In the past fourteen years, the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) have developed into a collection of professional institutions that are both committed to their mission and highly respected. However, they still face major challenges in key areas of capacity, such as logistics, air power, and intelligence. This report assesses the ANDSF’s structure and capabilities and the conditions needed for their long-term financial and operational sustainability.

Summary

  • From inception, the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) have experienced shifting political and security conditions that have impacted their size, structure, mission, and capacity.
  • The ANDSF have long been dependent on U.S. financial and operational assistance, as well as support from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. They are expected to remain dependent on foreign aid for many years.
  • Although well-designed on paper, the ANDSF’s command and control structure does not function as intended. The structure is bureaucratically heavy at the top and weak at the bottom. Political interference and the circumventing of formal command levels often prevent the carrying out of established procedures, plans, and unit functions.
  • Coordination across the Afghan National Army, Afghan National Police, and National Directorate of Security forces in the field is dangerously lacking. The nature of shared decision making within the National Unity Government has led to delays in appointments, thus inhibiting the ability of Afghan security ministries and their forces to effectively exercise command and control.
  • The ANDSF continue to experience major logistics, air power, and intelligence shortfalls, undermining their operational posture and the combat effectiveness of their troops.
  • To avoid overextension and improve the space-to-force ratio, Afghan leadership may want to change the ANDSF operational posture from being defensive to offensive. This would mean prioritizing some areas and leaving other areas for local forces to cover. Remote, hard to- reach locations would only be watched and hit where the enemy shows concentration.
  • Given that the Taliban and other anti-Afghan government insurgents have operational and logistic infrastructure in Pakistan, the country has significant control and influence over them and can therefore play a key role in reducing the level of violence in Afghanistan.
  • Afghanistan’s long-term security strategy needs to focus on reducing threat levels through political settlement and building indigenous security capacity to respond to emerging threats.

About the Report

This report examines the development of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF), their current structure and capacity, and their challenges in securing long-term financial and operational sustainability. The report also explores how the ANDSF can more effectively operate on a nonconventional battlefield and deal with emerging new threats of violent extremism—both alone and as part of a larger regional and global coalition. The information is based on field research and interviews conducted by the author in Afghanistan in 2015.

About the Author

Ali A. Jalali is a distinguished professor at the Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies at National Defense University and recently served as a senior expert on Afghanistan at the U.S. Institute of Peace. A former interior minister of Afghanistan (January 2003–October 2005), Jalali also worked for more than twenty years as a broadcast executive in the Pashto, Dari, and Persian languages at the Voice of America in Washington, DC.

Related Publications

Scott Worden on Afghan Elections and the Peace Process

Scott Worden on Afghan Elections and the Peace Process

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

By: Scott Worden

A week and a half after Afghan presidential polls, the results remain unclear. But, we do know that turnout was historically low, largely due to dire security conditions. Meanwhile, with the peace process stalled, USIP’s Scott Worden says the upsurge in U.S. military operations against the Taliban is a “pressure tactic, not a victory strategy.”

Electoral Violence; Democracy & Governance; Peace Processes

Loya Jirgas and Political Crisis Management in Afghanistan: Drawing on the Bank of Tradition

Loya Jirgas and Political Crisis Management in Afghanistan: Drawing on the Bank of Tradition

Monday, September 30, 2019

Many times over the past century, Afghan political elites have utilized a loya jirga, or grand national assembly, when they have needed to demonstrate national consensus. Based on traditional village jirgas convened to resolve local disputes, loya jirgas have been used to debate and ratify constitutions, endorse the country's position and alliances in times of war, and discuss how and when to engage the Taliban in peace talks. In light of the growing political uncertainty in Afghanistan, this report examines the strengths and weaknesses of the loya jirga as an institution for resolving national crises.

Type: Special Report

Democracy & Governance

How to push Taliban for compromise? Ask the women doing it.

How to push Taliban for compromise? Ask the women doing it.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

By: Palwasha L. Kakar

The halt in the U.S.-Taliban dialogue, plus Afghanistan’s September election, has forced a hiatus in formal peace efforts in the Afghan war—and that creates an opening to strengthen them. A year of preliminary talks has not yet laid a solid foundation for the broad political settlement that can end the bloodshed. While talks so far have mainly excluded Afghan women, youth and civil society, the sudden pause in formal peacemaking offers a chance to forge a more inclusive, and thus reliable, process. Even better, a little-noted encounter in Qatar between women and Taliban leaders signals that a broader process is doable.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Gender; Peace Processes

What to Watch for in Afghanistan’s Presidential Election

What to Watch for in Afghanistan’s Presidential Election

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

By: Scott Worden; Colin Cookman

After several delays, Afghans will finally head to the polls on Saturday to elect their next president. The election comes amid an indefinite stall in the year-long U.S.-Taliban negotiations following the cancellation of a high-level summit earlier in the month. There has been a debate over the sequencing of elections and the peace process for months, but the vote will move ahead this weekend. As with all post-2001 Afghan elections, security risks and the potential for fraud and abuse loom over these polls. USIP’s Scott Worden and Colin Cookman look at how insecurity will impact the legitimacy of the vote and what measures have been taken to combat electoral mismanagement and fraud.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Electoral Violence; Democracy & Governance

View All Publications