Transfer of security responsibility will test Afghan National Security Forces

Afgh-transition-phase2-map.jpg

Phase 1 and Phase 2 of transition to the Afghan National Security Forces. Click the map to view a larger image.

A central part of the US and ISAF strategy in Afghanistan is to build the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) so that it can progressively take over security responsibility for the country, allowing ISAF forces to gradually withdraw. This transfer of security responsibility is being executed in phases. In each phase, more area is transferred from ISAF to the ANSF. This goal is to transfer security responsibility for the entire country to ANSF by the end of 2014.

In March 2011, President Karzai announced the first phase of the transfer. The transferred areas consisted of two of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces, the city of Kabul, and six smaller cities. The transfer was completed in July 2011.

On Nov. 26, President Karzai announced the second phase of the transfer. Unlike the first phase, which was comprised of areas that were uncontested or had with low levels of insurgent activity, this phase includes some areas that are highly contested with substantial insurgent presence. Therefore this phase will be a much tougher test of the ANSF ability to secure the country.

Areas transferring to ANSF

The second phase consists of six provinces (out of Afghanistan’s 34), seven cities, and 40 rural districts (out of 365).

Eastern region:

  • Jalalabad city in Nangarhar province
  • Ghazni city in Ghazni province
  • Maydan Shahr city in Wardak province

Western region:

  • Qala I Naw city in Badghis province

Northern region:

  • Shebergan city in Jawzjan province
  • Chaghcharan city in Ghowr province
  • Fayabad city in Badakhsan province
  • All of Balkh province
  • All of Samangan province
  • All of Takhar province

Southern and southwestern regions:

  • All of Daykoni province
  • All of Nimroz province

Only four of the 40 districts have been specifically identified:

  • Nawa, Nad Ali, and Marjah districts in Helmand province
  • Subori district in Kabul province

The total transferred area in this second phase is about twice that of the first phase. And while the physical size may seem small, it holds a substantial part of Afghanistan’s population. Taken together, the first and second phases contain about 50% of Afghanistan’s population.

The “transfer of security responsibility” does not mean that ISAF forces will leave the area and ANSF will then operate “independently.” ANSF will be responsible for leading operations, but ISAF forces will still be present and will continue to provide major support. This will include mentoring, partnering, and the enabling functions that ANSF is still in the process of developing, such as logistics, medical, and air support. Truly “independent” ANSF operation, in which ANSF operates on its own without ISAF support, is still a long way off.

The test for the ANSF

While the first phase has generally been considered successful, it occurred in areas that were uncontested or had minimal insurgent presence. The second phase, however, involves several areas that currently are, or have recently been, highly contested with significant insurgent presence. Therefore, this new phase will prove a much more difficult test of ANSF capabilities.

The following areas in Helmand, Ghazni, and Wardak provinces are most notable because they will present two different tests for the ANSF:

Nad Ali, Nawa, and Marjah districts in Helmand province, and more generally, all of Helmand province

Prior to 2010, Helmand province was heavily infiltrated with Taliban insurgents. In early 2010, the US and ISAF sent a surge of forces into the province. Over the succeeding two years, these troops executed a high-intensity counterinsurgency operation that cleared the Taliban insurgents out of a substantial portion of Helmand. As a result, the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah was transferred to the ANSF in the first phase in July.

The districts of Nad Ali, Nawa, and Marjah will be transferred in the second phase.

ANSF will have to demonstrate it can hold the cleared areas against insurgent attempts at reinfiltration. Additionally, the US is planning to withdraw 33,000 of its 100,000 troops from Afghanistan over the next 10 months. Other ISAF nations are also withdrawing troops, and most of these troops will come out of southern Afghanistan. Accordingly, the ANSF will have to accomplish its mission with reduced US and ISAF support.

The Afghan Army’s 215th Corps is responsible for Helmand and Nimroz provinces. Two of the Corps’ three brigades are relatively new and inexperienced, including the 1st brigade, which will be responsible for Nad Ali, Nawa, and Marjah districts.

Ghazni city in Wardak Province and Maydan Shahr city in Wardak province, and more generally all of Ghazni and Wardak provinces

The transfer of security in the east will be the more difficult test. This area is home to the most capable and lethal Taliban insurgent group, the Haqqani Network. Also, eastern Afghanistan received little of the surge forces that were sent to Afghanistan in 2010. Unlike the south, eastern Afghanistan was not subject to an intensive two-year counterinsurgency clearing operation. On the contrary, ISAF operations consisted mostly of a holding action that attempted to stem the growth of the insurgency. In fact, insurgent attacks in eastern Afghanistan have increased over the last year by 20 percent.

ANSF will be taking the lead in areas of intense and increasing insurgent activity. The relatively new Afghan forces will be expected to perform high-intensity counterinsurgency and counterterrorism operations. They will be expected to not just to hold the area but also to do the clearing themselves. On the plus side, ISAF will not be withdrawing troops from this area. Therefore, the ANSF units here will continue to receive substantial ISAF support.

The ANA’s 203rd Corps is responsible for the portion of Afghanistan that includes Wardak and Ghazni provinces, specifically the 3rd brigade and elements of 4th brigade. Both brigades are relatively mature.

Looking ahead

As a practical matter, the real test hasn’t started yet. For the following reasons, it will start in earnest next summer:

  • Fighting in Afghanistan is seasonal. It picks up in the spring and summer and declines in the winter. Right now, we are in the winter lull. The fighting will not pick up again until next spring.
  • The actual transfer of authority has not occurred yet. The transfer date has not been announced but, if the first phase is indicative, the transfer for the second phase should occur around springtime.
  • The major portion of US troop withdrawals does not start until next summer, with all the announced 33,000 troops to be withdrawn by September 2012.

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