Sunday, August 21, 2011

NTM-A disagrees with my ANP assessment

Yesterday, I received an email from a COL David Johnson who is the Director of Command Communications for NTM-A with comments on my last post on the ANP. It seems that Blogger wouldn't let him post the comment himself, hence the email. However, I felt that his comments warrant a post of its own, of course followed by a few of my own comments (blogger's prerogative and all that). So here's COL Johnson:

No doubt, a successful police development program is one of the keys to the Government of Afghanistan assuming the security lead by the end of 2014. But to say the U.S. is not serious about the Afghan National Police (ANP) as a viable force to assume the security responsibilities is not accurate. The ANP training mission transition from DoS to DoD was conducted between Dec 30, 2010 and Apr 29, 2011. The training mission had two elements, 1) training and mentoring; and 2) base support for 15 training sites. On contract transfer, 300 of 728 Dyncorp positions were filled, a manning rate of 41 percent.
The Nato Training Mission-Afghanistan (NTM-A) headquartered at Camp Eggers in Kabul extended the current DoS contractor fill for 90 positions. NTM-A assumed risk in other areas and retasked personnel along with requesting NATO support to fill 148 positions. The endstate and contract transfer from DoS to DoD was 540 of 728 positions filled, a 74 percent manning rate. At no time was training of the police cancelled. In fact, on page 15 of the report it states that "no training classes were cancelled." So, where are we today police training? Currently, 633 of 673 trainer/mentor positions are filled, a 94 percent manning rate. Additionally, on May 26, 2011, NTM-A issued a letter of concern to the contract due to the contractor's inability to meet manning requirements. On June 1, 2011 the contractor agreed to reduce the transition period award fee by $326,000; reducing from $601,000 to $275,000, a reduction of 54%. NTM-A is committed to ensuring that Afghanistan's security institutions, and not just the Police, but the Army and Air Force as well, are self-sufficient, self-sustaining, and enduring. Significant investment, by the American taxpayer, has been made to consciously provide the Afghan National Security Force (ANSF) with capable, affordable and sustainable weapons, vehicles, equipment, and infrastructure. This investment must first, meet the requirement to defeat the current threat and protect the people of Afghanistan; it must be affordable and provide the best value over time; it must be sustainable and durable to withstand the harsh Afghan environment; and it must able to be maintained without international assistance.
Developing the ANSF to endure will continue to be the goal, but it will require patience and commitment on the part of the international community. The return on the investment is a capable and professional ANSF that endures long after the coalition combat forces have departed Afghanistan. So, are we getting it right? In some areas the ANP has made incredible progress, in other areas, challenges still exist. But to look back from where we started and where we are today, I am confident when I say that the ANP is on track to meet its 157,000 police force mark by November 2012.
Thank you for your comments, COL Johnson. Firstly, I did not mention the points in the IG reports which gave credit to DoD for fixing a number of the reported problems very quickly and it seems that the manning problems have been largely fixed since then, including making the contractor pay for deficiencies. That was a fairly rapid remediation. So in this regard, I did not acknowledge what had been corrected. So well done on that, NTM-A.

But I still stand by my statement that the U.S. is not serious about police development - which I think is more a fundamental difference with how NTM-A is approaching ANP training and mentoring. This is not to say that DoS or DoD are not serious about - from the looks of it, they have and are working very hard on it. However, we still have a problem in that the contracted program is essentially a train and equip program to me numerical output metrics to fight the insurgency. So here's the conundrum: the USG needs to have a large and protected organization to overwatch the production of police forces in the midst of a counterinsurgency campaign and only DoD fits that description even if their military mission is counter intuitive to long-term police development. The military sees the ANP as a counterinsurgent force and trains them (through a contractor) as such - which explains the focus on numbers. Yet, this is a very short sighted strategy - the idea is that the insurgency will be eventually "defeated" at which point you now have 157,000 or so Afghan National Policemen who know how to operate in a hostile insurgency environment, but probably know squat about the routine enforcement of law. When this happens, the likelihood of the police becoming a driver of conflict (not that the ANP isn't now in my places) is significant. I'll point you again to Bill Rosenau's paper on this topic as well the ANP section of this paper I wrote in the spring.

It's not surprising that DoD is focusing on the counterinsurgent aspect of the ANP - they wouldn't get a chance to do community-type policing if a there isn't a peace. But I still think this is the wrong approach. Why is NTM-A building a force that is essentially poorly equipped and trained ANA to conduct essentially identical operations? Especially when the ANA is obviously so much better than the ANP at conducting these ops? I personally believe that NTM-A shouldn't be doing this ANP training and mentoring program and should effectively move the ANP into the ANA. If they're doing the same mission anyway, DoD ought to focus on what it knows best: training militaries. In the meantime and until the ANP could operate independently and focus on actual policing, DoJ (or DHS) should be leading and executing a police development program for a cadre of officers who would provide the initial leadership of ANP once it comes back on line. If this were to happen, ISAF would get the counterinsurgent forces it needs while Afghanistan would get the police it needs once the fighting has subsided.

I think you would find that if the USG writ large were serious about police development then DoJ would play a bigger role than they already do and have the resources to execute this mission. We would also stop wasting our time developing lousy infantry to fight an insurgency, who are supposed to be policemen. Make the ANP police or make them infantry, but they can't be both or they'll continue being bad at both of them. The USG has dropped its departments into a very hard situation and expects them to come up with the right solution, which I'm not sure they're capable of doing because of the organizations and cultures. This is not an indictment of the people trying to solve these challenges - they were dealt a lousy hand and they're doing what they think is right. And I certainly don't envy COL Johnson and his command for this tough mission. But at some point we're going to have to fix our organization and culture across the USG to avoid making the same mistakes over and over again.

Thanks again to COL Johnson for taking the time to comment here.


  1. I can understand the imperative to train police as distinct from the training and equipping of a national army, even in (perhaps especially in) a counterinsurgency environment: police presence is local, stationary, and enduring. As the theory goes, their success helps to connect the populace with its government and increase confidence in its legitimacy and capacity. Army units are mobile; their presence is temporary; and their personnel will often come from distant areas with little in common with their AOR. Police training in a security environment like Afghanistan will necessarily tilt towards higher-intensity operations than would they in, say, Saudi Arabia, and that makes sense. But they're meant to serve a different function. I suppose the idea is really to combine the governmental authority of the army with the effectiveness and local knowledge of irregular auxiliaries or village defense forces, with the option over the medium- to long-term of transitioning into a more traditional policing role (instead of demobilization and stand-down at the close of open hostilities so as to avoid maintaining a force that poses a challenge to the monopoly of violence of the legitimate national army).

    All of which is to say I can understand why police need to be separate from the army, and why you need both forces. But you have to wonder whether the model we've adopted is the most effective in the near term.

  2. Gulliver - totally agree they're supposed to be two separate functions. But it's not working that way in Afghanistan nor did it in Iraq. And this happens because of the focus on fighting the insurgency. Which leads me to question their (the ANP) effectiveness in the long term, to say nothing of their contribution to the short term. I'd argue that you don't necessarily need both forces during the fight if you modify some of the Army practices (like basing them somewhere for long periods of time). But you will need both as time progresses - assuming you're beating the insurgency...