SIGAR interim evaluation on ANDSF’s Collapse

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Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) released interim evaluation were to determine the factors that contributed to the ANDSF’s collapse in August 2021 and also assess any underlying factors over the 20-year security assistance mission that contributed to the underdevelopment of ANDSF capabilities and readiness; and account for all U.S.- provided ANDSF equipment and U.S.-trained ANDSF personnel, where possible. SIGAR found that the single most important factor in the ANDSF’s collapse in August 2021 was the U.S. decision to withdraw military forces and contractors from Afghanistan through signing the U.S.-Taliban agreement in February 2020 under the Trump administration, followed by President Biden’s withdrawal announcement in April 2021. Due to the ANDSF’s dependency on U.S. military forces, these events destroyed ANDSF morale. The ANDSF had long relied on the U.S. military’s presence to protect against large-scale ANDSF losses, and Afghan troops saw the United States as a means of holding their government accountable for paying their salaries. The U.S.-Taliban agreement made it clear that this was no longer the case, resulting in a sense of abandonment within the ANDSF and the Afghan population. The agreement set in motion a series of events crucial to understanding the ANDSF’s collapse. First, the United States dramatically reduced a critical force multiplier: U.S. airstrikes. In 2017, the Trump administration’s South Asia strategy granted the Department of Defense (DOD) additional authorizations to combat the Taliban, mostly in the form of airstrikes. In 2019 alone, the United States conducted 7,423 airstrikes, the most since at least 2009. As a result, senior Afghan officials told SIGAR that the ANDSF was making progress and recapturing territory. Limiting airstrikes after the signing of the U.S.-Taliban agreement the following year left the ANDSF without a key advantage in keeping the Taliban at bay. Next, the ANDSF remained reliant on the U.S. military in part because the United States designed the ANDSF as a mirror image of U.S. forces. This created long-term ANDSF dependencies. The United States created a combined arms military structure that required a high degree of professional military sophistication and leadership. The United States also created a non-commissioned officer corps which had no foundation in Afghanistan military history. A critical component of the combined arms military force structure was the Afghan Air Force (AAF), which was the greatest ANDSF advantage over the Taliban. However, the AAF was not projected to be self-sufficient until at least 2030. The U.S. decision to withdraw on-site contract maintenance from Afghanistan in May 2021 reduced the availability of operational aircraft and removed maintenance instruction at key regional airfields. Further, the ANDSF had stockpiles of U.S.-provided weapons and supplies, but did not have the logistics capabilities to move these items quickly enough to meet operational demands and had to rely on a thinly-stretched Afghan Air Force to do so. As a result, ANDSF units complained that they did not have enough ammunition, food, water, or other military equipment to sustain military engagements against the Taliban. Additionally, the Afghan government failed to develop a national security strategy and plan for nationwide security following the withdrawal of U.S. forces. Instead, former President Ashraf Ghani frequently changed ANDSF leaders and appointed loyalists, while marginalizing well-trained ANDSF officers aligned with the United States. The constant turnover weakened military chains of command, trust, and morale in the ANDSF. Young, welltrained, educated, and professional ANDSF officers who grew up under U.S. tutelage were marginalized and their ties to the U.S. became a liability. Meanwhile, the Taliban’s military campaign exploited the ANDSF’s logistical, tactical, and leadership weaknesses. Direct attacks and negotiated surrenders set up a domino effect of one district after another falling to the Taliban. The Taliban’s media campaign, magnified by real-time reporting, further undermined the Afghan forces’ determination to fight.

Other factors also played a role in the ANDSF’s collapse. First, SIGAR found that no one country or agency had ownership of the ANDSF development mission. Instead, ownership existed within a NATO-led coalition and with temporary organizations, such as the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), Resolute Support, and the Combined Security Transition Command—Afghanistan. All of these entities were staffed with a constantly changing rotation of military and civilian advisors. The constant personnel turnover impeded continuity and institutional memory. The result was an uncoordinated approach that plagued the entire mission. Second, the length of the U.S. commitment was disconnected from a realistic understanding of the time required to build a self-sustaining security sector—a process that took decades to achieve in South Korea. Constantly changing and politically driven milestones for U.S. engagement undermined the its ability to set realistic goals for building a capable and self-sustaining military and police force. Further, many of the up-and-coming ANDSF generals had only a decade of experience; most general officers in the U.S. military have twice as much. Adapting a decades-long process to an unrealistically short timeline was reminiscent of the U.S. experiences in Vietnam. SIGAR also found that the U.S. military was tasked with balancing competing requirements. For example, battlefield success was critical to create the conditions necessary to draw down U.S. combat forces. But because U.S. troops were far more effective at fighting, they often led missions or filled critical gaps in missions—providing close air support, airstrikes, medical evacuation, logistics, and intelligence gathering—at the expense of the ANDSF gaining experience fighting on its own. As a result, the Afghan National Army became overly reliant on borrowed capabilities. Third, the United States created more long-term dependencies by providing the ANDSF with advanced military equipment that they could not sustain and that required a U.S. military or contractor presence. Additionally, starting in 2005, DOD received congressional authorization to implement a pseudo Foreign Military Sales process that removed the Afghan government from any formal role in the equipping process. From 2005 on, the United States had sole responsibility for requirements for ANDSF equipment, the fulfillment of those requirements, and the payment for items procured. Fourth, the United States lacked any real yardstick for measuring the ANDSF’s development. The metrics DOD used were inconsistent and unable to measure the development of ANDSF capabilities and capacities over time. Since 2005, the U.S. metrics used by the military focused primarily on inputs and outputs, masking performance-degrading factors such as poor leadership and corruption. During the U.S. military surge, measurement methods changed five times, making long-term tracking of ANDSF progress impossible. Despite the goal of developing a self-sustaining ANDSF, the highest recorded measurement of progress during the U.S. military’s transition of security to the ANDSF was “independent with advisors,” a complete disconnect from DOD’s stated objective. Fifth, SIGAR found that over the 20-year mission, the Afghan government lacked ownership and access to important Afghan systems responsible for tracking ANDSF personnel and equipment. Senior Afghan government officials told SIGAR that despite having staff responsible for human resource management and procurement, these staff members did not have the ability to independently access and modify accountability systems.

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