Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Sunday, January 21st, 2018

Afghanistan 2014: Risks of government collapse

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Afghanistan 2014: Risks of government collapse

Strategic Coalition military support and large economic assistance has enabled the current Afghan government and its military force to survive and stand its ground against terror of the Taliban insurgency in the last 10 years, beyond 2014 it can't survive on its own in absence of continued large scale military assistance and financial support.

According to official NATO statistics published on the internet under title 'ISAF troop contributing nations' in October 2011 it had 130,600 troops in Afghanistan. According to U.S Senate's Congressional Budget office America had up to May 2010 spent $345 Billion for war efforts in Afghanistan since October 2001. This large scale military and economic assistance has enabled the Afghan government to survive for the last decade against the Taliban insurgency.

With only a little over three years to go before scheduled transfer of security responsibilities to the Afghan National Army (ANA) is complete and withdrawal of NATO combat troops from Afghanistan is to come to an end; there are military shortcomings, financial shortfalls and political risks that put in question future of the ANA as a credible defence force. All of these risks together put survival of the Afghan government beyond 2014 in jeopardy.

Mission of the Afghan National Army projected to 260,000 soldiers by end of 2014 will be to secure territory and security of Afghanistan by itself. Its job will be to ensure survival of the Afghan government by itself. There are serious military shortcomings to the ANA that put in serious doubt its credibility to perform its job as guarantor of security and foundation of continuity of the Afghan government in medium to long term after 2014.

CIA World Factbook in its 2005-10 calculations assesses 76% of population of Afghanistan lives in rural parts of the country. For Afghan government to survive control of these rural population and production centres and lines of communication and commerce between them will be essential. It will ensure most territory of the country; its natural resources and economic productions remain under government control.

Military risks: Due to logistical problems ANA troops and therefor control of the Afghan government can't reach Afghanistan country side to protect it. Large parts of Afghanistan territory will be vulnerable to Taliban takeover and control.

Transporting troops and supplies to country side Afghanistan by air is not viable:
Inventory of ANA air assets is small fleet (65 units) of aged Soviet Union transport helicopters. 86 precent of those helicopters can only carry maximum loads of 5,511 Kg. Each of those helicopters can only carry 12 soldiers at one time. The helicopters can be used to transport troops and supplies but due to their small number and small carriage capacity they are not useful for supplying ANA soldiers on deployment in the country side or transporting large numbers of soldiers to remote parts of the country on independent ANA operations come end of 2014.

This limitation restricts operational freedom and reach of the ANA to immediate surroundings of towns and cities, influence of the ANA and control of government will not reach the country side and hence those parts of territory will be vulnerable to Taliban takeover. Vulnerability and insecurity of the country side is made worse by inability of the ANA to move troops and supplies by land routes to those areas.

Transporting large number of troops and supplies by land to remote parts of the country is not possible to combat shifting Insurgency threats. This is due to lack of developed infrastructure in the country side. This problem is made worse by geography of Afghanistan. It is a landlocked country.

This terrain makes any convoy of ANA troops and supplies traveling by land easy targets for insurgents hiding in mountains waiting to launch ambushes. The country side can't be reached by the ANA due to these logistical problems. The Afghan government can't protect rural Afghanistan. This inability increases vulnerability of the country side to Taliban takeover.

Medium size of the ANA is another serious problem. There will be 260,000 soldiers for a population of almost 30 million by end of 2014. Coalition troops in Afghanistan are fighting a counterinsurgency war. That in practical terms that means pushing the enemy out of the population centres and focusing on 'protecting the population' and giving the Taliban a bloody nose is second priority. Standard counterinsurgency theory says for every 40 to 50 people there should be one soldier as pointed out by architect of counterinsurgency theory, General Peterous in his famous 'counterinsurgency field manual'.

Based on that ratio the number of ANA soldiers should be between 600,000 and 750,000 to be able to protect towns and cities against the Taliban insurgency. 260,000 soldiers can barely protect the cities in Afghanistan, the Afghan government has no spare soldiers to deploy in the country side on a permanent bases. This makes the people of country side insecure and fearful and increases their likelihood of surrender to the Taliban if there was to be serious confrontation. It makes it easy for Taliban to capture rural territory.

Lack of air offensive capability is another critical shortcoming of the ANA. Given challenges of an 'industrial scale Taliban insurgency' in words of former commander of coalition forces Gen. Petrous, wide geographical spread of the insurgency requiring quick movement of large number of troops and supplies to fight emerging threats, difficulty of movement of ANA troops and logistical problems of the ANA inhibiting its operational flexibility, close air support to ground troops will always be an indispensable part of military operations to combat the terror of the Taliban insurgency and activities of its associated groups. It enables the ANA to maintain its firepower and fighting supremacy over the Insurgency in larger parts of territory.

Fighter jets can target gatherings, training camps and hideouts of Taliban commanders on receiving intelligence from members of covert ANA Commandos operating in the country side or act on intelligence collected on enemy forces by other methods. This would enable the ANA to maintain some degree of control over developments in remote parts of the country. However due to total lack of credible air offensive capability the ANA can't make such impacts on the grounds beyond 2014. Currently NATO provides close air support to ANA, coalition and joint operations by the two forces.

These cumulative ANA shortcomings means the Afghan government can't militarily secure rural population and production centres and lines of communication and commerce between them after 2014. This fact combined with knowledge that 76% of the population live in those areas represents at worst risk of collapse of government entirely and at best it highlights an outcome where majority of territory of Afghanistan will be under insurgent control.

If the insurgency consolidates its power base in rural territory and secures its platforms for expanded terror attacks amongst rural population it will not take long for the insurgency to besiege the cities and overrun the government. Outcomes of both cases will be collapse of government.

To be an operationally independent and credible defence force the ANA will require its own credible air offensive capability. Militarily this is the critical to survival of the Afghan state post 2014. But credible ANA Air force can't be created due to financial and economic problems the country is struggling with.

Economics risks of the ANA: Revenue shortfalls s cause the ANA to be weak; vulnerable, dependent and at serious risk of collapse.

Recently former U.S ambassador to Afghanistan Gen. Eikenberry speaking in Australian capital Canberra expressed his worries about financial dependence of the ANA. He described that Afghan government by end of 2014 can be expected to generate between $2 and $2.5 Billion a year in revenue. Cost of maintaining the ANSF will be over three times the government's total revenue. The $8 Billion number is corroborated by Obama's discussions with his national security team as detailed in the book "Obama's wars" by Bob Woodward, on page 263.

No army or government can survive without paying its soldiers and employees. These numbers indicate beyond 2014 Afghanistan will not be able to maintain its standing army and its government without major aid contributions from foreign governments. Without this help the revenue shortfall will culminate into disintegration of government and the ANA, the country will dive into chaos and civil war.

The financial shortfall has grave consequences for lack of ANA air offensive capability. The Afghan government can't on its own afford to create a credible air force by end of 2014 or any time beyond that period because of its undeveloped economy and financial woes.

Lack of air offensive capability makes the ANA weak. These dynamics taken together with inability of the afghan government to control majority of its country side territory, rural population and production centres and lines of communication and commerce between them after 2014 makes survival of the Afghan government a remote prospect. This assumption is underpinned by understanding that Taliban insurgency won't disappear anytime soon after 2014.

Taliban insurgency does not seem to disappear any time in the foreseeable future nor will its terror capability decrease. It has been on persistent increase since 2003. In 2003 58 ISAF soldiers were killed in Afghanistan.

In 2010 due to expanded fighting and improvement in sophistication and lethality of Taliban attacks the number was 711 and in so far through in 2011 the number is 531 according to Afghanistan and Iraq casualties tracking website icasualties.org. Pakistani military and financial support to the Afghan Taliban is foundations of improved Taliban terror capabilities. My article titled 'President Karzai's efforts of negotiations with Pakistan is flawed and hopeless' published on Outlook Afghanistan explains why strategic Pakistani support to the Afghan Taliban insurgency will continue beyond 2014.

Beyond 2014 the ANA and the Afghan government will require multiple fold increases in aid contributions to maintain its ground against the Insurgency militarily if unexpectedly terror capability of the Insurgency increases dramatically.

To maintain balance of military forces between the ANA and the Insurgency changes in aid contributions to the ANA need to be in multiple proportions to changes in terror capabilities of the Insurgency so the Afghan Army can maintain its fighting and firepower supremacy. This is vital to survival of the Afghan government beyond 2014. It is unlikely the international community will forever continue to be generous toward paying for security of a corrupt government in Afghanistan.

Washington and other NATO national capitals continue to pronounce they will continue their aid contributions to the Afghan government and the ANA beyond 2014. Such announcements foreign policy establishments of NATO nations and realities of the Afghan economy indicates the Afghan government can maintain its military only on large aid contributions for the long term. This is nation-building job. Afghan government can't forever depend on others for its survival and security of its country. It has to take responsibility for managing its own economic development and start paying for its own security. Political roadblocks make it almost impossible to accomplish this.

Major cause of economic problems is crisis of political leadership: Political risks

Honest, efficient, competent government and stability are the cornerstones of economic development. It gives business enterprises confidence to invest in the country and provides workers and households certainty they need to work hard for a better future for their children, knowing their efforts will pay off in reward. Due to dishonesty and incompetence at the highest level and widespread systematic corruption, using name of the Afghan government in daily life of its citizen is synonymous with 'reshwa' or corruption.

Its reputation in eyes of foreign governments is defined with incompetence, dishonesty and inefficiency. Amongst 178 countries in the world, Transparency International in its 2010 index ranked Afghanistan as the 176th most corrupt country in the world. Out of total of 47 countries in Africa 46 ranked better than Afghanistan. Only Somalia, a country torn by ongoing civil war and existence no central government ranked worse. This represents political leadership of Afghanistan is in crisis. It is a total failure.

The key to attracting foreign investors into the country is confidence investors need to have in competence, honesty and stability of government of that country. Foreign investors can have no confidence in a government of Afghanistan. The country is not able to bring economic development to its villages and towns with help of foreign corporations and multinationals. The afghan government can tap into vast mineral resources of the country as an alternative source of revenue for its budget.

A team of Pentagon specialists discovered Afghanistan holds vast mineral resources worth between $1 Trillion to $3 Trillion. To exploit its resources wealth the Afghan government needs to setup basic infrastructure and supporting industries needed to work the mines. Currently those infrastructures and industries for exploitation of mineral resources do not exist. Unless Afghanistan solves crisis of its political leadership and brings some competence and honesty to its government it can't accomplish those economic goals.

Its mineral wealth will be of no benefit to its financially struggling government and army. That puts financial survivability of the ANA and government itself in doubt given it has no alternative sources of generating independent revenue. My article published on Outlook Afghanistan titled "Afghanistan 2014: Starting up Mining Boom Crucial to financial survival Of Army and Government" discusses this matter at length.

Fighting a ruthless insurgency and surviving on aid dependency is impossible:
No government can hope to forever survive on ongoing aid contributions from other governments. Last time in history of Afghanistan a government had this attitude to its finances was soviet-backed government of Mohammad Najibullah. For survival it was economically dependent on the Soviet Union.

Three years after withdrawal of the Soviet Union from Afghanistan when the Soviet Union imploded and could no longer continue its large aid contributions to the Afghan government the Soviet-backed regime collapsed amid fighting a large scale insurgency as it could no longer pay to maintain its armed forces. The Afghan government is ignoring tragic lessons of history in blatantly neglecting to develop its financial security.

Most serious and dangerous crisis of Afghanistan is total collapse of leadership. Administration of Hamid Karzai can't bring competence and honesty to governance; it can't develop the economy to generate enough revenue from its domestic economy to pay for maintenance or expansion of security forces of the country. Beyond 2014 military defeat of the ANA by the insurgency will bring about collapse of government, chaos and economic catastrophe.

The Taliban are not reputed for economic management. Financial shortcomings of the government due to economic underdevelopment will cause it and the Afghan Army to collapse financially and then fall all together when foreign governments stop paying Afghanistan's bills. All of these risks are real and gravely serious. The Afghan government is surviving on strategic NATO military support and large aid contributions by donor governments.

It is living on life support system provided by foreign nations. That will change beyond 2014. The Afghan government will have to work out its governance crisis soon and learn to survive on its own financially and militarily without benefits of strategic security guarantee provided by large scale presence of military forces of a superpower while fighting a large and ruthless insurgency or perish. The clock is ticking.

Latif Mohammadi is a Student of Economics and Law at University of Canberra, Australia. He can be reached at azadi232@gmail.com

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