Conflict in Afghanistan since 2001 has been a contest between the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (GIROA) and armed insurgent groups including the Taliban, Islamic State – Khorasan Province, and the Haqqani Network, each of which is seeking to delegitimize and topple the GIROA to carve out a state-like entity under their own control and ideology. (Katzman, 2016) International assistance to sustain, develop, and expand the GIROA’s governance has taken various forms including financial and technical aid, developing the capacity of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) as well as military intervention to combat the insurgency. The main vehicle for international military assistance has been the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) deployment of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), which in addition to training the ANSF provided security to much of the country from 2001-2014. (Council on Foreign Relations, 2014) Violence in the country has fluctuated since the commencement of hostilities in 2001 with high-points occurring in 2006, 2009, and more recently as ISAF troop levels have declined. (Council on Foreign Relations, 2014) Throughout the last fifteen years, insurgents have relied heavily on guerilla and terrorist tactics including suicide bombings, targeted killings, IEDs, ambushes and occasionally large-scale attacks on civilians, aid workers, ISAF forces and Afghan government forces.
Managing the Conflict
As part of the broader international intervention in Afghanistan, ISAF and international actors have sought to develop the capacity of local security forces, with the aim of transitioning responsibility for the provision of security into Afghan hands. Security Sector Reform is the overarching concept guiding this process and is defined as “re-constituting state-level institutions, enabling domestic civil society organizations to engage in SSR processes, or providing technical training or material support”. (Donais, 2008) The establishment and development of the Afghan National Police has been a central pillar of the conflict management through SSR strategy, and has been driven by various missions led by Germany, the European Union, NATO, the U.S. Army and individual agencies like Canada’s Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). Each effort has followed the same logic and aim of moving from limited or non-existent local capacity and local ownership to high local capacity and local ownership; from a situation where external actors are responsible for providing security, to a state where the external actors have been transitioned out and local forces are responsible for security.
Afghanistan does not possess a professional, sustainable, or independent police force, this is not to say the conflict management efforts of the international community have been a failure, merely that there have been pernicious challenges which have inhibited the overall realization of this goal. The first of these challenges was the absence of a unified strategy at the outset of the mission, which instead relied on ‘lead nations’ to independently develop the various compartments of Afghanistan’s security sector. The second challenge has been a breakdown in the tandem development of local capacity and local ownership, as evidenced by the Afghan Local Police (ALP) in which a lack of training and professionalism paired with a dependence on the ALP for policing services is a recipe for strategic failure. (Murray, 2011) A third challenge to the ANP’s development is a reliance on military trainers and curricula which influences the ethos, application, and practices of the police service in Afghanistan; this has been problematic in transitioning to post-conflict stabilization. The final factor which has inhibited progress is the overuse of police forces as counterinsurgents, the result of which has been high attrition rates and officers poorly suited to conventional policing. (Murray 2011) The gray area between kinetic military operations and civilian policing is a necessary step for the type of state-building the Afghans and their partners have pursued, but the overuse of the police as counterinsurgents and the ad hoc approach which characterized their application shows a failure in planning and in understanding the strategic COIN environment.
Recommendations for Canada
11. Advocate for unified SSR strategies which are integrated among international partners and include significant contributions from local actors according to their needs, realities, and priorities.
22. Maintain reputation as a credible donor by seeking capacity development opportunities which are founded on sustainable and strategic goals for developing local training and institutional capacities.
33. Provide police personnel for capacity development missions and emphasize through multilateral avenues their value added in comparison to military personnel fulfilling the same role.
44. Encourage distinction in the minds of international and local partners between war-fighters, counter-insurgents, and police officers, by offering unique support to training and equipping each of the three.
Sources and Additional Information
Council on Foreign Relations. (2014). U.S. War in Afghanistan 1999-Present. Retrieved from Council on Foreign Relations: http://www.cfr.org/afghanistan/us-war-afghanistan/p20018
Donais, T. (2008). Local Ownership and Security Sector Reform. Geneva: Geneva Centre for Democratic Control of Armed Forces.
Katzman, K. (2016). Afghanistan: Post-Taliban Governance, Security, and U.S. Policy. Washington: Congressional Research Service.
Murray, T. (2011). Security Sector Reform in Afghanistan, 2002-2011: An Overview of a Flawed Process. International Studies, 48(1), 43-63.