Afghanistan needs more well-trained Afghan soldiers and better Afghan police, but the question is who will pay for them? The country cannot afford to pay the additional costs out of its own limited budget resources—any further money coming from this source will be at the expense of much less funding for urgent development priorities like educating children, improving basic health, building public infrastructure, etc. Will the international community commit to provide predictable funding for a number of years for Afghanistan’s security sector? This is a critical backbone of the state, whose development is essential to over time progressively replace international military forces which are far more costly. Creating security forces without the ability to pay for them will lead to obvious problems. And while expanding the Afghan security forces, it is critical to ensure that sound oversight and accountability mechanisms are in place.
The need to substantially increase the size of Afghan national security forces has been widely recognized and forms an important element of the US Administration’s new strategy for Afghanistan. This includes plans to increase the size of the Afghan National Army (ANA) to 134,000, with talk in some quarters of further growth, and for an Afghan National Police (ANP) of more than 80,000. It is also widely acknowledged that the police—seen by many as corrupt and infiltrated by the drug industry—urgently needs to be reformed. The US has announced that it will provide additional trainers and mentors for the Afghan security forces, and other countries also are doing so.
The size of these security forces is not very large compared to other countries, given Afghanistan’s population and difficult geography. The country’s existing and planned security forces are dwarfed by those of neighboring countries like Pakistan and Iran. Counter-insurgency requirements—in particular for holding territory that has been (re)taken with help from international forces, also call for enhanced size and quality of Afghan security forces. And finally, the cost per soldier or policeman of Afghan security forces is far lower than the cost of maintaining international military forces in the country. Thus the more use that can effectively be made of the ANA and ANP while economizing on the number of international forces, the better.
While there is a strong case for larger and more effective Afghan security forces, this will cost substantial amounts of additional money—roughly estimated at up to $2 billion per year. It is clear that Afghanistan will be unable to provide anywhere near this amount from its own revenues for many years—likely two decades—to come. Indeed, projections suggest that additional security sector expenditures at such levels will exceed the country’s entire domestic revenues (currently in the US$700 million range per annum) for more than a decade. And in any case, it would be disastrous for Afghanistan to devote most of its revenues to security forces, as there are many urgent development priorities—educating children, protecting public health, building public infrastructure for development, and the like—and not spending on such priorities would put the whole development and state-building agenda at risk.
Therefore predictable foreign funding for Afghanistan’s security forces is a must. Given that much of this will go to salaries and other regular costs, the assistance cannot be hostage to the ups and downs of annual budget appropriations of donor countries; there must be a clear and sustained commitment. During my four years living in Afghanistan, I remember examples when earlier increases in the size of the ANA, and salary increases for the army and police, were implemented without taking into account the fiscal impact, and associated costs ended up being paid from Afghan budget revenues, squeezing other priority expenditures. This must not happen with the large further increases in force sizes and costs currently being contemplated.
An adequately resourced multi-donor trust fund for covering Afghan security sector expenditures, with adequate financial controls and fiduciary safeguards, would be a sensible way forward. NATO is setting up a trust fund for this purpose; if it includes adequate financial controls, fiduciary safeguards, and transparency mechanisms, this could be a good way forward.
In addition to predictable medium-term funding, effective oversight of security forces by civil authorities will be essential. The police are currently seen by many Afghans as a source of insecurity rather than security, which has to change. In other countries the army has frequently been a source of instability. Afghanistan’s own history suggests that the military can be problematic, most notably the 1978 coup that led to more than two decades of debilitating conflict whose impact continues to be felt to this day. Hence the key oversight agencies for the security forces—Ministries of Defense and Interior, National Security Council, and accountability mechanisms like audit, financial controls by the Ministry of Finance, effective legislative oversight, etc.—need to be reformed and strengthened before and as the security forces are being increased. This cannot be left for later, or treated as an after-thought.