x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

To ensure security, Afghan forces need more from Nato

If Nato's exit strategy holds, Afghans will "become masters in their own house" by 2014, when security responsibilities shift to local forces. It's a laudable goal after a decade of war. Sadly, it could also be a recipe for further crisis.

If Nato's exit strategy holds, Afghans will "become masters in their own house" by 2014, when security responsibilities shift to local forces. It's a laudable goal after a decade of war. Sadly, it could also be a recipe for further crisis.

Few would dispute that the Afghan war effort needs an infusion of indigenous bodies to manage it. Equally indisputable is the fact that Afghans are a long way from securing themselves.

Problems with the country's army and police forces span the spectrum, from lax oversight to illiteracy. Drug abuse is increasingly common, and the rate of desertion is high among poorly trained troops. Nato's own figures indicate that on any given day, upwards of one fifth of all combat soldiers are absent without leave. As one trainer told the BBC recently: "All those things are signs that there is work to do." Indeed.

At the heart of Afghan security force woes is a shortage of quality role models, both foreign and domestic. While low-ranking soldiers and police officers have proven easy to recruit, a shortage of commanders has left a leadership gap that shows no sign of shrinking.

Training troops will take time. It will also take military instructors from Nato nations to show them the ropes. But despite years of pledges from allied countries, there remains a lack of instructors on the ground. Canada has committed to send upwards of 900 more military trainers - a good start - but no single nation should carry this burden alone. The entire alliance is on the hook for a problem long neglected, and largely of its own making.

To its credit, Nato has worked to increase the total size of the country's police and army units. Efforts are also underway to train Afghan pilots and logistics officers, tasks that fall predominantly to western nations.

Quantity, of course, does not ensure quality, and there are grave risks associated with running up the numbers in a rush for the exits. As Oxfam International and other aid organisations operating in Afghanistan warned this month, Afghan civilians could fall victim to unscrupulous forces if training doesn't keep pace with recruitment.

We hope these predictions don't prove prescient. To ensure they don't, diligence is needed. Nato would do well to reconsider how it is arming, and training, the future masters of Afghanistan.