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Don’t Pull NATO Advisors

Don’t Pull NATO Advisors

Afghan traffic police in class in 2011 (credit: NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan)

The shooting of two American officers in the Ministry of the Interior in Kabul this last Saturday was a shocking and disturbing event. If however NATO pulls its advisors out of ministries, while understandable, it would be a disappointing precedent and undermine progress and modernization in an evolving Afghanistan.

As stability in this country largely depends on security, international efforts in recent years have focused on training of Afghanistan National Security Forces (ANSF), an umbrella term for the army, air force, and various police branches. The Ministry of Interior commands the police, which have more contact with the population than the army, and needs the capacity to train and maintain able forces. As foreign militaries prepare for a dramatic drawdown over the next two years, the handover for security responsibilities in various districts and provinces is being watched by sundry elements affected, including insurgents and narcotraffickers.

Per its own assessment last October, NATO Training Mission Afghanistan (NTM-A) averaged 1875 newly trained Afghan police a month in 2011. To reach its projected need of 157,000 by November 2012, they will need to average 1750 a month until then. Fewer available NATO advisors will complicate this.

Yet a more prosperous country also depends on education, health, equitable justice, and economic outlook, and foreign advisors, both military and civilian, play invaluable roles in these relevant ministries. Brain drain from Afghanistan over the last 30 years has decimated the talent and experienced personnel needed to govern, hence the need to train and retain the next generation. While NATO does not provide all advisors, pulling them out would be a harmful precedent for others. International experts, and Afghans with Western education, have been drafting budgets, writing proposals in polished English, and constructing the timelines needed to plan out ministerial strategies, alongside Afghan counterparts. This is not to imply that non-Afghans are making consequential decisions. Ministers themselves provide expertise as returnees, such as Minister of Finance Omar Zakhilwal, or with significant NGO experience, such as Minister of Education Farooq Wardak. Such individuals have experienced functioning bureaucracies, understand the foreign community, and have developed relevant vision and managerial skills.

This horrific assassination also needs to be viewed in its appropriate context. There has been a virtual cordon, a “Ring of Steel” as it is known locally, of security checkpoints around downtown Kabul, dramatically reducing terrorism in the city. Attacks have been few and far between, and when they do occur have been for media and psychological impact rather than strategic gain. Last year’s shooting on the American embassy for example, and primitive explosives under police buses. Insurgents know they cannot win on the battlefield and so target the foreign press and the minds of regular Afghans, yet intelligent observers see this for what it is.

Security unquestionably is a primary concern in any workplace, and especially Kabul in 2012. Yet pulling advisors out of ministries active in planning the country’s development, while safer for them, will also threaten future opportunities for all Afghans. In 2009, the International Crisis Group (ICG) recommended cancelling presidential elections for fear of related violence and ballot stuffing. I responded that would only hand a victory to insurgents, slowing governance reform and allowing them to operate amid uncertainty. The same principle applies here. NATO and its Afghan colleagues should not retreat to bunkers. Advisors need to stay and contribute by example. The strength of governance is forged through its being challenged.



Jason Anderson

Jason has lived and worked for over five years in Russian-speaking countries. He spent April-May 2014 researching religious extremist groups in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. He has project experience in Afghanistan, Central Asia, and the Caucasus. He previously served as a trainer for U.S. military and civilians working alongside counterparts in Afghanistan, and as a coordinator with Afghan ministerial advisors on National Priority Program (NPP) funding proposals. Jason speaks conversational Russian and holds a Master of International Affairs from Columbia University.