspector general for Afghan Reconstruction, sounded a note of caution. The drawdown has meant that fewer Americans are able to track troops in the field or gauge how effective they are.

Sopko’s organization has also found that the capability of Afghan units regressed when deprived of U.S. or coalition assistance.

(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @garamoneDoDNews)

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