Afghanistan Analysts Network – English

War and Peace

The Afghan Territorial Force: Learning from the lessons of the past?

Kate Clark 32 min

A new local defence force is being mobilised in Afghanistan. The establishment of the Afghan National Army Territorial Force was announced by President Ashraf Ghani in April 2018. Careful consideration has gone into its design, with safeguards built in to try to avoid the pitfalls associated with previous locally-recruited forces, such as the Afghan Local Police. AAN Co-Director Kate Clark (with input from Erica Gaston and Ali Yawar Adili) has been speaking to some of those involved in setting up the new force. In this dispatch, she looks at what the Territorial Force is and whether it will be better than its predecessors in protecting local people and holding territory, and not being co-opted by strongmen or factional interests. She reports that haste to get ‘boots on the ground’ over the summer has already led to an expansion of the Territorial Force before pilots were evaluated. She also looks in detail at the Territorial Force companies now being set up Jaghori in Ghazni province. 

Ahead of a live fire exercise, NATO trainers talk over plans with Afghan Tactical Air Coordinators, who guide air strikes to ensure accurate targeting. (Photo: Tech Sgt Veronica Pierce, US Air Force, 21 May 2017)

This dispatch is published as part of a joint three-year project (funded by the Netherlands Research Organisation) by AAN, the Global Public Policy institute (GPPi) and the American University of Iraq, Sulaimani exploring the role and impact of militias, local or regional defence forces and other quasi-state forces in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.

A translation of the as yet unpublished decree authorising the new force appears in an annex to this dispatch.

1. What is the Afghan Territorial Force (ANA TF)?

The Afghan National Army Territorial Force (ANA TF) (quwat-ha-ye manteqawi urdu-e melli-ye afghanistan) (also referred to in Persian as the ‘territorial army’ or urdu-e manteqawi) is a new local defence force currently being mobilised under the Ministry of Defence as part of the Afghan National Army (ANA). Each company (tolai) draws soldiers from a particular district but is led by officers from outside that district who are already serving in the regular ANA or who are in the ANA reserves. The aim is for the Territorial Force to eventually be 36,000 strong.

The ANA TF was authorised by presidential decree (a copy of which is in an annex) in February 2018. The initial aim was for a pilot phase in eight to ten locations and, after evaluation, for it to roll out to a phase 1 with as many as 48 districts (discussed below) and then a phase 2. President Ghani announced the establishment of the Territorial Force on 5 March 2018, recruitment was reported to have begun on 15 April and the training of the first 370 “cadets” at the Kabul Military Training Centre reported on 11 June.

2. Why was a local defence force felt to be necessary?

Despite the many pitfalls associated with local defence forces – see the next Q&A for detail on this – international forces and the Afghan government have kept returning to them because when they work, they work extremely well, producing determined fighters with local knowledge who protect the civilians in their areas and often stand their ground more than regular troops because they have nowhere else to retreat to. (See AAN case studies in Yahyakhel, Paktika and Shajoy. As AAN detailed in “Enemy Number 1: How the Taleban deal with the ALP and uprising groups”, this has made them more feared and hated by the Taleban than regular Afghan forces or even foreign troops. Equally significant is that local forces are cheaper to mobilise and support. 

As to the ANA TF specifically, Ministry of Defence (MoD) sources told AAN the idea for it came out of brainstorming between President Ghani and the then commander of NATO and United States forces in Afghanistan, General John Nicholson and was an attempt to address four key issues: 

  1. Supporting ANA forces at current levels is not financially sustainable in the long-run or by the government of Afghanistan. (1)
  2. The need to free up regular ANA for offensive, not defensive/hold operations, something which, in turn, should mean Afghan special forces are less stretched. (2)
  3. The need to address ANA recruitment gaps and retention issues, including the hope that Pashtuns from the south and east might be more willing to serve if they could stay in their home areas. 
  4. The need to leverage local knowledge and expertise. As one Ministry of Defence official put it, regular ANA “keep walking into traps that a normal villager wouldn’t.” 

Also at issue was continuing United States dissatisfaction with the Afghan Local Police (ALP), which is currently about 28,000 strong (see page 102 of the latest SIGAR report). The US is the sole funder of the ALP and, as AAN has written, has put significant pressure on it to reform and address allegations of abuse, misconduct and graft. Even so, in the face of continued US Congressional scrutiny and criticism from many sides, the US had been poised to cut funding to it by the end of 2017. Dislike of the ALP is not directly related to the ANA TF mobilisation, but a significant impetus seems to have been to channel US ALP funds into a more accountable and fit-for-purpose local force programme.

3. Why was setting up a new local defence force controversial?

When word came out, in September 2017, that a new force was being planned, it was met with concern (see reporting by AAN here and here), Human Rights Watch and various media, for example, here. This was not the first effort to mobilise local forces and, whether paid for by the international military or government, they have had a sorry history, of association with war crimes, impunity and graft, capture by factional, ethnic, tribal and/or criminal interests, and some with collusion. There have been many iterations of the local forces model since 2001, including the CIA or US military-backed ‘campaign forces’ (in the news recently again with allegations of summary executions, private security companies, the Afghan Local Police (ALP) and popular uprising forces (for the full, long list, see this AAN/GPPi review). National security forces have not been immune to problems of corruption and factional capture either, as AAN has detailed in its look at the Ministry of Interior and Afghan National Police (ANP). However, local forces have been particularly prone to committing abuses with impunity and of capture by local interests and are often referred to by Afghans simply as ‘militias’. 

The largest of the recent local force mobilisations, the ALP, was envisioned in 2009 as a sort of ‘community watch’ with local forces protecting their communities and standing up to the Taleban. However, as the programme expanded, it became a way for Kabul politicians and regional strongmen to put their militias on the payroll and many ALP were found to abuse local people more than they protected them (see examples of abuse allegations in part III of the AAN/GPPi review).

The other current iteration of the local defence force model are the popular uprising forces (wulusi patsun in Pashto and khezesh-e mardomi in Persian). Emerging since 2012, but especially from 2015, these groups supposedly coalesce from spontaneous rebellions by local civilians against the Taleban. The resistance usually turns out to have been prompted by or was soon supported/co-opted by the National Directorate of Security (NDS), with, it has been assumed, the support of its main sponsor and funder, the CIA. As the UNAMA human rights unit has pointed out in their reports on the protection of civilians in the conflict, uprising groups have no legal status. Nor is it clear what, if any, chain of command they answer to. (3) Consequently, there are also no formal mechanisms for accountability. 

Afghans also remember the war crimes, impunity and general state dissolution associated with the PDPA-era kandakha-ye qawmi (‘tribal’ or ‘ethnic battalions’) usually referred to in English as ‘tribal militias’. These were mobilised especially by President Najibullah in the late 1980s and early 1990s. (4) He came to rely on them to defend his government and as the Afghanistan Justice Project’s “Casting Shadows: War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity: 1978-2001”, has documented, this helped them enjoy effective impunity. 

Yet the idea of setting up a new local defence force was not only controversial for human rights activists. The leadership of the Ministry of Defence was initially allergic to the idea of hosting a local defence force, adamant that a ‘militia force’ would not be planted in its ranks, given the record of the ALP and uprising groups and the tribal militias. They also bore in mind the 1990s civil war when the national army split on ethnic grounds and joined the various warring tribal militias and mujahedin factions. “Militias are like a poison for building a force with integrity,” one MoD official told AAN. The tribal militias, he said, were “small snakes turned dragons with funding and weapons,” while the ALP “had destroyed the name of the [Afghan National] Police.” 

4. How is the ANA TF different from the ALP? 

At first blush, the ANA TF and ALP models seem quite similar. Both are designed to mobilise men from a local community (neither recruit women, unlike the regular ANA and ANP) and develop them into a defensive, hold force. They are supposed to be auxiliary or adjunct forces only, with limited weaponry (5) and a limited geographical remit permitting them to operate within their own communities. However, the ALP operates at village level, the ANA TF at district level; Territorial Force soldiers can be deployed anywhere within their district, making the force, it is hoped, less prone to very local capture. Restrictions are also more explicitly spelled out for the ANA TF (including that they may not independently undertake duties in enemy-controlled areas, carry out independent offensive manoeuvres, or undertake civilian policing or “dangerous operations, such as strikes, arrests and rescue operations” (for more detail, see the Annex), but were also implicitly part of the model for the ALP. 

One major change is that the ANA TF falls under Afghan National Army command rather than, as the ALP does, the Afghan National Police. The ANA has generally had far better command and control than the ANP with a more advanced (and functional) disciplinary and military justice system, to which the ANA TF would be fully subject. The Ministry of Defense also has a better accountability record with donors than the Ministry of Interior and has been much better able to escape factional and criminal interests. 

Other differences in command, oversight and training are designed to reinforce MoD command and control, and institutional accountability. Each Territorial Force company will be under the command of officers from the regular ANA, ideally from the reserves, and these officers may not come from the company’s district (although Non-Commissioned Officers, NCOs, can be). By contrast, ALP units follow a local commander, something which increased the tendency towards pre-existing militia units simply being ‘re-hatted’ as ALP, with their commanders and other agendas intact (see Derksen’s comprehensive paper detailing this enduring pattern). ANA corps commanders select the officers and NCOs of the ANA TF. Having an experienced, professional leadership, said one international advisor “should be a counterbalance to it becoming too local a force.” 

Other efforts are going into institutionalising Territorial Force soldiers into the rest of the ANA (here, there have been some minor modifications between the plan and what has eventually transpired – see question 9 below). ANA TF recruits are subject to the same ten-week training as regular soldiers, including on human rights, rule of law, and humanitarian law. The initial aim was for recruits first to come to Kabul for an initial round of training and then to have another round regionally at the ANA headquarters they were to deploy under; this was to ensure good cooperation between regular and territorial soldiers. The original plan was for ANA TF soldiers to live in ANA barracks, co-located with regular soldiers, again to ‘socialise’ them into the ANA. ANA TF soldiers will only be allowed home when not on duty (this has not been changed), unlike the ALP who live at home.

These institutional changes could make a difference. Perhaps more importantly, every Afghan and international involved in setting up the new force has shown a greater interest in getting recruitment and ANA TF locations right from the start. The spectres of the past – Dr Najib’s militias and the civil war, the ALP and uprising forces – spurred those planning the new force into incorporating as many safeguards as possible.

Two other major differences between the ANA TF and ALP relate to funding and image. The creation of the ANA TF does not mean the overall force strength (tashkil) of the ANA will grow; every Territorial Force soldier stood up means giving up a regular ANA soldier, with the overall size of the ANA held steady. The formation of the ANA TF within the ANA, then, should not inflate costs and, in the long run, because a local force is cheaper to maintain, should reduce them.

Also significant is that, while European countries have never funded the ALP on the grounds that it is a ‘militia’, NATO is involved in the ANA TF, although it remains a largely US-military supported force.

5. Who gets to join the force and what are the benefits? 

The general requirement is for men aged 18 to 40 who are from the district, with a preference for former members of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). Hopeful recruits have to pass a background check by NDS and, according to an MoD official, be vouched for by local elders (the presidential decree specifies elders vouching only for former members of the ANSF, not other recruits. Sources have also said recruits need to be signed off by the provincial governor or his/her deputy, although this is also not mentioned in the presidential decree. 

In an attempt to avoid ANA TF companies effectively being captured by pre-existing local militias, planners told AAN that members of the ALP and uprisers were banned from joining the new force. 

ANA TF wages are set at 75 per cent of a regular ANA soldier’s wage. The 25 per cent reduction sets off the benefit of serving in one’s home area. The hope is that the wage will be high enough to encourage enlisting, but not so high as to make the ANA TF more attractive than the regular ANA. ANA TF soldiers and officers or their families get the same benefits as those in the regular ANA if they are disabled or killed in action. Officers get the same wages as regular officers. There is also a career structure: ANA TF can be promoted, but only if they leave their districts; officers can move back to the ANA and will be treated the same as other offices. 

6. Is the ANA TF a community force, or just a local recruitment arm of the ANA?

AAN’s research into what works and what does not with the ALP suggests that behind the success stories lies strong community engagement and control and a determination to have all groups within a local population involved (see the Yahyakhel and Shajoy case studies and a contrary example of what can go wrong when there is not widespread community support in AAN’s Andar case study). A locally-backed force not only benefits from intelligence and tip-offs, but its members tend to fight harder when defending their own people. The opposite is also true; imposing a local force on a population which does not view it as legitimate can benefit the Taleban. It will then be they who benefit from tip-offs, intelligence and recruits. Where local communities have had some authority over the establishment of an ALP unit, recruitment to and some control over it, those units appear to behave and fight better (although a local force with the backing of only some elements of the community may also fight well, as was seen in the Andar case study).

Those behind the ANA TF – both international and Afghan – have all stressed community involvement in the new force. However, most of the innovations designed to make it different from the ALP involve elevating institutional controls, without the same attention to community control and support. The presidential decree setting up the ANA TF deals almost entirely with the state’s role in recruitment and command and control. The one specific role given to ‘the community’ is in guaranteeing former ANSF members who want to serve in the new force. On paper, this is less involvement than communities were given in the setting up of ALP units (although in practice, ALP models of full community engagement in selection and accountability rarely bore out in reality, see section II of the AAN/GPPi literature review). AAN was told there is more detail in the guidance given to those setting up the force, but we are not privy to that. 

Those involved in mobilising the ANA TF pilot forces also described the need for ‘community sensitisation’ and public education, before asking for volunteers, and recommendations from elders and community leaders. It appears that there are aspirations for community involvement and a desire for the ANA TF to be ‘local’ in a sense greater than just to be made up of men living in a particular districtHowever, the means of achieving this does not appear, as yet, thought-out. In April 2018, we were told the pilots would be watched carefully to see how this aspect of the force panned out. This, however, did not turn out as planned – more on which below. Also, some innovations have been made to the model – again, more on which below. 

7. Why was the location of ANA TF companies such a difficult issue?

The question of where to locate the pilot projects was critical and highly contentious. “Everyone had a view on where they should be located,” one international planner told AAN. “It was very painful. There was a lot of internal politicking, disagreements.” Strict criteria had been agreed in order to avoid the many problems associated with ALP mobilisation. ALP units were stood up in places where the model was never designed to work: in areas where it could never be a ‘hold’ force because active fighting was not over, where the community did not want it and would not support it, or where the presence of factional interests, illicit economic sources, or local strongmen was likely to result in a compromised or self-interested force. The cautions against mobilising ALP in these environments were often ignored due to expediency, pressing security demands and political pressure (for a behind-the-scenes accounts of these pressures, see our analysis of the setting up of the Andar ALP). Political pressure on the ALP remains to this day. Ministry of Interior officials have described to AAN how politicians and MPs still constantly ask for ‘their own’ ALP units to be set up in their home areas. 

Those establishing the ANA TF told AAN they sought to avoid these issues by only choosing districts where the model could work. They had to be in what the military calls ‘green areas’, ie in territory held by the government or only ‘lightly contested’ and locations need to be near regular ANA back-up. As one international officer said, “Because they are a static force. The precursor [for the ANA TF] has to be a clearing operation, with the potential to last. These are not even yellow areas. They have to be green.” They also had to be in locations where they would not in danger of being caught up in politics and factional interests, but where there was support form the governor and corps commander, and where they were needed.

Given this background and these guidelines, discussions were fierce. A long-list of 120 locations was whittled down, but even then, the ‘final list’ went through numerous iterations: 38 different sites were decided upon only for most to be ruled out. Eventually, an actual final list of nine locations was determined. Sites were ruled out because they were too vulnerable to the Taleban or to narrow political self-interest and interference or to factional or ethnic takeover or because they were safe and did not need an ANA TF company. 

One Ministry of Defence official described the selection process as “agonising.” He also recounted the political pressure put on Afghan planners from some of the highest officials in government to locate ANA TF companies in their areas. Nevertheless, the determination that ANA TF companies would not be co-opted by strongmen, MPs or factional, ethnic or tribal interests was strong. Whenever these requests were made, the MoD official said, “We kept pushing back.” Luckily, he said, they could use the US military as cover. “We told them, ‘Sure. We can create a unit, but General Nicholson won’t pay for it.’ Then they backed down.” The Tribes and Borders Minister, Agha Sherzai, also made a bid for half of the planned funding, so that he could make ‘tribal forces’ to guard the borders, or as interlocutors with AAN put it “arm ‘his’ Barakzais [ie men from his tribe].” 

ANA TF recruits being trained at the Kabul Military Training Centre in Kabul, (US Air Force Sgt Sharida Jackson June 2018)
ANA TF recruits being trained at the Kabul Military Training Centre in Kabul, (US Air Force Sgt Sharida Jackson June 2018)

8. How has the pilot phase of the Territorial Force gone?

In the summer of 2018, there was a major change of plan: the ANA TF pilot was rolled into phase 1 – with 52 more locations added – before the pilot had finished or been evaluated. This was explained variously as either General Nicholson operating under intense pressure from Washington for quick results and evidence of progress in the war, or him wanting to capitalise on the dynamics of the Eid ceasefire. It came as a great surprise then, especially given the painstaking care which had gone into designing the ANA TF and pinpointing the most suitable locations and the insistence that the pilot would be evaluated before moving on that expansion was expedited. Haste to get boots on the ground in the hope of changing fortunes on the battlefield has been a factor behind earlier forces failing or expanding with design flaws and weaknesses intact. That haste has undermined both national and local forces in the past, including the ANA, ANP and ALP. 

After General Scott Miller took over as commander of NATO and US forces on 2 September 2018, he called a halt to the expansion and a slowing down of the project so that the current ANA TF companies could be reviewed. One of the concerns emerging, AAN was told, was recruitment. A senior international officer said there were doubts as to whether the new companies “reflected community mobilisation,” whether the “current recruitment model worked” and whether there was “accountability.” (6) 

Planners asked AAN not to disclose information as to how many companies are now operational, in training or being recruited. However, they did discuss some of the issues thrown up by the mobilisation up till now. Recruitment has been slow, one MoD planner told us, the result, partly he thought, of the lack of public education as to what the ANA TF is: “The continual militarisation has been confusing, the ALP, the uprising groups, now the Territorial Force, and the local militias of various strong men.” He also said, some specific recruitment issues had emerged: the reluctance of people in the north to ‘give’ more sons to “the Territorial Force or anything else” because of the “many coffins [of ANSF that] have been coming home”; in some places in Loya Paktia, a scarcity or men because they are “already divided between the Taleban, the Haqqani network, the army and working in the Gulf” and; some communities “unwilling to give volunteers because of the repercussions they know will come from the Taleban.” 

The MoD planner also said they had discovered a recruitment problem on the officer side: the ANA reserves, from which the MoD had hoped to draw the ANA TF’s officer corps, were far smaller than the payroll had suggested: “We were supposed to have 18,000 in the reserves. We did an exercise and barely 1,800 turned up. They were dead, had left the country and so on. We didn’t have reserves in the south and east to command these units. So NATO told us we had to [recruit officers] from our active force.”This has been more difficult to achieve than was envisaged, sources told AAN, with officers fearing that serving with the ANA TF, an as-yet untested force, could harm their future chances of advancement in the future. 

9) What changes have been made to the model to address some of these problems?

Perhaps most significantly, a unit within the Independent Directorate of Local Government (IDLG) which works with communities, has been tasked with helping with community mobilisation. The IDLG and its director, Matin Beg, are also advising on locations of ANA TF companies. This came out of the awareness of the “profound need,” as one advisor put it “for the force to be accountable and broadly representative of the community.” In early November 2018, General Miller also stood up a cell within Resolute Support to focus on the ANA TF and ensure coordination, accountability and synchronisation (a military term to do with timings, in this case that training, equipment, support etc are available at the appropriate times). Many of the officers in the cell are veterans of the Village Stabilisation Operations (VSO) programme, which set up the precursors to the ALP and the ALP (for detail on this, see the AAN/GPPi review cited earlier), which means they are very aware of the many problems setting up a local force can run into. 

International advisors told AAN there are now specific mechanisms for consulting local communities and that various people need to agree to a company being established in a particular district for it to go ahead: elders in the district need to meet in a ‘security shura’ to formally agree to the ANA TF company and there also has to be agreement and support by the IDLG, ANA corps commander and provincial and district governors. AAN was also told there had been a ‘circling back’ to reassess the Territorial Force companies authorised over the summer. Corps commanders and advisors have now re-assessed each one and were happy that the ‘accountability pillars’ – agreement by elders, provincial and district governors – were in place and there was ANA support. One advisor, who worked on the ALP in 2010 and recalls how the US military accelerated its expansion – “punched the gas” – and all the problems that then ensued, said they were in a “lucky position” this time and the ANA TF companies so far were “right.” She added, “What we have is smart growth, not growth at all costs.” 

Some flexibility in terms of training and deployment have also been introduced into the model, including:

Training: The two-layer approach, ie first in Kabul and then at the regional level, has not suited everyone. Southerners did not want to come to Kabul, so have been trained in the region. Easterners were happy to come, so have done so. The MoD is using a mix of approaches.

Co-location of ANA TF and regular ANA soldiers:Most ANA TF companies will be co-located with regular ANA soldiers, AAN was told, but for those who were not, regular soldiers had to be “very near” and in locations where they could support the Territorial Force, militarily and with medevac. International advisors stressed that even trained and ready-to-deploy Territorial Force companies would not be deployed until they could be properly supported (see next question). 

10. Can you give an example of how one of Territorial Force companies is doing?

AAN was given a list of the ANA TF pilot locations, but asked not to publish them because of the particular threats the force is facing from the Taleban. However, one location which has been publicly reported on, both in the media and by the government is Jaghori in Ghazni province. It is notable because planners initially rejected it for a pilot because it did not meet Territorial Force criteria. It is too far – 70 to 80 kilometres – from the nearest ANA bases (in Qarabagh and Muqur districts) for there to be support, let alone co-location of ANA TF and regular ANA soldiers. Also, as one planner put it, the district is “on the edge of contested areas,” with neither of the two routes into Jaghori from the provincial capital, Ghazni City, under the full control of the Taleban or government, again making support difficult. (7) Although Jaghori itself is almost completely Hazara, it is on the Hazara-Pashtun ‘border’ (8) and planners also did not want to risk any hint that, as one person put it, “the [Territorial] Force could be used in an ethnic-centric way.” 

However, a territorial army company for Jaghori was later agreed to, partly, it seems, through successful lobbying by Second Vice President Sarwar Danesh who said Hazaras there felt vulnerable and, as elsewhere in the country, employment opportunities were needed. Both he and Second Chief Executive Muhammad Muhaqeq had been lobbying anyway for the deployment of regular army forces to Hazarajat, including to Jaghori. (9) Agreement for two ANA TF companies for Jaghori, we were told, was given before the Taleban’s assault on it and neighbouring Malestan district in early November and on Khas Uruzgan in Uruzgan province in late October (for AAN reporting on the assault, see here and here). However, that assault does appear to have accelerated the establishment of the Territorial Force, as well, significantly, as an uprising force. As well as lobbying by both political figures and the population for the government to ‘do something’ to defend this district, there was probably also the realisation by the government that if it failed to act, local people would mobilise forces against the Taleban anyway. These might be less easy to control and, especially with elections coming up, could be problematic. Also, government support for the defence of Jaghori (even though the administration’s initial response to the Taleban’s autumn attacks was tardy) would be popular with voters. The fact that both the Territorial Force and uprising forces were given the go-ahead at the same time and mentioned by local interviewees asked only about the Territorial Force is significant: local people appear to view the ANA TF in terms of a local defence force, with better pay and conditions for recruits than the uprising forces not as an arm of the ANA.

The establishment of the two ANA TF companies in Jaghori has strayed from the model. It is being formed in the absence of any assured long-term regular ANA presence, according to MPs and local security officials. ANA soldiers were deployed to the district to push the Taleban back in November. Ghazni MP Muhammad Ali Alizada told AAN that he and other MPs had been lobbying the government to deploy one of the six Ghazni ANA battalions to the district permanently. As of now, they have not received any assurances and fear that, once the ATA is formed, the regular ANA will leave and this will encourage the Taleban to attack again. District chief of police Yunus Ramazani also told AAN he thought the regular ANA could leave once other forces were up and running. Moreover, far from territorial soldiers being ‘institutionalised’ into the body of the ANA, according to Ramazani, the ANA TF will be co-located with the ANP, ALP and the new uprising force in two or three joint bases (qarargah). (10) When new ANA TF and uprising forces are all mobilised, he said there should be around 1,000 combined forces in Jaghori, none of them regular ANA:

  • ANP: 150-200 under Ministry of Interior
  • ALP: about 200 under Ministry of Interior
  • NDS paramilitaries: about 60 to 70
  • Uprising forces 300 under NDS, newly recruited 
  • ANA TF: around 220 with ten [this should be about 20 or, ideally 26 for two companies, so may be a mistake] regular ANA officers, under Ministry of Defence (11) 

It has to be stressed that local sources, including security sources, are saying different things from international officers advising on the ANA TF. Asked specifically about Jaghori and the absence of long-term assurances of a regular ANA presence there, one international officer said: “The ANA TF cannot be deployed until they can be properly supported.” In other words, even if a company has gone through recruitment and training, he said, regular ANA support still has to be in place before it can be deployed.

Local sources in Jaghori have told AAN that Territorial Force recruitment, now completed, was carried out under the supervision of an ANA commissary. Two tolai (companies) have been stood up, each with 108 to 110 soldiers, who are now almost all in Kabul for their ten-week training. Recruits, sources said, had to be volunteers, 19-40 years old and not be disabled or addicted to drugs. Priority was given to former ANA members. The recruits had to fill out the forms and bring a zamen (a local guarantor). That is, recruitment complied with the ANA TF guidelines. Local sources noted that there was no sense of any wider community involvement. 

One recruit, who asked not to be named, said he joined the ANA TF because of doubts that the district would regain the level of security it enjoyed before the Taleban assault; defence forces, therefore, were necessary. During the Taleban attack, he had felt duty-bound to take part in patrolling and keeping watch (paira) in his area.This is a standard response in this area to a Taleban threat; after a community decision, self-defence is arranged and villagers take their personal weapons (whatever they might have) and take turns to go to the hills to patrol and keep watch, especially at night. This is done mainly in the areas bordering Pashtun districts from which the Taleban could attack. Since the Taleban were pushed back, the threat has reduced and some patrols have ceased. 

The ANA TF recruit said that in his area people were continuing to patrol, each taking their turn, but he had felt it better to join the ANA TF which is paid, equipped and armed by the government. He said there had been no consultation on the new force or public meetings. Instead, notices had been posted in village bazaars and mosques and, seeing these, he had decided to join. He also said Hassan Mujahed, (12) the general commander of uprising forces in his village (Baba) had encouraged young men to join the ANA TF, paying the fare for them to travel to Sang-e Masha for enrolment. Sources have also described to AAN the recruitment to the new 300-strong uprising force, being set up at the same time as the ANA TF: uprising fighters bring their own weapons and the NDS provides vehicles and motorbikes and pays salaries.

As AAN reporting has detailed (here and here), the Taleban’s attack on Khas Uruzgan district in late October came, partly, out of extremely tricky ethnic politics and a history of inter-communal violence; international and Afghan-sponsored, anti-Taleban local forces there leveraged and inflamed ethnic tensions. After the Taleban captured Khas Uruzgan, they capitalised on this to make an outrageous bid to take over Malestan and Jaghori, districts in which the movement has no local support. 

All this means that setting up local forces in Jaghori is not a straightforward issue. The decision to establish ANA TF companies in Jaghori could be early evidence of the force falling the same way as ALP – with strict criteria and safeguards abandoned because of the need for boots on the ground or political stakeholder pressure. However, the urgency felt by local people for forces to defend them from an insurgent group which has just brutally overrun their areas is significant. Moreover, despite the absence of formal community involvement in setting up this force, it looks to be both popular and have strong local backing. As such, though, it may not be typical of other districts where popular opinion and experience of both Taleban and government is more mixed. 

This issue of whether the ANA TF will be deployed if regular ANA are not in Jaghori needs to  watched. Finally, it is worth noting that both MPs and local people said what they really wanted was regular ANA, not the ANA TF. 

AAN has been doing some preliminary investigations into the ANA TF pilots/phase 1 locations, to see how communities receive them and whether the careful safeguards in the model are actually being put into practice. We hope to publish on this in the future. 

11. Is there evidence the new strategy and model is working? 

It is still far too early to say anything about whether the newly-established ANA TF companies are working well or not. Even the oldest were established only weeks ago. Looking ahead, one would want to scrutinise various aspects of this force: whether ANA TF companies are being mobilised according to the model, that is only where there is a genuine local desire and backing for them, only in green areas and without their capture by politicians, factional forces or strongmen; whether the community involvement is something other than just the ANA TF recruiting locally; whether ANA command and control is effective and the ANA TF is institutionalised into the regular army and; whether the ANA TF succeed in protecting local people and territory, are supported by the regular ANA, and free up regular ANA soldiers to take more offensive action. 

It is worth stressing that today’s Afghanistan is not an easy environment in which to make an innovation like the ANA TF. The MoD is trying to set up a new force while fighting an often vicious insurgency. On the US side, as well, there is general pressure to show ‘progress’ in Afghanistan especially on the battlefield to a White House that appears to be hovering on the brink of pulling out American troops. At the same time, one of the international advisors was somewhat reassuring on this last point, insisting they were not under pressure and that “battlefield benefits tomorrow” was not their aim. These would be welcome, she said, but the focus was on the long-term, “We are doing this [setting up the Territorial Force] deliberately and making sure accountability is in place.”   

Finally, there is one tiny victory to report. One of the main fears, certainly within the MoD, was that Afghans would consider the ANA TF to be a militia and the integrity and reputation of the ANA as a whole would be damaged. Up till now, what media reports there have been, (for example here and here) have described members of the force as “soldiers” and trainees as “cadets.” Even if, in the same news report, the ALP is referred to as a militia, reporters have not used the ‘m word’ to describe Afghanistan’s newest local defence force. 

Edited by Erica Gaston and Sari Kouvo

Annex: The President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan Decree on the Creation of the Afghan National Army Territorial Force 

The following actions will be undertaken in order to improve the security situation, provide better security services to the people of Afghanistan, and establish the Afghan National Army Territorial Force with the aim of changing the defensive posture of the National Army to an offensive oneand extending security to all districts: 

  1. After evaluating outcomes from the pilot [programme], theAfghan National Army Territorial Force shall be created, as a contingent force to the National Army, with an estimated thirty-six thousand (36,652) personnel. 
  2. Afghan National Army Territorial Force personnel will be an integrated and essential constituent of the National Army. They will be recruited in accordance with relevant laws, rules and regulations from districts where they live. They will be trained within the framework of the National Army and deployed under the command and control of experienced National Army cadre.
  3. The Ministry of Defense of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan will establish several pilot companies (tolai) of the Afghan National Army Territorial Force in the fourth quarter of 1396 (the month of Delw) [21 January to 20 February 2018]. Long-term planning for the creation of the Afghan National Army Territorial Force will proceed based on [lessons learned from] their experience. Details are specified in the six (6) articles attached to this decree. 
  4. The Deputy Chief of the National Security Council Office on Armed Forces Affairs shall monitor the implementationof this decree and provide regular reports on its progress to the meetings of the National Security Council. 

Attachment to the Decree of the President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan on the Creation of the AfghanNational Army Territorial Force

Article One: Tashkil and Regulations

  1. Establishment and Tashkil of the Afghan National Army Territorial Force: The Ministry of Defense shall undertake the following actions to establish the Afghan National Army Territorial Force:
  2. Structure and organise the Afghan National Army Territorial Force on the model of the National Army, in companies (tolai) and battalions (kandak);
  3. Create a pilot [programme] of Afghan National Army Territorial Force companies (tolai) alongside National Army battalions (kandak), or under the respective battalion’s protection;
  4. If an aforementioned company is upgraded to a battalion, these forces will be included, as an Afghan National Army Territorial Force battalion, in the tashkilof the National Army brigade (lewa) posted to that province;
  5. The leadership cadre for Territorial Force companies shall be selected from the National Army. While serving with the Afghan National Army Territorial Force, the aforementioned cadre will be considered part of National Army staff and will receive full salary and benefits provided to National Army personnel;
  6. As the Afghan National Army Territorial Force expands, its cadre and leadership can be deployed to parts of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces within the framework of the Ministry of Defence [unclear what this means];
  7. The cadre and leadership of the Afghan National Army Territorial Force at the level of platoon and higher will be selected from the National Army and those at levels lower than platoon, such as squads, should be selected from the National Army Territorial Force;
  8. During the pilot phase of the Afghan National Army Territorial Force, the National Army Brigades support forces shall meet their needs;
  9. All equipment for the Afghan National Army Territorial Force shall be provided in accordance with their tashkiland staffing.
  10. Local Recruitment: All Afghan National Army Territorial Force personnel will be recruited, and serve, in the districts in which they live. The leadership cadre and commanders of the Afghan National Army Territorial Force are excluded from this order. 

National Training:  The Afghan National Territorial Force will receive basic and on going training to a professional level by qualified National Army cadre in National Army training centres. 

  • Leadership and Command: The current cadre and commanders of the Afghan National Army will have command and control responsibility in order to ensure the effectiveness and stability of the National Army Territorial Force.
  • Cost-effective and Sustainable: The Afghan National Defense and Security Forces are designed to be cost-effective and sustainable so that the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan will have the long-term ability to meet their expenses. The Afghan National Army Territorial Force is one such cost-effective and sustainable force. Their cost, as compared to the National Army, will be lower without impacting their effectiveness and duties. 

Article Two: The Creation of a Pilot Territorial Army, Location and Timeline for Their Creation

  1. The Ministry of Defense shall establish the Afghan National Army Territorial Force pilot [programme] in several locations in the fourth quarter of 1396 (the month of Dalw) [21 January to 20 February 2018]; and develop a long-term plan for creating the Afghan National Army Territorial Force based on [lessons learned] from this experience. 
  2. The Ministry of Defense shall select locations for the establishment of the Afghan National Army Territorial Force [pilot programme].

Article Three: Responsibilities and Duties of the Afghan National Army Territorial Force

  1. Duties and Responsibilities: As local security forces, The Afghan National Army Territorial Force, will have the following responsibilities in areas under the full control or partial control of the government:
  2. Provide security for areas that have been cleared of enemies by the National Army and Special Forces Units and prevent the enemy from re-entering these areas;
  3. Be a source of information for the National Army and Special Forces on activities of the enemy in the area;
  4. Perform duties in areas under the control of the government;
  5. Perform duties in areas under the control of the enemy only with close support from the National Army;
  6. Establish stable relations between government and people through the district authorities;
  7. Provide security services at the district level and below;
  8. Prevent the movement and activities of the enemy in the region;
  9. Secure and protect key government infrastructure in the region, including highways;
  10. Protect and defend the area until reinforcements or supporting forces arrive;
  11. Help victims of natural disasters and emergencies;
  12. If necessary, ensure the safety of events or ceremonies in the area.
  13. Duties the Afghan National Army Territorial Force Will Not Undertake: The Afghan National Army Territorial Force will not undertake the following duties:
  14. Independently undertake duties in areas under the control of the enemy;
  15. Undertake independent offensive manoeuvres;
  16. Dispatch and execute duties in provinces, districts and other villages (outside their area of responsibility);
  17. Perform duties in offensive operations against large enemy groups;
  18. Perform the duties of rapid reaction forces, in the place of forces from other districts;
  19. Carry out dangerous operations such as strikes, arrests and rescue operations;
  20. Perform the duties of the city police.

Article Four: Leadership Cadre

  1. Selection Requirements: The leadership cadre of the Afghan National Army Territorial Force are members of the National Army personnel during their posting and until the end of their assignment. The Ministry of Defense shall recruit them in line with the following considerations. [They must]: 
  2. Be an officer or sergeant of the National Army;
  3. Be approved by the commanders of the relevant corps;
  4. Have sufficient relevant experience and skills;
  5. Be fluent in the languages of the [local] Afghan National Army Territorial Force;
  6. Must not be from the same district as the pilot [programme] Afghan National Army Territorial Force to which they are assigned.
  7. Education and Training: The Ministry of Defense shall direct the cadre members to the necessary training for their assigned duties after they are selected and before taking up their assignments as leaders of Afghan National Army Territorial Force.
  8. Salary and Privileges: Officers and sergeants who are selected as cadre and commanders of the Afghan National Army Territorial Force will receive the same salary and benefits as they did in their previous assignment. The Ministry of Defence shall make all necessary arrangements to pay salaries and benefits. 

Article Five: Recruitment Requirements and Privileges for Afghan National Army Territorial Force

  • Recruitment Conditions: The Afghan National Army Territorial Force personnel will be recruited according to the following conditions. [He must]:
  • Be a resident of the same district where the Afghan National Army Territorial Force is established;
  • Be between 20 to 40 years of age;
  • Pass all National Army health standards successfully;
  • Meet all Ministry of Defense assessment criteria based on his records and credentials successfully;
  • Individuals who have previously served with the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces as enlisted personnel [صفوف] may retain their [previous] rank and can join the Afghan National Territorial Army Force after a revaluation by investigative bodies, in line with National Army recruitment policies, and after obtaining guarantees from local representatives, elders and district and provincial councils. Likewise, persons who have served in the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces as non-commissioned officers [چوکات] for one year — up to the level of squad commander – can retain their [previous] rank contingent on successfully completing professional training and receiving approval fromthe cadre or commanders of the Afghan National Army Territorial Force. 
  • Training and Higher Education: Individuals recruited to the Afghan National Army Territorial Force will receive training at National Army regional training centres under the supervision of the Ministry of Defense. 
  • Afghan National Territorial Army Force personnel who have served one-year successfully and completed professional training can join the National Army after their nomination and endorsement by the Afghan National Army Territorial Force commanders. After being recruited into the National Army, they can maintain their rank, but cannot be promoted to commanders and leadership cadre of the Afghan National Army Territorial Force in the same district;
  • Afghan National Army Territorial Force personnel will receive on-going professional training up to squad commander level;
  • The Ministry of Defense shall assign experienced personnel to regional training centres to train Afghan National Army Territorial Force pilot [programme] Personnel.
  • Salary, Benefits and Other Expenditure:
  • National Army Territorial Force personnel will receive salaries and benefits equivalent to 75 per cent of an ordinary National Army soldier;
  • National Army Territorial Force personnel will receive all medical benefits which are afforded to those serving in the National Army;
  • Budgetary expenditures (salaries, benefits, engineering reinforcements, uniforms and other equipment) for National Army Territorial Forces soldiers will be paid from the Ministry of Defence National Defense budget by the CSTC-A ([United States] Combined Security Transition Command- Afghanistan) Command;
  • Benefits for martyrs, captives, the missing, and the disabled are the same as those of the National Army;
  • Technical personnel of ANDSF who have successfully completed at least one period of servicewill receive the same salary as National Army Territorial Forces upon joining the National Army Territorial Force (except at cadre and leadership positions).

Article Six: Command and Control, and Promotions:

  1. Command and Control:
  2. Brigade commanders are responsible for command and control of the National Army Territorial Force as per the chain of command. In accordance with the chain of command, brigade commanders will assign National army battalion commanders to command and control pilot Afghan National Army companies established in the area;
  3. Cadre and leadership of the National Army will be assigned to the battalions and brigades where pilot companies of the National Army Territorial Force are established. 
  4. Protection and Survival: 
  5. The commanders of the corps are responsible for assigning one brigade to protection and survival duties and providing essential logistical services to the National Army Territorial Force as a Rapid Reaction Force. This process will be activated quickly upon request. 

(1) In 2018, the Ministry of Defence was budgeted to receive 62 million Afghanis (about 825,000 USD) and the Ministry of Interior 61 million Afghanis (around 811,000 USD) (read the budget here). Estimated domestic revenue for that year was 153 billion Afghanis (about two billion USD). As was written in the budget, that year as in all previous years, “a significant proportion of the resources available to the Government for security is still provided by Afghanistan’s partners outside the national budget.” If the government had had to pay for the ministries of defence and interior out of its own pocket, it would have eaten up more than three-quarters of domestic revenue. As the budget document said, “…for the foreseeable future, the cost of maintaining security will be beyond the capacity of the tax system to meet.” 

The main donor for Afghan security (and other sectors) is the US. In 2018, it was projected to spend $4.67 billion USD on the Afghanistan Security Forces Fund (ASFF) which funds the sustainment, operations, training and infrastructure of up to 352,000 members of the ANSF, including army, police and local police. (See the latest SIGAR quarterly report from October 2018, pages 52-55). 

For some scholarly assessments of the financial sustainability of the Afghan National Security Forces, see research carried out in 2014 for the US congress, “Independent Assessment of the Afghan National Security Forces”, William Byrd’s 2014 article for Foreign Affairs, “Who Will Pay for Afghan Security Forces?” and, a broader study, Anthony H Cordesman’s 2017 study for the Center for Strategic and International Studies, “The Afghan War: Key Developments and Metrics”. 

(2) The ANSF has faced continual difficulties holding territory that is under its control or that is lightly contested. This holding role, a NATO question and answer sheet from October 2017 on the ANA TF proposal said, was “currently conducted by a patchwork of forces including the Afghan National Police, Afghan Local Police and local militias with varying degrees of success.” One consequence, it said, was that the ANA is often drawn into the holding role and one aim of a “well-run local force” would be to free up the regular ANA, enabling it to change from having a defensive to an offensive ‘posture’. This, it is hoped, would also free up Afghan special forces, described by one of the international planners as “overused, constantly fire-fighting.”

(3) Examples of uprising forces, relevant to the ANA TF debate, are those in Nangrahar province where the idea for the ANA TF initially included the possibility that uprising forces in Achin and Kot districtswould bewould be re-hatted as a ‘territorial army’. These groups were the government and US military were fighting the local Daesh franchise the Islamic State in Khorasan Province (ISKP). As we wrote at the time, these uprising forces “… received arms from the Ministry of Defence, not just light, but also heavy weaponry, including pika (PK machine guns), dashaka (DShK heavy machine guns) and rocket-propelled grenades.” That might sound like the state had established the militias, we said, but actually, “local powerbrokers have been crucial or even primary in their formation.” For them, mobilising forces against the Taleban and Daesh were as much to do with trying to recover smuggling routes and illegal checkpoints in areas which the insurgents had captured. At the same time, we wrote, the uprisers, along with the ALP and Afghan National Border Police were “effective, aggressive against the enemy and, unlike other places, not particularly abusive of the population.” For other examples of uprising forces, see our in-depth look at Andar.

(4) As the Afghanistan Justice Project put it, “Before an Afghan national army had existed, the state relied on similar irregular forces to suppress revolts.” The most famous of the PDPA era militias were those which went on to become the largely Uzbek Jombesh-Milli, commanded by (now) First Vice-President General Abdul Rashid Dostum and Sayyed Jaffar Naderi’s much smaller Ismaeli militia. However, there were many others, including local mujahedin groups whom the state turned, re-badged and on whom they relied to keep control of local areas, as the Afghanistan Justice Project described: 

A plethora of armed structures parallel to the regular army and the paramilitary police were established by the communist government throughout the country in the years following the Saur Revolution in 1978. Some of these were affiliated to the communist party, while others were defensive and linked to industrial installations or specific localities, particular tribes or feudal personalities. As the years passed, the number increased, as did their level of organization and the complex nature of their identity and inter-relationship. From being in the main local defense forces many had metamorphosed to being combat units deployed outside their areas or origin, displaying—by virtue of their recruitment pattern—considerable group solidarity and military coherence.”

(5) AAN was told that planned equipment for the ANA TF was: AK47 rifles, rocket propelled grenades, DShK heavy machine guns (dashaka), VHF radios, motorbikes, vehicles and D30 artillery for every company (more than the ALP has). 

(6) One Afghan involved in advising on the ANA TF described how they recruited: “First education, putting up posters telling people what the new force is, then gather together community elders and explain the idea and ask them to introduce people. Ask them to guarantee that someone is a good guy.” 

(7) There are two main routes into Jaghori from Ghazni city, one via Qarabagh and Jaghato and one via Nawar. Both have had variable security in the past years and been vulnerable to Taleban checkposts (in the Dasht-e Qarabagh area of Qarabagh and Qiyagh area of Nawar).

(8) Jaghori borders both completely Hazara districts, Malestan(to the north) and Nawur (east), mixed Hazara-Pashtun districts, Qarabagh (east) and Muqur (south), and Pashtun districts, Gilan (south) and Khak-e Afghan, also known as Kakarof Zabul province (west).

(9) Danesh and Mohaqeq submitted a plan in December 2016 titled “Comprehensive Security and Administrative Plan for the Central Hazarajat Region” in which they had called for a brigade (lewa) to be deployed to Bamyan for Bamyan and Daikundi provinces and separate battalions for Jaghori and Balkhab districts (details in footnote 9 of the second dispatch on Taleban attacks on Hazarajat).

(10) At the official level, there appears to be some confusion about the new forces in Jaghori. The Ministry of Interior, for example, said on 18 November that it (sic) had established two tolai (companies) of a ‘territorial army’ and mobilised 600 locals within the framework of public uprising forces in the two districts of Malestan and Jaghori, saying they would be equipped and assigned to maintain security in their areas after receiving training.

(11) Etilaat Roz, quoting security sources  on 18 December 2018, gave somewhat different figures: combined security forces for Jaghori have been increased from 300 to 1090: 450 ALP, 350 public uprising forces, 240 ANA TF and 50 NDS paramilitaries. It reported that one big security base was planned along with 39 posts (16 for ANA TF and the rest for uprisers and ALP) in the villages of Hutqul, Angori, Daud, Zirak, Kotal-e Loman, Dahmarda, Pato, Tailum, Qarqunda, Drazqul, Parkhasha of Baba, Ghogha and Pushta-e Hicha. 

(12) After the Taleban attacks, Hassan Mujahed became the general commander of public uprising forces in Baba village. He fought with the mujahedin faction, Nasr, during the Soviet invasion of the 1980s. It was one of the biggest of the ten Shia Muslim mujahedin factions forming Hezb-e Wahdat in 1992. Recently, he has been aligned with former Second Vice President and now Chair of the High Peace Council, Abdul-Karim Khalili (also from the Nasrist strand of Wahdat). Mujahed also served in the army in the early years of the Karzai administration.


Taliban Territorial Force Afghanistan ALP