Afghan National Army – Territorial Force (ANA-TF)

ANA-TF Instructors

The Afghan National Army – Territorial Force or ANA-TF was established by President Ghani in February 2018. [1] The organization has been considered a replacement for the Afghan Local Police (ALP) created almost a decade ago by U.S. special operations forces.

The Territorial Force is expected to provide local security to areas that are under government control – freeing up regular Afghan National Army units to be based in less secure areas. The ANA-TF is a lightly armed force that is considered to be more accountable than other local community forces of the past – such as the Afghan Local Police. The ANA-TF is designed to be a ‘hold force’ in security-permissive locations.

Need for a Local Security Force

Concept. Local security forces, when used properly, tend to stand their ground against the Taliban insurgents as they are defending their ‘home turf’. They also are more familiar with the terrain, politics, and other aspects of the local community and region. They are usually cheaper to field and support. The territorial force is considered less costly due to a decreased pay rate. Local defense forces are more fiscally sustainable in the long-run than regular ANA units. Recruitment to local units should be enhanced if the members of the unit are based in their home districts.

Creation. The inspiration for the ANA-TF comes from the Indian Territorial Army and previous local defense initiatives in Afghanistan. In 2017 President Ghani suggested that the Afghan Ministry of Defense and Resolute Support come up with a plan that modeled the Indian Territorial Army (TA). Planners examined the TA and other Indian local security initiatives and came up with the plan for the establishment of the ANA-TF.

Pilot Force and Expansion. In the summer of 2018 the ANA-TF implementation plan began. The first three companies completed their training in late 2018 and began serving in their home districts under ANA leadership. Since then there has been a rapid expansion of the ANA-TF.

Organization. The ANA-TF is scheduled to have up to 120 companies. As of May 2020 there were 105 authorized companies. Each company has approximately 120 members recruited from the region where the units are based. While lower ranking members are from the local district the officers are from outside the district and have previously served in the regular ANA or the ANA reserves.

Recruitment. Once it is determined that a district will have an ANA-TF company leaders from the local area are consulted. Shuras are held in local area by government officials to encourage young men to join the ANA-TF. [2] Members of the ANA-TF receive 75% of the pay that a regular ANA soldier receives.

There are some districts where there is a distinct lack of local support and this has affected recruitment for the ANA-TF in those regions. Currently the provinces of Kabul, Kandahar, Herat, and Kunduz are suffering from inadequate recruitment. Some of the reasons for the resistance lies in cultural and political differences. In addition, some provinces and districts have a vested interest in maintaining the Afghan Local Police. [3]

Training. The personnel of the ANA-TF are trained at the Kabul Military Training Center (KMTC). This is the national training center for the Afghan National Army. The recruits complete the Basic Warrior Training (BWT) that all ANA recruits go through to qualify as a soldier – usually 10 to 12 weeks. The team and squad leaders go through the same NCO training courses as regular ANA soldiers. The newly-formed tolays (companies) then go to the Regional Military Training Centers (RMTCs) for an additional five weeks of training.

Equipment. The ANA-TF is a mobile unit utilizing light trucks and motorcycles. They carry rifles, machine guns, and rocket propelled grenades. The ANA-TF does not pack the offensive punch that regular ANA units possess. In addition, the specialty training is not at the same level.

Issues, Problems, & Considerations

Shortfalls. Some problems with the the ANA-TF include logistic issues, leadership gaps, and equipment such as mine detectors. The ANA-TF lacks the firepower provided by the mortars and D-30 howitzers of the conventional ANA.

Support to ANA-TF. Some of the units of the Territorial Force are located in areas not readily accessible to the Afghan National Army. This geographic dispersion causes support issues. In addition to logistics problems, the ability to provide Quick Reaction Forces (QRF), MEDEVAC, and fires support is diminished for the distant ANA-TF locations.

Growing Pains. The ANA-TF is a new force that is reliant on the regular ANA corps for logistics and leadership. ANA leaders have not fully integrated the units into their organizational hierarchy and the units are not yet fully accepted. Resolute Support has placed a hold on (as of Spring 2020) the expansion of the force until the ANA senior leadership address some of the programmatic, policy, and sustainment shortfalls. [4]

Integration of Taliban? It is possible that the ANA-TF may be a vehicle in which to incorporate former Taliban fighters once an intra-Afghan peace deal is reached. This will be problematic at best – and the peace process between the Afghan government and the Taliban has not been very successful thus far.

ALP versus ANA-TF

  • The ANA-TF is administered and resourced by the Ministry of Defense (MoD); while the Ministry of Interior (MoI) resources and provides administration for the ALP.
  • Both soldiers and policemen are locally recruited and serve in their home districts; however, the vetting process is different.
  • The ALP entrance and training requirements are defined but many times not followed; while the ANA-TF have entrance, vetting, and training requirements similar to the ANA. The ALP in the past has received less training than other components of the ANDSF.
  • The home districts have more influence over the deployment and use of the ALP while the local ANA battalion commander has control over the local ANA-TF units.
  • The ALP units are usually village-based while the ANA-TF are district / ANA battalion based.
  • The Afghan National Army (ANA) has a better command and control structure than the Afghan National Police (ANP); therefore there should be tighter control over the ANA-TF.

Afghan Local Police – Going Away

As the ATA-TF comes online the Afghan Local Police will be phased out. The funding mechanism for the ALP is due to conclude in the fall of 2020. [5] At the height of the program there were 28,000 ALP personnel on the payroll. The ALP effort was a key component of the Village Stability Operations (VSO) program established by U.S. SOF. The ALP / VSO program was a successful bottom-up counterinsurgency effort that was organized, equipped, trained, advised, and assisted by U.S. special operations teams from Special Forces, Navy SEALs, and Marine Special Operations.

The ALP suffered in many instances from co-option by local powerbrokers who used the local defense force as a means of patronage, discrimination, and to settle personal and political disputes and issues. In addition, some ALP units were predatory in nature – harassing the local population rather than protecting it.

The Ministry of Interior was usually at odds with ISAF (and later RS) on where ALP units would be set up. The MoI had their vision (many times based on politics and corruption) of where ALP units were to be based while the Coalition forces had certain criteria and processes for establishing the ALP units. In addition, ‘unilateral’ ALP units were set up by the MoI that had no oversight from U.S. special operations. Some private militias were established by power brokers and assumed the name of ‘ALP’. These unilateral and private ALP units tended to tarnish the reputation of the ALP.

The reduction of forces in 2014 onward also limited the force levels of U.S. SOF in Afghanistan. When U.S. special operations forces teams were pulled off the tactical advisory mission for the ALP the program began to suffer. There were less teams available to support the ALP / VSO program. Some observers believe that the US SOF turned to a counterterrorism focus in Afghanistan. [6]

The reduced number of SOF teams forced a change in strategy for NATO Special Operations Component Command – Afghanistan (NSOCC-A). Special Forces teams continued to advise the Afghan National Army Special Operations Command and its Afghan Special Forces and Commando kandaks. Other SOF units worked with partner nation elite forces targeting ISKP and al Qaeda.

One aspect associated with the ALP that seems missing from the ANA-TF concept is the incorporation of the local defense force into a program similar to the Village Stability Operations (VSO). The ALP that was established in 2011 was a part of the VSO effort that encouraged the growth of security, development, and governance at the local level. The ALP program would have been a long-term success had the Ministry of Interior been more cooperative and if SOF teams were kept engaged (contingent on force levels) with the program. [7]

There is concern about how to provide employment for the soon to be discharged policemen. Some ALP units may continue to exist but under the supervision and with the support of local power brokers in an unofficial capacity. It will be possible for members of the ALP to join the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces.

Going Forward

The establishment of the Afghan National Army – Territorial Force is considered by some observers as a good substitute for the Afghan Local Police. The ANA-TF under the Ministry of Defense should see better support and leadership than the ALP received under the Ministry of Interior. In addition, the basing of ANA-TF tolays will be less likely influenced by ‘political and patronage’ considerations.

NATO is fully behind the ANA-TF effort and has an ANA-TF Coordination Cell at Resolute Support headquarters that provides oversight of the program. In addition, it appears that teams of the Security Force Assistance Brigades (SFABs) are to be utilized to provide support to the ANA-TF tolays. [8]

The need for a local community-based defense force has long been recognized for the Afghan conflict. The ALP / VSO program led by U.S. SOF was successful for the short time it existed. It certainly achieved the goal of of assisting the Afghans in establishing security, development, and governance at the local level in many contested areas of Afghanistan. Perhaps the Afghan National Army – Territorial Force will be as successful and remain as a durable solution to local community defense in Afghanistan.



[1] “Creation of the Afghanistan National Army Territorial Forces”, GoIRA, Feb 4, 2018.

[2] See “Efforts underway to recruit youths to Afghan Army territorial force”, Khaama Press, January 25, 2019. The recruiting officials emphasize the local nature of the ANA-TF.

[3] See page 33 of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel, Report to Congress, October 2019.

[4] April 30, 2020, Quarterly Report to Congress, Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), page 87.

[5] The U.S. will stop funding the ALP in the fall of 2020. U.S. support of the ALP will cease on September 30, 2020. See page 25 of the Lead Inspector General Report for OFS, May 2020.

[6] See “Why dissolving the Afghan Local Police program troubles its American architects”, by Howard Altman, Military Times, May 28, 2020.

[7] The VSO and ALP initiatives were turned over to the Afghan security forces with the withdrawal of significant numbers of U.S. conventional and SOF units. The VSO program suffered as slow death and the ALP program became subject to machinations of Afghan powerbrokers at the local, provincial, and ministry level. The SOF community kept a small advisory element at the Ministry of Interior; but without the ‘boots on the ground’ to be able to influence local leaders and monitor the activities of the ALP.

[8] See page 27 of the Lead Inspector General Report for OFS, May 2020.


May 2020, Lead Inspector General Report for Operation Freedom’s Sentinel, DoD IG.

April 15, 2020, “JSOU Report – Village Stability Operations in Afghanistan”, SOF News.

May 2019, Creating and Recreating Security: Exploring the hybrid security sector reform in Afghanistan, and its creation of local forces, by Ibrahim Sakhi Afridi, Master Thesis, Norwegian University of Life Sciences, PDF, 77 pages.

March-April 2019, “The Development and Creation of the Afghanistan National Army Territorial Forces”, by Maj. Brad Townsend (U.S. Army), Military Review. Townsend served as the lead planner for the creation of the ANA-TF from 2017 to 2018 while assigned to CJ5 (Strategic Plans) at Resolute Support HQs in Afghanistan. This is a descriptive account of how the ANA-TF concept was developed.

January 15, 2019, “The Afghan Territorial Force: Learning from the lessons of the past?”, by Kate Clark, Afghanistan Analysts Network. Clark provides a detailed account of how the ANA-TF was initially stood up and the problems associated with expanding it.

December 8, 2017, “Afghan Territorial Army (ATA)”, SOF News. In Persian the ANA-TF is known as the ‘territorial army’.

Afghan National Army – Territorial Force (ANA-TF), by Afghan War News.

Photo: Soldiers with the Afghan National Army (ANA) 215th Corps stand at attention during the playing of Afghanistan’s national anthem for a train-the-trainer course graduation ceremony at the Regional Military Training Center (RMTC) on Camp Shorabak. The nearly month-long course taught instructors the basics of warrior training so they can, in turn, teach the upcoming classes of the new ANA Territorial Force who will assist in providing safe and secure elections to the people of Helmand and Nimroz provinces. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Sean J. Berry, Helmand Province, August 26, 2018)

About John Friberg 151 Articles
John Friberg is the Editor and Publisher of SOF News. He is a retired Command Chief Warrant Officer (CW5 180A) with 40 years service in the U.S. Army Special Forces with active duty and reserve components.