The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) has published its quarterly report to Congress covering the months of January through March of 2020. The report provides updates and assessments on the Afghan National Defense Security Forces (ANDSF), governance, economic and social development, and the effort to reduce the narcotics trade. In addition the report includes a section about the impact of COVID-19 in Afghanistan. The 217-page report (PDF) published on April 30, 2020 provides an independent assessment of U.S. efforts in Afghanistan.
COVID-19 in Afghanistan
The country of Afghanistan is uniquely vulnerable due to a number of factors to include an inadequate health care system, insecurity in many rural areas, and a national government that is ineffective in the deliverance of government services. Key urban centers are experiencing rising food prices. The coronavirus pandemic certainly complicates the peace process – providing more obstacles to an already shaky start in the Taliban – Afghan government negotiation process. The Taliban hinders the government effort at controlling the pandemic while it also has instituted some measures to contain the virus in areas it controls.
Resolute Support (RS) has curtailed many of its activities due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Advising, training, and engagement with Afghan counterparts have been reduced. Some troop contributing nations have pulled a portion of their contingents out of the country. Some advising and training is being conducted using ‘technical’ means rather than in-person meetings. RS is providing some critical personal protective equipment to the ANDSF to include gloves, masks, and claning supplies. The COVID-19 cases documented thus far are concentrated in Herat and Kabul.
“COVID-19 is something that affects the entire world, and it will affect Coalition forces and Afghan security forces as well. The focus on this particular virus has to be on preventing the spread, which is difficult under even normal circumstances, but almost impossible if we have violence.”RS Command General Austin Scott Miller
U.S. – Taliban Withdrawal Agreement
On February 29, 2020 the U.S. and the Taliban signed an agreement calling for a conditions-based withdrawal of all military forces of the United States, its allies, and Coalition partners. This includes all non-diplomatic civilian personnel, private security contractors, trainers, advisors, and supporting services personnel. This will take place over 14 months. So by Spring 2021, next year, the U.S. will no longer have a presence in Afghanistan – other than its diplomatic mission in Kabul.
The agreement commits the Taliban to prevent its members and other groups from using Afghan soil to threaten the security of the United States or its allies. It commits the Taliban to enter into negotiations with the Afghan government and to reach an agreement on the future political roadmap of Afghanistan.
Taliban Steps up Attacks on ANDSF
There was, in mid-February, a week-long reduction in violence in the conflict. This reduction preceded the signing of the agreement between the US and the Taliban. The Taliban stepped up its attacks on the ANDSF almost immediately after the signing of the agreement. The U.S., in some instances, have responded to some of these attacks with air strikes and other types of support.
U.S. Withdrawal Underway
By July 2020 the United States will be down to 8,600 military personnel in Afghanistan. This will lead to the abandonment of some bases in parts of Afghanistan – most likely in the southwest and southeast of Afghanistan. Many of the U.S. advisor teams currently at the Afghan brigade and corps level will be (or have already been) withdrawn and returned to the U.S. Once the level of 8,600 is achieved, then the withdrawal will continue. But this further reduction in force levels is dependent on the Taliban living up to its commitments.
One unknown (or at least not publicly known) is whether contractors who provide mission-essential support to the ANDSF are included in the withdrawal agreement with the Taliban. These contractors provide training and assistance in a number of areas to include critical and costly programs supporting the Afghan Air Force (AAF) and the ANDSF ground vehicle programs.
The final results of the Afghan presidential election held in September 2019 were released by Afghan election authorities in February 2020. President Ghani was declared the winner with 50.64% of the votes cast. If the vote is less than 50% for any one candidate then no winner is declared and a follow-on election is held between the two top contenders. However, Ghani won with a very slim margin. The election was marred by corruption and irregularities.
The election results was contested by the former CEO Abdullah Abdullah and he threatened to establish a ‘parallel government’. This caused a severe disruption within the government at national and provincial levels which also affected the peace process. The U.S. expressed its deep concern with the elite politicians in Afghanistan for not forming an inclusive government that could participate in the peace process by withholding $1 billion in funding for the ANDSF.
ANDSF Data Classified
For the first time in the history of these SIGAR reports Resolute Support (RS) has restricted from public release all data on enemy-initiated attacks. In addition, the United States Forces Afghanistan (USFOR-A) continues to classify or restrict from public release data about ANDSF casualties, ANDSF unit strengths, security ministry performance assessments, district control, and information about the operational readiness of the Afghan National Army.
Over the past several years many aspects of the SIGAR report that detail important information have migrated from the unclassified version to the classified version. This diminishes the ability of some observers of the Afghan conflict to make an assessment of the progress (or lack of) that the ANDSF is making in its capabilities and capacity.
Another New ANDSF Assessment Process
Once again Resolute Support has changed up how it assesses, monitors, and evaluates ANDSF performance. The new method, like some of the more recent ones, is integrated into the Advisor Network (ANET). This electronic system is used by RS advisors to track engagements with and assess the performance and progress of ANDSF counterparts. The new assessment system was scheduled to come online in the April – May 2020 timeframe.
Changing the ANDSF assessment process is almost a yearly event. The problems have remained the same in Afghanistan over the past decade and more. What has changed is how ISAF and now RS assesses and evaluates the problems and issues of the ANDSF and the security institutions.
Top Ten ANDSF Challenges – No Real Change
The top 10 challenges and opportunities list the focal points for the Train, Advise, and Assist effort for Resolute Support. There really has been no real change in the past decade to this list. Perhaps the order listed or the words used may be different – but an advisor from 2012 will be very familiar with this 2020 list.
- leader development
- reducing vulnerable checkpoints
- countering corruption
- improving logistics
- improving accountability of equipment
- reducing attrition of soldiers and police
- standardization of training
- better MOD and MOI budget execution
- improving process for pay for ANDSF
- improving ANDSF facilities
The Afghan Special Security Forces (ASSF) are the ANDSF’s primary offensive forces. The ASSF are the elite of the Afghan security forces and include units from the ANA Special Operations Corps (ANASOC), the General Command Police Special Units (GCPSU), and the Special Mission Wing (SMW). The ASSF have been on a multi-year program to double its size and capabilities since 2016. Historically the misuse of the ASSF has been the main impediment to their ability to successfully carry out their missions. Examples of misuse include using special forces to man checkpoints, hold terrain, or provide personal security for politicians and ANDSF general officers.
The report covers a wide variety of topics. Some of the more interesting ones include the status of the Special Mission Wing, ANA training, the ANA Territorial Force, governance, counternarcotics, economy, and social development. The sections of the report are clearly identified allowing the reader to skip those that hold little interest and to easily find topics that would hold the readers attention.
Appendices and Endnotes
Appendix A cross-references the sections of the report to the quarterly reporting and related requirements under SIGAR’s enabling legislation. Some pretty dry reading here if you are looking for a sleeping pill substitute some late evening. For those with a fiscal inclination Appendix B lists the funds appropriated for Afghanistan reconstruction by agency and fund per year. This appendix lists the funds by category – security, governance and development, humanitarian, civilian operations, and international affairs operations.
Appendix C lists the many different performance audits conducted by SIGAR over the past several years. One SIGAR performance audit was completed during this reporting period on the funding and performance of the American University of Afghanistan. Several performance audits are ongoing. There are a few other types of audits ongoing or completed as well – all detailed in Appendix C.
Appendix D and E also provide more information on current investigations and other topics. Appendix F provides an updated list of abbreviations and acronyms – seven pages total! The report is well-documented with 663 total endnotes.
Once Again – Another Superb SIGAR Report
For the Afghan conflict observer or commentator this report is valuable reading and a good resource. SIGAR is not constrained by the DOD ‘info ops’ machine as it is a Congressional mandated organization. The report provides an up-to-date assessment of the US effort in Afghanistan and is one of the more accurate unclassified publications on the current security situation.
Quarterly Report to the United States Congress, Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, April 30, 2020, PDF, 217 pages.
Photo: Marine Lt. Col. Wade Priddy, Regional Command-South Counter Insurgency Advisory and Assistance (CAAT) Team leader speaks with a member of the Afghan National Police in the Nawa Valley, Afghanistan, April 27, 2011. Priddy was participating in Operation Gryphon Hold, clearing the Mazgarey Mountain complex from Taliban activity. (Photo by Senior Airman Jessica Lockoski, 16th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment).