The UK and Afghanistan Contents

Chapter 7: The Afghan National Security Forces and NATO training

418.Nicholas Williams OBE, Senior Associate Fellow, European Leadership Network, and former Head of Operations for Afghanistan and Iraq, NATO, said the Afghan army “had virtually ceased to exist in 2001 after years of Taliban rule”.666 From 2003 the International Security Assistance Force, led by NATO, worked “to enable the Afghan government to provide effective security across the country and develop new Afghan security forces”.667

419.Box 11 describes the composition of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF).668

Box 11: The Afghan National Security Forces

The ANSF has three parts:

  • The Afghan National Army (including the Afghan Border Force, Afghan Air Force, Afghan Territorial Army and Afghan National Civil Order Force). The Afghan National Army operates under the responsibility of the Ministry of Defence.
  • The Afghan National Police (ANP), including the Afghan Local Police.669 The ANP operates under the responsibility of the Ministry of the Interior and is the primary law enforcement agency in Afghanistan.
  • The National Directorate of Security (NDS), including the Afghan Special Force. The NDS is the state intelligence and security service of Afghanistan. The command structure of the NDS is independent and the head of NDS reports directly to the President.

There are approximately 280,000 members of the ANSF.670

Source: European Asylum Support Office, Afghanistan state structure and security forces (August 2020): [accessed 5 January 2021]

420.Responsibility for security was handed to the ANSF from 2011 until the end of the NATO combat mission in 2014.671

NATO’s Resolute Support Mission

421.Since January 2015 NATO’s Resolute Support Mission (RSM) has provided “training, advice and assistance to the Afghan security forces and institutions”.672 Box 12 gives information on the RSM.

Box 12: NATO’s Resolute Support Mission

The Resolute Support Mission (RSM) is a NATO-led, non-combat mission launched on 1 January 2015 at the invitation of the Afghan government and in accordance with United Nations Security Council Resolution 2189 (2014). Its purpose is to help the Afghan security forces and institutions develop the capacity to defend Afghanistan and protect its citizens in a sustainable manner.

It consists of around 16,000 troops from 38 NATO Allies and partners (May 2020 figures).

The mission carries out training, advice and assistance activities in support of the Afghan government’s 2017 security roadmap, which aims to increase the effectiveness and accountability of the ANSF and institutions. The roadmap focuses on leadership development, fighting capabilities (with an emphasis on the Afghan special operations forces and the air force), unity of command and combating corruption.

The mission also performs supporting functions including: operational planning; budgetary development; the force generation process; management and development of personnel; logistical sustainment; and civilian oversight in order to ensure the Afghan security forces and institutions act in accordance with the rule of law and good governance.

RSM troops primarily work in security-related ministries and with the army, air force, special operations and police forces.

Source: NATO, NATO-Afghanistan relations (April 2020): [accessed 4 January 2021]

422.Dr Manza said there was “frequently some confusion between the Resolute Support noncombat mission and the American [counter-terrorism] mission”: “When you see the use of force in Afghanistan in particular by the United States, it is important not to conflate it with our non-combat mission.”673

423.Brigadier (Retired) Ian Thomas OBE, former Commander of Operation Toral and Dean of Academic Studies, Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, said the “train, advise, assist element” of RSM was “very different” from tactical training being delivered in Iraq. “The main focus was on institutional capacity building”: the “bulk” of the mission was “concentrated in Kabul and … focused on developing capability in ministries”.674

Effectiveness of the Resolute Support Mission

424.Lord Houghton said “multinational training programmes … delivered by mixed national groupings in a second language to students being taught in a foreign language by instructors of wildly differing competences” were “not the optimum methodology to achieve great training”.675 Each of the Allies “largely delivered what they were nationally familiar with: there was no NATO approved syllabus”, though the US “tried to impose common minimum standards”.676

425.Dr Manza said that Afghan troops had “responded quite well”.677 The “greatest challenges” faced by the mission, such as the capacity to absorb training, and the distance and terrain, were not unique.678 The low level of education made it difficult to train soldiers and officers.679

426.Dr Manza said “one of the places where we have had the greatest success has been … Afghan military schools”680 (discussed below).

UK contribution to the Resolute Support Mission

427.Lord Ahmad said the UK was “the third largest contributor”, with around 850 troops currently deployed.681 The UK’s contribution has three elements:

428.Brigadier Thomas said the first element was “the main British contribution”.685 The Kabul Security Force was “a multinational force, predominantly American”, led by the UK.686 It provided “adviser force protection … moving all the advisers around the city to their various ministries and multiple tasks”.687 Lord Houghton said this was “very high-profile” and “quite … risky”.688

429.Second, the UK was “developing capacity in the Ministry of Interior Affairs”, where the UK had an embedded major general.689

430.Third, the UK provided education and mentoring support. Dr Manza said the UK’s “greatest contribution” had been “in professional military education”.690 Lord Houghton said training for leaders to establish “the moral and conceptual ways in which a state should employ lethal force” was “one of the best ways … to accelerate the national development of effective security forces”.691 Dr Manza said the “professionalisation of the [Afghan] force, particularly the officer corps” was “very much due to the work of your Government and military forces”.692

431.The development of the ANAOA, which opened in 2012 and was modelled on Sandhurst, had been a “substantial” UK contribution.693 Dr Edward Flint, Head of Department, Defence and International Affairs, Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, said that there had been a “request by the Afghans for the Sandhurst model”, which he described as “a year to try to feed in the wider idea of officership, leadership and command”.694 UK trainers had “adapted to Afghan needs”, such as a focus on “counter-ambush drills, counter-IED, and working out of forward operating bases”.695

432.Lord Sedwill said the ANAOA, had “proved to be a considerable tactical success”: it had “trained and improved the leadership capability of a generation of Afghan national defence and security force officers”.696 Mr Williams said UK trainers “had the reputation, correctly, of being among the most effective among the NATO contingents”.697

433.Dr Flint said “the 5,000th cadet has gone through the ANAOA … and 75% of operational junior commanders” were graduates.698 ANAOA “programme alumni” occupy senior positions in the Afghan government”, which helped to “build closer ties between the UK and Afghanistan”.699

434.While the initial UK–Afghan agreement on the ANAOA had been for 10 years, Dr Flint thought it was “a relationship that we will continue”.700

435.We welcome the valuable part the UK has played in NATO’s Resolute Support Mission since 2015. In particular, we welcome the UK’s long-term investment in training through the establishment of the Afghan National Army Officer Academy, which has been an important contribution.

Assessment of the Afghan National Security Forces

436.Dr Manza said the ANSF had made “significant progress” since 2015. It was “much more professional” and “capable of leading combat operations throughout Afghanistan”.701 Ms Miller said its technical capabilities had improved.702

437.The Afghan Special Forces were considered to be particularly capable.703 They could “routinely conduct successful, independent operations against the Taliban and ISKP”.704 Dr Manza said that it was “well known” that the Afghan Special Forces are “some of the best”.705

438.The Afghan Air Force was now “able to provide close air support for their own troops”,706 “conduct deliberate and dynamic targeting”, “train personnel”, “maintain their aircraft” and “manage logistics with non-combat NATO support”.707

439.Ms Lyons said that the Afghan police’s ability to function as a regular force had been limited because of the security demands placed on it.708 The ODI said the police were often at the forefront of the conflict, and regretted that “few resources have gone into police training, support or management”.709

440.Dr Manza said that, since 2006, the ANSF had faced “a constant fight that involves pretty intense combat nearly every day”.710 In January 2019 President Ghani said that 45,000 security personnel had been killed since 2014.711 The “number of casualties and the brunt of the fighting” borne by Afghan forces since 2015 was “incredible”.712

441.On the ANSF’s ability to operate alone, Dr Manza said it fights “with very little support from the Americans”.713 Lord Sedwill said it did “not need an awful lot of external support in the basic ground operations of counterinsurgency missions”.714 However, Ms Miller noted that “as the numbers of US and NATO forces have dwindled, the Afghan government have lost territory”.715 Lord Houghton thought “elements of US capability” were “critical to the avoidance of a potential catastrophic failure of ANSF, not across the board but maybe in a specific engagement or region.”716

The Afghan National Security Forces and militias and factions

442.Ms Gaston said there was “a persistent problem of militia and factional control and penetration of the security forces”. There had been “a number of efforts to try to regularise that and break … patronage ties”, but these had “never [been] entirely successful”.717 Positions were “still accorded on the basis of political allegiance and connections”.718 In many cases, “security officials answer in the first place to their informal patrons rather than to their official superiors”, undermining legitimacy.719

443.Lord Sedwill, however, thought the Afghan army “was genuinely pretty national”.720 The Afghan police were more of a challenge: “they were local, and therefore they were inevitably caught up in local tribal tensions”.721

444.The Afghan National Security Forces have become increasingly effective. While they can operate more independently, ongoing US and NATO support is required if the Afghan government is not to lose further territory to the Taliban.

445.Ongoing patronage ties within the Afghan National Security Forces are a concerning reflection of the level of influence of militias and strongmen across Afghan state institutions.

Funding for the Afghan National Security Forces

446.The US provides about $4.5 billion annually to the ANSF; other NATO countries provide about $0.5 billion.722 International donors provide funding bilaterally or through two multilateral channels: the NATO Afghan National Army Trust Fund and the UN Law and Order Trust Fund for Afghanistan723 (see Box 13).

Box 13: The NATO Afghan National Army Trust Fund and the UN Law and Order Trust Fund for Afghanistan

The NATO Afghan National Army Trust Fund

The NATO Afghan National Army Trust Fund was established in 2007. Its scope has expanded to supporting the Afghan National Army, literacy and professional military education, women’s participation in the ANSF and capacity-building activities.724

Since its inception, 36 nations have contributed nearly $3.1 billion. In 2020, 22 nations have pledged to contribute a total of $379.9 million. As of 5 May 2020, 10 nations (including two that did not pledge) had donated a total of $79.9 million.725

The UN Law and Order Trust Fund for Afghanistan

The United Nations Development Programme has managed the Law and Order Trust Fund for Afghanistan since its inception in 2002. It pays the salaries of up to 124,626 members of the Afghan National Police.726

447.The current NATO funding package for the ANSF, agreed at the July 2018 NATO Summit in Brussels, runs until 2024.727 Dr Manza said the Allies “recognised the need to continue funding these security forces”.728 The UK’s annual contribution is £70 million;729 it has confirmed this amount for 2021.730

448.Dr Manza said the “real challenge” was the length of time funding would be required.731 A May 2020 US Department of Defense report, Advancing security and stability in Afghanistan, concluded:

“Realistically … Afghanistan will remain reliant on the international community to fund its forces, even in a post-reconciliation environment … It will be years before the Afghan economy would fully generate sufficient government revenues to finance a peacetime force, even if there was no more risk that terrorist groups could use Afghanistan as a safe haven.”732

449.Ongoing donor funding through the NATO Afghan National Army Trust Fund and the UN Law and Order Trust Fund for Afghanistan is essential to the viability of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). There is no short- or medium-term prospect that the Afghan state can generate additional revenue to replace international funding for the ANSF.

450.We welcome the UK’s pledge of a further £70 million of funding for the Afghan National Security Forces for 2021.

666 Written evidence from Nicholas Williams (AFG0021)

667 NATO, ‘ISAF’s mission in Afghanistan (2001–2014) (Archived)’ (1 September 2015): [accessed 5 January 2021]

668 This is interchangeably referred to by NATO, the UK and the US as the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces (ANDSF).

669 The Afghan Local Police has its origin in an international counter-insurgency programme which raised village-level defence forces to fight the Taliban. Dr De Lauri said that funding for the Afghan Local Police had ceased on 30 September 2020. One-third will be disarmed and retired, one-third transferred to the Afghan National Police and one-third transferred to the Afghan National Army Territorial Force. Q 59

670 Q 124 (Baroness Goldie)

671 NATO, ‘ISAF’s mission in Afghanistan (2001–2014) (Archived)’ (1 September 2015): [accessed 5 January 2021]

672 Ibid.

673 Q 78. The US participates in both RSM and its own mission, USFOR Alpha. The latter is a national counter-terrorism mission, “centred on US forces Afghanistan with the bulk of strike assets in Bagram”. Q 113 (Brigadier Thomas)

674 Q 108 (Brigadier Thomas). Mr Williams said that earlier UK training, during the combat mission, had not focused sufficiently on developing the Ministry of Defence and military and police command structures. Written evidence from Nicholas Williams (AFG0021)

675 Q 89

676 Written evidence from Nicholas Williams (AFG0021)

677 Q 73

678 Q 72

679 Q 74

680 Q 72

681 Q 116

682 Q 86 (Lord Houghton)

683 Ibid.

684 Q 86 (Lord Houghton). Brigadier Thomas said the ANAOA had initially fallen outside the direct scope of the RSM.

685 Q 108

686 Ibid.

687 Q 109 (Brigadier Thomas)

688 Q 86 (Lord Houghton)

689 Q 108. The US led on the Ministry of Defence.

690 Q 75

691 Q 89

692 Q 75

693 The Kabul Security Force provides force protection for the ANAOA’s operations.

694 Q 109

695 Q 111

696 Q 86

697 Written evidence from Nicholas Williams (AFG0021)

698 Q 111

699 Written evidence from the FCDO (AFG0011)

700 Q 110

701 Q 72

702 Q 44

703 Q 44 (Laurel Miller), Written evidence from the FCDO (AFG0011), Q 73 (Dr John Manza) and Q 59 (Erica Gaston)

704 Written evidence from the FCDO (AFG0011)

705 Q 73

706 Q 73 (Dr John Manza)

707 Written evidence from the FCDO (AFG0011)

708 Q 12

709 Written evidence from the ODI (AFG0028)

710 Q 74

711 BBC News, ‘Afghanistan’s Ghani says 45,000 security personnel killed since 2014’ (25 January 2019): [accessed 5 January 2021]

712 Q 73 (Dr John Manza)

713 Q 73

714 Q 89

715 Q 44

716 Q 91

717 Q 59

718 Ibid.

719 Ibid.

720 Q 87

721 Ibid.

722 Written evidence from Mr Nicholas Williams (AFG0021)

723 US Department of Defence, Enhancing Security and Stability in Afghanistan, (June 2020) p 95: [accessed 5 January 2021]

724 Ibid., p 96

725 Ibid.

726 Ibid.

727 Q 72

728 Q 79

729 Written evidence from the FCDO (AFG0011)

730 Q 116 (Lord Ahmad)

731 Q 79

732 US Department of State, Enhancing Security and stability in Afghanistan (June 2020) p 97: [accessed 5 January 2021]

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