News - Afghanistan
The Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) saw a dramatic rise in casualties this year, but not as much as was claimed by coalition assessments, said Afghan security officials on Sunday.
Afghan forces were applauded for their performance this year, which saw nearly most responsibility for security around the country placed on their shoulders and an aggressive Taliban offensive subdued. But as the security transition process wears on ahead of the NATO combat mission's end in 13 months, the Afghan forces have seen that taking the lead comes at a high cost.
Previously, the U.S. Department of Defense claimed that there was a 80 percent rise in casualties amongst the Afghan forces from 2012 to 2013. Coalition officials implied from their reports on the success and failures of this year's fighting season that the casualty rates of the Afghan forces would be unsustainable in the long-term.
That assessment added urgency to advocates of a U.S. and NATO residual force staying behind post-2014. Estimates have suggested that force would likely be around 16,000 troops – 10,000 from the U.S. and 5,000 from other NATO countries.
But officials from the Afghan Ministry of Defense (MoD) and Ministry of Interior (MoI) argued on Sunday that the casualty figures quoted by foreign officials were inaccurate.
"The causalities of the National Army have changed from last year," acknowledged MoD spokesman General Zahir Azimi. "Because the forces now lead operations, causalities have increased by 14.24 percent from last year."
The Interior Ministry, which oversees the Afghan National and Local Police forces, also rejected the account provided by foreign officials.
"Police causalities rose by 15 percent from last year," said MOI spokesman Sediq Sediqi. "But the report that states causalities grew by 80 percent is baseless."
According to the Afghan officials, the rise in deaths amongst their forces was primarily a result of roadside bomb incidents and aggressive clearance operations around the country aimed at eradicating insurgent presence from local communities.
They acknowledged that lack of proper training and experience was likely behind some of the high casualty numbers, which echoed previous comments made by coalition officials. NATO has maintained the Afghan forces biggest weakness is logistics.
Appropriately, then, one of the central advantages of a residual force of Western troops purportedly is that they would be able to help further develop the Afghan forces' professionalism and logistical management. The hypothetical stay-on mission has been described by NATO officials as a "train, advise and assist" one.
Whether any residual forces will stick around, however, is contingent on a security pact being signed between Washington and Kabul. At the moment, the fate of the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) lays in the hands of a Loya Jirga convened by President Hamid Karzai to decide on the touchy issue of criminal jurisdiction over U.S. troops stationed in Afghanistan.
NATO officials have indicated the alliance's involvement post-2014 would be based on the BSA signed between American and Afghan officials.
With the exact dynamics between coalition countries and Afghanistan in the coming years still not determined, Afghans are focused on the present. Preparations for the upcoming elections and improvements to the training and equipping of their forces are top priorities.
Regardless of foreign troops having a presence 14 months from now or not, the Afghan forces will have to get comfortable in the driver's seat. But even if coalition estimates are off, Afghan security officials will be hoping the 2013 casualty trends are not a sign of what is to come.