While the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) have kept insurgents from achieving their strategic goals in 2015, their performance was uneven and several shortfalls will persist beyond 2016, the commander of U.S.-Forces Afghanistan, General John F. Campbell, said on February 2 in a testimony in front of the U.S. House of Representatives Armed Services Committee.
General Campbell, who also commands NATO’s Resolute Support Mission, noted that capability gaps persist in air power, combined arms operations, intelligence collection and dissemination, and maintenance. “One of the greatest tactical challenges for the Afghan security forces has been overcoming the Afghan air forces extremely limited organic close air support capability,” Campbell noted, while admitting that NATO has started to focus on building up Afghan airpower quite late.
As I reported previously (See: “Confirmed: First Four A-29 Light Attack Aircraft Arrive in Afghanistan”), after repeated delays, the first four out of 20 Embraer/Sierra Nevada Corporation A-29 Super Tucano light attack aircraft for service in the Afghan Air Force (AAF) arrived in Kabul in January 2016 .“The AAF is expecting an additional delivery of four more A-29 Super Tucano by the 2016 fighting season, with an additional four delivered in 2017. The remaining eight will be handed over to the AAF by the end of 2018,” I explained.
Campbell attributes 70 percent of the problems within ANDSF forces to poor senior leadership, but explained that the Afghan government is aware of the problem. “The Afghan National Army has replaced 92 general officers, including the 215 Corps commander in Helmand,” the general said. While noting that logistics and maintenance issues continue to plague the ANDSF, the general expressed also cautious optimism: “While these systems are far from perfect, the foundation has been laid.”
Yet, all of these changes take time, Campbell underlined. “Too many times we try to compare the Afghan security forces with the U.S. Army,” he said. “The U.S. Army has been around for 240 years.” He noted that building an army out of a collection of militias amidst an ongoing war is similar to “to building an airplane while in flight.”
The general emphasized that maintaining current U.S. troop levels “through most of 2016 was welcome and important. The decision set the example for NATO and other coalition allies and partners to maintain or increase their support to the Resolute Support mission.”
“Now more than ever, the United States should not waver on Afghanistan,” the general said. “The crucial investment we are making provides dividends that achieve our strategic goals, secure our homeland and position us well in the region — a region that has been a source of terrorism and instability for decades.”
The NATO coalition in Afghanistan currently spends around $5.1 billion on the ANDSF, with around $4.1 billion coming from U.S. taxpayer money. Campbell urged the United States and its allies to continue their current funding stream until at least 2020. He also noted that the Afghan government will not be able to start paying for the ANDSF “at least” until 2024.
“Ultimately, Afghanistan has not achieved an enduring level of security and stability that justifies a reduction in our support in 2016,” Campbell summarized. “Afghanistan is at an inflection point,” he stated. “I believe if we do not make deliberate, measured adjustments, 2016 is at risk of being no better, and possibly worse, than 2015.” He also was adamant that “a strategic stalemate without end is not the goal of this campaign.”
U.S. lawmakers appeared unimpressed. “How many $4.1 billion times are we going to do this before we can figure out that we can get out?” asked Representative Loretta Sanchez. “This has just got to come to an end,” said Representative Walter Jones. Since 2001, the United States has spent $64 billion on the ANDSF.