Sunday, October 8, 2017

Expansion of Afghan Special Operations Forces

Four-Year Plan and SOF. The Afghan government and its security ministries have developed a four-year plan for upgrading and professionalizing the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF). A big part of this four-year plan is the expansion of the Afghan Special Security Forces (ASSF). The ASSF is comprised of special operations units and organizations within the Ministry of Defense (MoD) and Ministry of Interior (MoI). For the most part, these special operations force (SOF) units have borne the brunt of the fighting in Afghanistan. Reports by the U.S. military and others indicate that between 70 to 80% of the offensive operations are carried out by Afghan SOF units.

Inability of ANDSF to Hold. The conventional Afghan National Army (ANA) is somewhat limited in its ability (or is it willingness?) to carry out offensive operations. While the Afghan Army is fully equipped and manned (there is the ghost soldier problem) it does not do very well in offensive operations. The ANA doesn't seem to be able to 'hold' territory very well either. In addition, the Afghan police, serving the role of community police and as a paramilitary force, doesn't do 'hold' very well.

Mowing the Grass? So it seems that the cycle of operations in Afghanistan is that the Taliban will take an area, region, or district and hold it for a few days or weeks (sometimes months). In time, the ASSF (usually ANA Commandos) will move and and sweep the Taliban out. The Afghan regular Army troops and Afghan police will enter the scene to 'hold' the area or district. Then the cycle repeats itself.

ASSF the Only Effective Fighting Force. So, the ASSF seems to be the only effective fighting force within the ANDSF. And there's the rub. The ASSF have now become less special operations focused and more highly effective elite light infantry or 'shock troops'. And the ASSF has been overused and are conducting the wrong type of missions.

Doubling the Size of ASSF. The Afghan government and Coalition answer to this vexing problem is to create more Afghan special operations forces. While this might make sense to some it is a troubling path to take. The real problem is that the regular Afghan Army units are not performing their mission. The primary reason for the non-performance is the lack of good ANA leadership. There are other causes as well.

More on this Topic. Franz J. Marty, an independent correspondent based in Kabul, has penned an extensive article on the expansion of SOF units. He points out that the focus on re-capturing lost territory rather than attempting to 'hold' territory may be the wrong answer. Read his very detailed and well-documented piece below posted on the Afghan Analysts Network (AAN) on October 2, 2017.

Expanding Afghanistan's Special Operations Forces: Doubling their success or further diluting their mission?

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