Afghanistan Analysts Network – English

Special Reports

Resolute Support Light: NATO’s New Mission versus the ANSF Political Economy

Philipp Münch 3 min

AAN’s first paper of the new year – Resolute Support Light: NATO’s New Mission versus the Political Economy of the Afghan National Security Forces by guest author Philipp Münch – looks at NATO’s chances of achieving its goals in Afghanistan with Resolute Support (RS). The mission replaced ISAF on 1 January 2015.

“RS – ta’alimat, kumak, mashwerat” (training, assistance, advice) reads the coat-of-arms of the new NATO military mission in Afghanistan. Photo: NATO (“RS – ta’alimat, kumak, mashwerat” (training, assistance, advice) reads the coat-of-arms of the new NATO military mission in Afghanistan. Photo: NATO (

NATO’s motto in Afghanistan has changed, although a green theme remains. The new coat of arms reads “Resolute Support – ta’alimat, kumak, mashwerat” (Resolute Support – training, assistance, advice) and replaces ISAF’s “kumak wa hamkari” (assistance and cooperation). As with the motto, there is both continuity and change. Unfortunately, says Philipp Münch in his second paper for the Afghanistan Analysts Network, much of what stayed the same is problematic. (See Philipp’s first AAN paper, “Local Afghan Power Structures and the International Military Intervention: A review of development in Badakhshan and Kunduz provinces,“ published in November 2013 here.)

The author – who is the Berlin-based German SWP think-tank’s expert on Afghanistan – points to the lack of clear definition and prioritisation of the new mission’s goals. It is paradoxical, he says, that, while its goals are ‘fuzzy’ – they include bringing “stability,” “good governance” and fighting “terrorism” –, the means by which it hopes to achieve those goals are much more clearly defined: “train, advise, and assist[ing]” the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). There is also, as with ISAF and the old US-Counter-Terrorism mission, ambiguity in the way that once again there is one ‘double-hatted’ American commander for both the RS mission and new US counter-terrorism mission, Operation Freedom’s Sentinel.

The “implicit assumption”, argues Münch, behind the RS focus on training, advising and assisting is “that, for the most part, the ANSF already function as proficient organisations as per their formal structure and aims” and “only ‘fine-tuning’ its leadership is required.” Yet this is “highly questionable.”

Rather, he says, “they are still dominated by patronage networks shaped to a large degree by factional interests and rent-seeking by senior personnel (and other members of the Afghan elites).” In other words, the political economy of the ANSF – the way economics drive corruption, lack of accountability and the factionalisation of appointments – actually prevents its components “from working like modern organisations.” ISAF practice, however, often reflected a misreading of deficiencies as ‘technical.’

Finally, but importantly, Münch points out the discrepancy between the timelines of the new mission’s main contributor, the US, and that of NATO: President Obama has publically named 2016 as the mission’s end date, while NATO left a door open for a possible extension. This was recently brought up by US military leaders, German chancellor Angela Merkel and the new Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. Münch’s take on this is that the “withdrawal date of late 2016… looks timed to match the end of Obama’s tenure rather than the point when RS is likely to have succeeded.” This is a familiar pattern from earlier timelines and end-dates where domestic policy agendas trumped conditions on the ground in Afghanistan.

Münch concludes that, under these circumstances, “to achieve the wide-ranging goals of RS with the relatively small number of trainers at a time of conflict and with decreasing funding seems already to be highly ambitious and therefore uncertain in outcome.”



Philipp Münch is a research associate at the German Institute for International Affairs and Security Policy of the Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik (SWP) in Berlin. He earned a doctoral degree in Political Science and History at the University of Münster, a Master’s degree in History at the University of Hamburg and one at the Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy (IFSH). He learned Dari at the Humboldt University of Berlin and conducted several independent field trips to Afghanistan. From 1999 to 2002 he served as an officer candidate and later as a reserve officer. His research focusses on state formation and conflict in Afghanistan and Western security policy.


AAN discussion paper 1/2015 can be downloaded here.

(Note: AAN’s short discussion papers have no executive summary.)

A short German version of the paper can be found here.


ANSF ISAF NATO Resolute Support RS RSM