The Taliban is acting, unfortunately, as most of us expected they would during the Afghan Peace Negotiations. They have continued their intentional targeting and murder of Afghan civilians, especially women and children. The Taliban have also continued to target Afghan security forces across the country. The Taliban militia is sacrificing fighters by the dozen in these unwise attacks on the ANDSF (Afghan National Defense and Security Forces), all in false hopes that murdering Afghans will bring the Taliban delegates, in Doha, more leverage during the negotiations.
This mass violence perpetrated by the Taliban against innocent civilians is no different than their campaign since 2001, as well as before the U.S. and its coalition arrived. The Taliban murders are continuing to unify the world behind the ANDSF. The NATO alliance and many other nations are closely partnered with the Afghan Army, Air Force, and Law Enforcement agencies.
Role of Afghan Security Forces
What should the Afghan security forces be doing during the peace negotiations –that could take weeks, months, years, or even decades to find a permanent peace?
1. Continue to professionalize
Professionalism is one of the most crucial differences between the Afghan military and police, and the Taliban militias. The ANDSF must continue to show the world they are the long-term Afghan force that Afghanistan’s global partners want to create long term security agreements with. The ANDSF must be respectful of its citizens and continue to grow deep community partnerships wherever they are stationed. This is especially true for law enforcement entities. They must continue to be patriotic about their nation –not any ethnicity or religious sect. Loyalty must never be towards any faction, warlord, or political leader. The ANDSF must remain in compliance with human rights standards and obey the laws of war. There will be accidental civilian casualties, and the ANDSF must respond to them quickly and correctly. Finally, the Afghan security leaders at every level must remain politically neutral and fully obedient to their civilian leadership. This is critical in a republic and will mean the difference between finding peace or starting a new multi-sided civil war.
2. Protect the innocent
History has proven and everyone watching can tell that the Taliban and their Pakistan-based masters are wrong in their strategy of using violence against Afghan women and children to increase their leverage in the negotiations. The ANDSF must continue to place themselves between these war criminal actions and the Afghan people. This will be frustrating because it is so obvious what the Taliban are doing, but it must be done. The Afghan people being targeted by the Taliban are the future of the nation. Every attack on the citizens slows down the future growth of the nation in education, healthcare, economics and justice. The ANDSF must pull out all the stops and protect every Afghan citizen from the butchery of the Taliban. Every life saved will ensure Afghans rise even stronger when peace finally arrives.
3. Protect the ANDSF
The military and police must put themselves in the best physical position to absorb the Taliban attacks. While they must be able to defend the Afghan people and infrastructure, the ANDSF cannot needlessly risk the deaths of their members by placing them in small outposts that are easily overrun. The ANDSF should use overwhelming forces to defend their citizens from attack and to defend themselves. Proactively destroying large bodies of Taliban that are gathering for an attack makes more sense than spreading the ANDSF so thinly they are easily destroyed. Insider attacks are another favorite tactic of the Taliban and their supporters, and these must be countered as well.
4. Protect capabilities
The progress of the ANDSF in many areas since 2002 is nothing short of miraculous—there are also many areas, like logistics, medical evacuation, and corruption that need attention of course. While the ANDSF continues to fight the Taliban, and correct the ANDSF existential flaws; it must also sustain the capabilities it has developed. Most militaries in the world are not in a protracted conflict with a ruthless enemy, and they struggle to do this well.
The ANDSF cannot compromise their reputation by shifting away from the professional capabilities that global partners that trained the ANDSF on for 2 decades. Protect the ability to move on the battlefield like a professional military and protect the gains by the police to adopt modern law enforcement techniques. Creating a “protect and serve” attitude in the police is still a work in progress, but it is great to see the Ministry of Interior investigating and removing corrupt police. The Army too must ensure it continues to remove leaders that are not caring for their troopers and accomplishing their missions. Soldiering and policing are not for everyone, in this critical time of the peace negotiations the ANDSF must retain their capabilities and continue to professionalize.
5. Expand security relationships
One of the best ways for the ANDSF and Afghan political leaders to retain their capabilities and continue to fix their flaws is to build enduring relations with other nations. The Afghans have a strong partner in NATO, who just pledged support until 2024. According to Reporterly NATO discussed “the Afghan National Army Trust Fund Board on Monday and reviewed the implementation of their financial contributions in support to the Afghan security forces…and reiterated their commitment to provide financial support to the Afghan security forces through 2024.” Since 2007 NATO alone has given over $3 billion to improve the professionalism of the ANDSF. NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg said reiterated that, “International funding support to the Afghan forces is a key pillar of our [NATO] commitment to Afghan security.”
The Afghan government should be working overtime to establish as many security agreements as they can during negotiations and use those funding and partnership promises as leverage in their discussions with the Taliban. Even the Taliban are not stubborn enough to rule out future security funding that will be crucial to peace-building.
One simple way of securing long-term partnership, collaboration, and mentorship from international partners is to turn the current ANA Special Operations School into a regional Center of Excellence. Nations in South and Central Asia could then send their military members to Afghanistan to absorb the lessons the ANA Special Forces have developed in the last two decades and learn how to better collaborate in regional counter-terrorism efforts.
MORALE IS THE KEY
The time period after a peace settlement will be just as challenging, security-wise, as today, but with less violence from an organized insurgency. If the ANDSF proves to the world that they are professional, capable, and respectful of the citizens during this challenging time; the world is more likely to demand, during negotiations, that the ANDSF remain the future of the Afghan security sector after the peace talks end. If the ANDSF digress and fail to live up to their own standards in this moment, it is unlikely they will be the force that survives in Afghanistan post-settlement.
Maintaining the professionalization and capability of the ANDSF will sustain its morale—and morale wins wars.