With the withdrawal of the majority of the NATO troops, can we say that Afghanistan is more ‘’secured’’ than it was 13 years ago? Is the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) ready to take over and keep a certain degree of security in the major populated areas such as Kabul and Kandahar?
One thing is clear though: the ANSF still needs people to train them! I think this is where NATO’s SOF units should intervene and stay after 2014, until we can guarantee a better control over the attacks and the country’s stability.
The recent attack on the Lebanese Taverna restaurant in Kabul on 17 Jan 2014, at 1920, by three Taliban clearly shows that there are still some gaps that need to be filled.
It began with a Suicide Vehicle-Borne Improvised Explosive Device (SVBIED) at the main entry point of the restaurant. The blast killed the Close Protection guards and created an entry point for the two remaining Taliban. As soon as they got in, they opened fire on everyone who was inside, killing 21 and wounding 13 more. The ANSF responded quickly by killing the attackers.
The abundance of alcohol served and the number of westerners frequenting the restaurant probably motivated a violent attack, as many Afghans are against becoming a copy of Western society.
The Taliban openly claimed responsibility and warned that more attacks like this one should be expected. A lot of analysts are still questioning why the Taliban have been avoiding targets like bars and restaurants in Kabul. But will 2014 be the start of new attacks like this one? I believe so.
With the withdrawal of the majority of NATO’s soldiers, the Taliban will start to target more civilians to demonstrate that the ANSF is not able to provide them with security. By doing so, the Afghan civilians will prefer living under the Taliban regime than seeing a major increase of attack on them, thus making the current government obsolete. By leaving in 2014, I am positive that deadly attacks such as the one on the Taverna will become more frequent.
How can we prevent attacks like that? I do not think that having more ANSF in the streets will stop them. Even though NATO have been training a good number of soldiers and police officers, it is through intelligence and mentoring that they will be able to stop cowardly attacks like the one on the Taverna.
Having SOF teams embedded with the Afghan National Army after 2014 would clearly help them get more experience, and probably teach them to counter these attacks. While the SOF teams would train the ANSF to a whole different level, efforts could also be put on intelligence gathering.
SOF teams have been pretty successful with the Afghan Special Forces and the Afghan National Army (ANA). Embedded training teams have also made sure the ANA were supported by NATOs assets. Leaving them without those assets could be disastrous. We can all agree that the Afghan Air Force is far from ready to support the ground troops, and this is only one example. NATO has put so much effort into the counter-insurgency (COIN) strategy in the last few years that it would be a complete waste to leave like that. SOF teams have an incredible amount of knowledge about COIN, and I really think it would do well if they stay post-2014 to keep preparing the ANSF to operate independently.
I do believe that it is NATO’s responsibility to make sure that the ANSF is ready to operate independently, as we have invested so much blood, effort and money into the process. We should support them and train them, not fight for them though, as they need to gain the sense of fighting for their country and their population.
While I say we shouldn’t fight for them, I don’t mean not going outside the wire. I would like to be precise in explaining that fighting alongside them is what will make the ANSF trust their advisors, but combat operations without the ANA should not be something NATO does in the future.
We also need to closely monitor Afghanistan’s Intelligence services, as they were involved in a few incidents of human rights abuses. If the Khadamat-e Aetla’at-e Dawlat (KhAD) who is Afghanistan’s intelligence services, becomes more successful with NATO’s help, it could also give the people of Afghanistan a better chance of not living through a rise in suicide attacks against them. I also put a lot of emphasis on NATO’s help as corruption is something that occurs on a daily basis within KhAD and results in major information leaks.
2014 will be a crucial year for Afghanistan, and I really hope NATO will live up to their expectations and continue to help the ANSF. We have been active since 2001 to promote a better life for the Afghans and to make Afghanistan a more stable country. To this day, I don’t think we’ve achieved our goal, and it is our responsibility to make sure we do before leaving them on their own.