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Afghanistan: A Profile of the Army and Police

Afghanistan has suffered through 30 years of warfare, from the Soviet invasion of the country, followed by a protracted civil war, the 2001 US and coalition invasion, to the current state of strife and insecurity. The Taliban, after being defeated in 2001, has returned to challenge the Afghan government and international forces, and has succeeded in establishing a presence in much of the country.

Before the 2001 US invasion, while the Taliban still controlled most of the country, Afghans were the world’s largest refugee population with 3.6 million living outside the country and a further 800,000 internally displaced (1). During the latest war, United Nations agencies expected an additional 1.5 million refugees to flee the country once the US attack began. At the time, some 3 million people were already dependent on the UN’s World Food Programme for food (2). The UN estimates that the current national population is about 24 million, including some 4 million refugees that have returned between 2002-2008 (3). The country remains volatile, with mass migration of millions of people outside and inside of its borders.

The disintegration of an economy that could sustain healthy life, in great part caused by the decades-long insecurity and mass violence stalking Afghanistan, is evident in the fact that a quarter of all children in 2004 died before they reached the age of five (4).

Foreign armies, national armies, private armies, and militias have struggled to bring order to their region of Afghanistan or the country as whole. The ongoing conflict between these groups has left a wake of destruction that has thrown the country into extreme poverty. Afghanistan ranks 172 out of 178 countries in the UN Development Programme’s Human Development Index. (5)

Disease, extreme malnutrition, poverty, and destitution gnaw at the country’s bones.

It’s not surprising then that security from conflict should be a cornerstone of any plan to develop a stable society that can sustain at least an adequate level of human security. The new Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police are therefore in the spotlight as key actors in the outcome of the country’s future.

Afghan National Army

The Afghan National Army (ANA) was created in 1 December, 2002, by presidential decree under Hamid Karzai. It became active in 2003 and was guided by the Bonn agreement’s Security Sector Reform.

The ANA has grown rapidly since that time and has the following responsibilities:
1) Guard against external threat and secure the borders;
2) Deal with terrorist forces;
3) “Disband, reintegrate, or imprison illegal armed groups”; (6) and
4) Deal with internal security issues in cooperation with the Afghan National Police.

The army is intended to be composed of mainly active soldiers at 50%, 25% logistical support, and 25% trainers, recruiters and others. The goal was to achieve a 70,000 strong troop size by the end of 2008. In October of 2007 the ANA had reached 55,000 (7) personnel, and 66,000 by mid 2008 (8). The army recruits an average of 2,000 new members per month.

The ANA battalions are composed of 700-800 soldiers, with supporting commissioned and non-commissioned officers. It is mainly composed of light infantry, one mechanized brigade, a commando brigade and an air corps. The light infantry brigades are also equipped with mortars and tow artillery. The air corps has access to Soviet-era airplanes and are trained mainly for “presidential airlift, medical and casualty evacuation, reconnaissance and airborne command and control, and light air attack.” (9)

The ANA falls under the auspice of the Ministry of Defence and is divided under five regional commands: Kabul, Kandahar, Gardez, Herat, and Mazar-i-Sharif.

The ANA personnel are trained by US-led Coalition Forces (CF) and the mainly NATO based International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), with Afghan leads and translators. These trainers and advisers are embedded throughout the command structure of the ANA: in the headquarters, regional commands, and within each battalion.

New recruits undergo 12 weeks of courses at the Kabul Military Training Centre, while commandos must train for a total of 16 weeks. Following this there is 3 weeks of field training in the region that new recruits will be see action. Field training is provided by foreign forces. ANA recruits sign onto a 3 year contract, which can be renewed to a maximum of 20 years.

Under agreement, the US has lead in training and equipping the ANA.

The ANA, as a volunteers army, was designed to replace the ad-hoc Afghan Military Forces (AMF) that was composed of a loose coalition of militias fighting the Taliban, mainly consisting of the Northern Alliance. The AMF was officially disbanded under the Disarmament, Demobilisation, and Reintegration process (DDR). Only 2.3% of the AMF joined the ANA. (10)

On 10 September, 2008, The US Department of State officially supported the Joint Coordination Monitoring Board and the Afghan government’s plan to expand the ANA to 134,000 personnel (11). This follows US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates’ August proposition to increase the size of the ANA to 122,000 plus 13,000 support staff. (12, 13)

Barnett R. Rubin, and Ahmed Rashid, two experts on contemporary Afghanistan, have co-authored an article on the current situation stating that:

Current estimates of the annual cost are around $2.5 billion for the army and $1 billion for the police. Last year, the Afghan government collected about 7 percent of a licit GDP estimated at $9.6 billion in revenue — about $670 million. Thus, even if Afghanistan’s economy experienced uninterrupted real growth of 9 percent per year, and if revenue extraction nearly doubled, to 12 percent (both unrealistic forecasts), in ten years the total domestic revenue of the Afghan government would be about $2.5 billion a year. Projected pipelines and mines might add $500 million toward the end of this period. In short, the army and the police alone would cost significantly more than Afghanistan’s total revenue.

…Sustaining a national army or national police force requires multiyear planning, impossible without a recurrent appropriation — which would mean integrating ANSF planning into that of the United States’ and other NATO members’ budgets.

…And an ANSF [Afghan National Security Forces, composing the army and national police] funded from those budgets would have to meet international or other national, rather than Afghan, legal requirements. Decisions on funding would be taken by the U.S. Congress and other foreign bodies, not the Afghan National Assembly. The ANSF would take actions that foreign taxpayers might be reluctant to fund. Such long-term international involvement is simply not tenable. (14)

Currently, not a single battalion of the ANA operates independently of foreign supervision. Foreign advisers and trainers were supposed to be embedded in the battalions for only 2 years. Antonio Giustozzi claims that “the ANA has grown dependent on close air support, administered through the embedded training teams.”

He also writes that:

The fighting tactics that ANA officers have been learning from their trainers are largely based on American tactics; the infantry’s main task is to force the enemy to reveal itself, allowing the air force to wipe it out with air strikes. There is little evidence that ANA units would be able to control the battlefield without such air support, or that they are learning the necessary skills.

…Another dubious aspect of Afghanization is the limited logistical capabilities of the ANA. Although its logistical units are now being developed, the ANA’s difficulties in recruiting skilled staff casts some doubts about the future efficiency of its logistics once the foreign contingents hand over these responsibilities to the ANA.

… Tajiks are still overrepresented, particularly in the officer corps. According to one estimate, 70% of the battalion commanders are Tajiks. (15)

At some point, Afghanistan’s government will have to downsize the ANA since it cannot independently afford to maintain such a large force. If not handled carefully, it could result in a large number of battle veterans suddenly thrown into unemployment, disgruntled, and possibly still living in a situation where economic hardship limits employment options while the country may well still be facing conflict in the face of Taliban and other militant groups.

Afghanistan National Police

The Afghanistan National Police (ANP) is authorized to have over 82,000 personnel. It is composed of the following (16):
1) Afghan Uniformed Police: responsible for most daily activities and authorized to be 45,000 strong.
2) Afghan Border Police: guards the national borders and has an authorized strength of 18,000 personnel.
3) Afghan National Civil Order Police: a quick reaction force along the lines of a SWAT team. It has an authorized strength of 5,000.
4) Counter Narcotics Police of Afghanistan: responsible for eliminating production and transportation of illegal drugs. It has an authorized strength of 2,300.
5) Criminal Investigation Police: is a small unit responsible for investigation of criminal offenses under Afghan law.
6) Counter Terrorism Police: is a small force trained for counter-insurgency operations.

The ANP’s authorized personnel was increased to 82,000 by the Joint Coordinating and Monitoring Board in April 2007. Prior to this it was set at 62,000 under the 2006 Afghanistan Compact.

In January of 2007, the Ministry of Interior tallied the total ANP size at 59,658, with fewer than 200 women employed. The ANP is governed under the 2005 Police Law and the 2005 Interim Criminal Procedure Code, mainly based on Article 56, 75(3), and 134 of the constitution. (17)

The chain of command, as established by the Ministry of Interior:
1) Ministry of Interior;
2) Deputy Minister for Security Affairs;
3) Regional Commanders;
4) Provincial Police Chiefs; then
5) District Police Chiefs.

The ANP regional command structure mirrors that of the ANP and is composed of the following: Kabul, Kandahar, Gardez, Herat, and Mazar-i-Sharif.

The ANP is supported by 25 donors. Germany was the key country in charge of managing training and equipping of the force, until leadership was handed over to the European Union. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) managed Law and Order Trust Fund for Afghanistan has been primarily responsible for coordinating donor support for ANP salaries.

There are reports of disunity among donors in how to approach police reform and they have often pursued independent plans. Coordination has been slow in coming.

Afghan National Auxiliary Police

In 2006 the Afghan National Auxiliary Police (ANAP) was set up to support counter-insurgency in certain parts of the country. Distinct from ANP, the auxiliary police is slated as a temporary measure to face the increasing militant resistance throughout Afghanistan, especially in the south and east due to neo-Taliban uprisings.

The ANAP is a static force, with personnel assigned to a given region in order to support ANP activity there. It was created to cover 24 provinces and 124 districts. It has an authorized strength of 11,271. Recruits receive minimal training, serve for a year then can join the ANP if they qualify. By April 2007, 5,461 ANAP personnel were active in Afghanistan’s 6 priority provinces, where insecurity was worse and Taliban activity highest. No women have been recruited.

ANAP recruits receive only 5 days of classroom training, 5 days of range firing, and one week of additional training for each quarter in their year of service. They may serve for a second year with the approval of a district or provincial police chief.

ANAP police receive the same salary as ANP uniformed police and are issued an assault rifle. They also receive a standard ANP uniform with an ANAP patch.

Once their tour of duty is up, they may be admitted into the ANP, upon request. The criteria for acceptance are (18):
1) 90% attendance;
2) No administrative or criminal charges outstanding;
3) Good performance on the job;
4) No corruption or bribery charges outstanding;
5) Good moral character; and
6) No criminal or administrative convictions.

If accepted into the ANP, they would need to through standard ANP training for 8 weeks.

Some critics accuse the regular and auxiliary police of turning into a paramilitary force focused on counter-insurgency, to the detriment of regular police work. Additionally the hasty recruiting practices for ANAP may have resulted in their being infiltrated by militants.

Afghanistan New Beginnings Program

This UNDP sponsored program was intended to eliminate or at least greatly reduce independent and illegal militant forces in order to give the ANA and ANP a monopoly on military and police force as a measure to reduce destabilizing forces on the central government.

The Afghanistan New Beginnings Program (ANBP) was established in April 2003. Its first priority was to implement the Disarmament, Demobilisation, and Reintegration (DDR) project. Under this project the Afghanistan Military Forces (AMF), composed mainly of Northern Alliance militants, was to surrender their weapons and disband. In return they would receive a medal, a certificate, and reintegration packages.

The packages include vocational training, agricultural training, and small business opportunities. (19)

The DDR was concluded in June 2006. The original goal was to reintegrate 100,000 men. In June 2006, 63,380 AMF officers and soldiers were counted as disarmed. Of these, 2.3% joined the Afghan National Army.

The second priority of the ANBP was the Disbandment of Illegal Armed Groups (DIAG). DIAG’s aim was to demobilize an estimated 100,000 illegal militia fighters that were not included in the AMF. While the DDR was a voluntary process, DIAG was compulsory. This program was slated to conclude in March 2008. The spread of Taliban influence and the rise in violence do not bode well for the success of the DIAG project.

Related: Maps of Afghanistan: Demographics, Violence, and Economics


(1) Ahmed Rashid, 2008. ‘Descent Into Chaos,’ Viking, p. 19.
(2) Ibid, p 76.
(3) UNHCR, 2008. ‘Afghanistan Estimated Population – 2008-2009 and Assisted Returnees – 2002-2008,’ http://www.reliefweb.int/rw/fullMaps_Sa.nsf/luFullMap/8E0E2F9D81398BB0C12574FE004835B6/$File/unhcr_POP_afg081101.pdf?OpenElement.
(4) Rashid, 2008, p. 130.
(5) Ibid.
(6) Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit (AREU), 2008. ‘The A to Z Guide to Afghanistan Assistance,’ sixth edition, http://www.areu.org.af/index.php?option=com_docman&Itemid=26&task=doc_download&gid=566.
(7) Ibid.
(8) Barnett R. Rubin, and Ahmed Rashid, 2008. ‘From Great Game to Grand Bargain,’ Foreign Affairs, http://www.foreignaffairs.org/20081001faessay87603-p10/barnett-r-rubin-ahmed-rashid/from-great-game-to-grand-bargain.html.
(9) AREU, 2008.
(11) Sean McCormack, Spokesman, 2008. ‘US Statement on Expansion of Afghanistan National Army,’ US Department of State, http://www.america.gov/st/texttrans-english/2008/September/20080910152705eaifas0.3181879.html.
(12) Rubin and Rashid, 2008.
(13) The Associated Press, 2008. ‘Gates Backs Afghan Proposal to Boost National Army,’ CBC News, http://www.cbc.ca/world/story/2008/08/08/us-afghanistan.html.
(14) Rubin and Rashid, 2008.
(15) Antonio Giustozzi, 2008. ‘Afghan Army Far from Fighting Fit,’ Asia Times, http://www.atimes.com/atimes/South_Asia/JE09Df01.html.
(16) AREU, 2008.
(17) Ibid.
(18) Ibid.
(19) Ibid.

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