Afghan Police receive training in weapons maintenance as local forces take more responsibility for anti-insurgency operations. (Agence France-Presse)
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KABUL — Afghanistan’s military and police are holding their own against the country’s insurgency, but the 340,000-member force still faces significant logistics and sustainment challenges, NATO and Afghan officers say.
Afghan security forces are equipped with a variety of US and former Soviet weapons, but are almost totally reliant on money and support from the US and other nations for its maintenance training and supply of parts.
Lt. Gen. Mohammad Akram, the vice chief of the General Staff of the Afghan National Army, said that type of support will be needed for years in addition to ongoing financial aid.
“We have many challenges on the way ahead, but the most important would be logistics-wise,” added Maj. Gen. Afzal Aman, head of operations in Afghanistan’s Ministry of Defense. “Our air section is a kind of problem for us as well as the supply of our armored vehicles and our heavy weapons.”
He noted that while Afghanistan is training pilots for its helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft, it needs to improve the skills and number of maintenance crews.
Canadian Army Maj. Gen. Dean Milner said the Afghans have been provided with large amounts of Western gear, ranging from Humvees to Textron armored vehicles to Ford trucks, because that equipment is easier to maintain and sustain. Ensuring the Afghans develop a proper maintenance and supply system to support that equipment is a major focus for NATO, said Milner, commander of the NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan.
“I have a deputy commander of support operations, and a big focus right now is making sure [the Afghans] have the right workshops, the right maintenance capabilities, the right supply capabilities to be able to sustain this force into the future,” he explained.
“This last three years, there has been a huge focus on the logistics to be able to sustain that force — putting that national system in place, making sure you’ve got the right officers, the right NCOs in the right places.”
One of the main issues that could affect the logistics and sustainment system is the situation regarding the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA). That agreement would govern the continued presence of international troops in the country, but Afghan President Hamid Karzai has refused to sign the document, citing the need to receive assurances for protection of Afghan civilians.
NATO officers and analysts here expect the agreement will be signed once Karzai vacates the presidency after the country’s April 5 presidential elections.
But patience is running out in the Obama administration. On Feb. 25, the White House announced that it had asked the Pentagon to begin planning for a complete withdrawal from Afghanistan. It has, however, left the door open to signing the BSA with a new Afghan president.
Any cutoff of support for the Afghans could have dire consequences. When it withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989, the Soviet Union’s military left behind a well-equipped Afghan Army and Air Force, which it continued to supply. But that Afghan force collapsed several years later, when the supply of parts, ammunition and funding dried up after the demise of the Soviet Union.
NATO has been reluctant to supply the Afghan National Army (ANA) with more complicated pieces of equipment, such as Western tanks, because it does not think the Afghans have the capability to maintain them. The Canadian government declined an Afghan request in 2011 to transfer its Leopard tanks in Kandahar to the ANA.
Instead, the ANA has been provided with the Textron-built Commando Select armored vehicle. The ANA will eventually operate more than 500 of those, paid for by the US government.
The Afghans are looking for other sources of logistics support. The government has made overtures to India and Russia to interest those nations in refurbishing equipment and operating a maintenance and spare parts facility near here that could support the ANA’s existing Soviet-era tanks and helicopters.
Part of NATO’s training for the Afghans involves large-scale logistics and financial planning. But mistakes still are made.
In early December, Karzai’s office accused the US of cutting off fuel supplies to some ANA and police units to force the government to sign the BSA.
But NATO sources said the units were without fuel because the Afghan National Army officers miscalculated their supply needs.
In an October report, the Office of the US Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction warned that NATO and the ANA were not properly accounting for the spare parts being provided to the Afghan military. NATO could not account for $230 million worth of spare parts for the ANA’s vehicles, the report said.
Accuracy is needed if the ANA is to be properly equipped, it stated. “This lack of accountability for the ANA’s spare parts and their use also increases the risk of their theft, loss and mismanagement.”
In response, NATO said the ANA was too understaffed to properly account for the parts, and it was trying to improve the system. ■