In recent weeks, the media have shown a renewed interest in Afghanistan following the rapid dissolution of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) and the consequent expansion of areas controlled by the Taliban. Many interviews have been given by people who have previously held positions of responsibility within the Ministry of Defense and by experts in geostrategy.
Everything that has been said about the causes of the political-military collapse that has hit Afghanistan is based on facts and analyzes that have been widely disseminated, at least internationally, over time.
I feel the need, however, to write a few words about ANDSF and, indirectly, also about the work that has been done in favor of Afghanistan in all these years.
I am not an expert on Afghanistan or Afghans, but I have met many of them both on a sub-tactical and strategic level and I have had the opportunity to evaluate their performance and determination to fight for a better Afghanistan. Obviously, if everyone agreed on the wish for a more prosperous Afghanistan, the visions diverged considerably when it came to the "details", without prejudice to the confessional imprint in determining the type of state to be created. Not for nothing, the government of Kabul en route is identified in the acronym GIRoA (Governement Islamic Repubic of Afghanistan).
Capacity of the ANDSF
In recent days, a little bit of everything has been said. Many argue that the Afghan Armed Forces and Police were unable to fight alone against the Taliban and that only the few Special Forces were equipped and trained to carry out effective actions.
These statements are incorrect. Before entering into the merits of the matter, it should be remembered that in Afghanistan as of January 1, 2015 there were two types of international operations, namely:
NATO Resolute Support: TAA (Training, Advice and Assist) operation, non-combat in which the USA also participated;
US Counterterrorism mission, aimed at contrasting, with unilateral or combined actions (also with Afghan Special Forces), of ISIS-K, Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups.
As a result, the control activities of the territory, since 2015, including those to combat the Taliban movement, have been carried out mainly by the ANA (Afghan National Army), together with the Police, while making use of the indirect support of Advisors belonging to the NATO, in various sectors, including that of Operations Planning and Logistics. Over the years the ANA has acquired, first (2015-2016)1, high ability to successfully conduct planned operations as part of the planning of the Annual Campaign Plan to Counter Rebel Movements and, then, in 20202, to conduct operations on the basis of Joint Orders issued to conduct law enforcement actions and operations with reduced reaction times e intelligence driven.
One might think that these timelines are enormously extended, but the reality is that forming an Army (actually an air component and a country in the process of modernization) with full capabilities from scratch is not easy. Those who have worked nationally for the constitution of new capacities know that it takes 10 years to reach a real one full operational capability, beyond formal declarations, without having to wage a war at the same time.
It is true that in some provinces the ANA (but also NATO troops) had serious difficulties in regaining and maintaining control of the territory and that the dropout rates were in some cases high.
The reasons linked to the difficulty of controlling some areas of the country are, however, only partially linked to the high capacities of the Taliban. The problem is linked, as always, to the ability to win "the hearts and minds" of the local inhabitants. Military activities alone can do little against a completely unbalanced all-encompassing approach that does not make the local population understand the "goodness" of the institutional system proposed by the Afghan state. An activity that must find real feedback, otherwise the population moves away to embrace the "other approach".
This has led many units of the ANDSF to find themselves in continuous combat cycles lasting 6-7 months a year, without replacing the units in contact with the enemy, and clearing times for wounded personnel far too long. As a consequence of this, a significant percentage of personnel, when sent on leave, lengthened their absence from the unit they belong to excessively, also to contribute - in some cases - to agricultural work at their families. Part of this staff was then reinstated even months later if it did not end up being permanently lost. It was a critical problem but in the process of being resolved, even in the consideration that in a country at war one cannot think that the military will remain in the trenches "for life".
Obviously, there was no lack of problems related to corruption and the poor quality of personnel, at the various levels of orders, but the Resolute Support mission has always been very careful to ask for severe measures against these people, as well as impose penalties also in terms of reduction. of the budget in the most controversial cases, up to the closure of the investigations and the identification of those responsible. The change of mentality in parts of the population who are not accustomed to a rigorous approach to the management of "public affairs" requires constancy in the action of command and control and time. It is not possible to set up an activity of reconstruction of a state thinking of “lightning operations”.
Coming to the Special Forces, it is true that they had high-level capabilities and excellent operational results, but by definition they certainly could not ensure the control of the territory and the generalized counteraction of terrorist groups. Their missions and their spectrum of action are well determined and their effectiveness remains high only within their skills and possibilities.
The conquest of hearts and minds
The problem of almost all the inhabitants of the country's rural areas is that of having sufficient resources to withstand the winter period in which agricultural activities become unproductive.
The strategy set by the US and NATO indicated the "way" for the rebirth of the country to start a series of projects linked to the construction of large infrastructures that should have triggered the growth of a private economic fabric.
This proved to be a utopia. The agricultural sector, Afghan, for example, was not able to withstand the competition of agricultural products from neighboring countries with less climatic and orographic difficulties, with the result that what was produced in Afghanistan was not competitive either on the internal or on the market. international. The cultivation of opium and cannabis has often become the only way to enjoy a secure income. If you add to all this the pressure exerted by organized crime (even under the guise of a terrorist movement), government corruption at the local level, and hostile activities in some neighboring countries, the result is an increase in illegal crops.
The reconstruction of a state, also according to the European experience of the last two centuries, can only pass through a strong presence of the state in the various sectors of the economy in order to guide its growth. Just look at the history of the Agricultural Consortiums in Italy3 to realize that to pass from a tribal or pseudo-feudal society to one based on capitalism it takes time, resources and also an active intervention of the State in terms not only of defining the sector policy.
In this sector, the shares of comprehensive approach carried out by the major world institutions (see UN and EU) were insufficient.
Faced, therefore, with a situation that saw the ANDSF in continuous growth, with good overall skills, albeit with some problems still unresolved, the USA decided to start talks with the Taliban, without the Afghan government, to reach an agreement of peace, in exchange for the aforementioned terrorist movement's commitment not to conduct offensive operations against NATO and GIRoA.
Starting peace talks with "the enemy" (at least at that moment) without the other parties involved sincerely seems like a political act that can only lead to disastrous events.
The US certainly did not need Taliban consent to shut down the Counterterrorism Operation it was conducting in Afghanistan. The Afghan Special Forces who benefited most from the active support of the US Special Forces they would have been able to conduct their operations also thanks to the NATO Advisor who have worked alongside them in ISAF operations and Resolute Support.
The operation Resolute Support which operated on objectives and not deadlines could have continued its activity even in a reduced format as hypothesized over time by NATO itself. The presence of USA Advisor within a non-combat NATO mission it was not, formally, the continuation of a warring war, but would have allowed the Afghan home front to withstand the Taliban pressure and safeguard the progress achieved in recent years. Among other things, the reduction of US financial support to ANDSF for 20214, with a percentage varying between 30 and 50% in the maintenance and training and operations sectors suggested at least a significant loss of operations.
Incidentally, NATO has adopted a resolution for the closure of the mission which shows a lack of consistency with all the decisions taken previously5. Affirm that "There is no military solution to the problems that Afghanistan has to face" and that, therefore, we withdraw the training, assistance and consultancy support from the Afghan State is the negation of nation building.
If the US objective, as indicated by someone, was to control the flow of energy resources of the former Soviet Republics with a government that guarantees greater internal stability, one wonders on what basis it was considered that the neighboring countries, in addition to Russia and China will work in favor of the US rather than their direct interests.
The agreement established between the US and the Taliban seems, with the data in our possession, one unconditional surrender. Unconditional surrender of a third actor, of course, namely GIRoA, with all those who believed in the possibility of a prosperous Afghanistan and on the way to becoming a modern country.
The fall of the home front
The news of the US-Taliban agreement had the immediate effect of the search for any form of "safe conduct" by many officials and operators of the "public affairs" including the ANDSF.
This alone can explain what has happened in recent days. The news of the Taliban "victory" has attracted, in recent months, numerous people on the winners' wagon, swelling the ranks of "religious students". In the opposing ranks, the news has convinced numerous officials, soldiers and policemen to abandon the losing band at the earliest opportunity.
"Nothing new on the western front". It marks the fall of Prussia at the end of the First World War. There were no combat activities. The war ended due to the fall of the home front. The will to fight had failed.
In the period 1989-92, the Afghan government army resisted attacks by the mujahedin for about three years, only to yield with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the cessation of its economic support.
In 2021 the Defense and Security Forces dissolved in the summer sun because they were given no hope of winning or goals worthy of a rearguard battle.
Nothing new on the western front!
1 US DoD: Enhanced Security and Stability in Afghanistan 2016
2 US DoD: Enhanced Security and Stability in Afghanistan 2020: https://media.defense.gov/2020/Jul/01/2002348001/-1/-1/1/ENHANCING_SECUR...
4 Justification for FY 2021 Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) Afghanistan Security Forces Fund: https://comptroller.defense.gov/Portals/45/Documents/defbudget/fy2021/fy...
Photo: Khaama Press News Agency