What Happened to the Afghan Security Forces?

I saw some of these guys. We pissed away valuable talent when we disbanded them. How many went to the heroin cartels?


During the winter and spring of 2006, the Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force in Afghanistan (CJSOTF-A) went through a laborious process to demobilize its Afghan surrogate force, called the Afghan Security Forces (ASF). This process involved the largest formal demobilization of U.S. surrogate or irregular forces since 1945.95 The ASF were composed of a variety of tribal or local militias, anti-Taliban volunteers and Afghan mercenaries. Many of them had been working with the Special Forces since 2001, as they were originally members of the Northern Alliance, the coalition of Afghans which overthrew the Taliban with U.S. help. The ASF provided local security to Special Forces firebases and camps throughout Afghanistan, and prior to 2006, were also used extensively to assist Special Forces units in convoy security and small-scale combat operations.96

The ASF also provided a deeply important component to U.S. counterinsurgency operations, one which experienced American soldiers have valued and seen as central to success in many campaigns. From the Pequot War in 1637, to the Seminole Wars in the early nineteenth century, the Apache campaigns after the Civil War, and in twentieth century small wars from the Philippines to Vietnam, this component is one of the main reasons American soldiers have always sought out cooperation with local irregular forces. This critical component is human intelligence; the local knowledge of geography, culture, language and personality that any outsider cannot ever hope to have without such cooperation with local forces – this was the very asset provided by the Seminole, Apache, Macabebe Scouts and others that has been lauded by so many soldiers in our past. The ASF were an invaluable resource for local intelligence, one that even the Afghan National Army or police could not provide, since they were nationally recruited forces without the local or sometimes even provincial connections possessed by the ASF.97

Given their importance, military value and proven record of success, why were the ASF demobilized? There are a complex set of answers to this question, many dealing directly with concerns held by the Afghan government and coalition command about non-government militias, sovereignty and legitimacy. Those officers who were involved in planning and carrying out the demobilization understood that there was also another important reason, one which was perhaps not so clearly articulated. It was an enduring discomfort with the existence and military use by the coalition of irregular forces.98 Questions of loyalty, brutality, cost and effectiveness all played a role in this distaste, much as they have throughout our history of cooperation with and employment of irregulars. Many of the concerns felt within the Army and elsewhere about cooperation with these irregulars had not changed since the operations at Tora Bora and Shalikot in 2002.99 In spite of these questions the fact remains, however, that these irregular soldiers contributed enormously to the ongoing campaign in Afghanistan. Saying nothing of the fact that in many instances they were the ones who had fought against and overthrown the Taliban, often since then their contribution was the crucial factor deciding between the success or failure of an operation.


From December 2005 to May 2006, the author was the CJSOTF-A project officer responsible for planning and carrying out the bulk of this demobilization.


The Afghan National Army and Police are centrally trained, centrally controlled, and their units are deliberately kept ethnically and regionally mixed.


In the Army’s new counterinsurgency manual, FM 3-4, the words “Irregular Warfare” are mentioned only twice, in the Introduction. “Unconventional Warfare” is not mentioned at all – a glaring omission, pointing out this reluctance and the lack of doctrinal emphasis on this deeply important aspect of current operations. The fact that the only joint, Department of Defense-level publication that explicitly deals with irregular operations was only published in draft form in December, 2006, is another indication that the military as an institution is still far from any kind of comfort with this type of mission (Department of Defense, Irregular Warfare Joint Operating Concept (JOC), Pre-Decision Draft Version 0.5, December 2006.).


See Sean Naylor, Not a Good Day to Die; The Untold Story of Operation Anaconda (New York: Penguin Group (USA), 2005). Naylor discusses in this book some of the problems of effectiveness and loyalty evident in the performance of Afghan auxiliaries during the early period of fighting in Afghanistan. See also Charles Briscoe, Richard L. Kiper, James A. Schroder, and Kalev I. Sepp, Weapon of Choice; ARSOF in Afghanistan (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Army Center for Military History, 2005), for an exhaustive account of Army Special Operations Forces in Afghanistan from 2001-2002.


From early 2006, The waiting game By Sean D. Naylor

The best-paid, best-trained, best-equipped and most highly motivated Afghan troops fighting the Taliban are to be found in neither the ANA nor the ANP. They go by the name of the Afghan Security Forces, or ASF, and they work exclusively for, and are paid by, the Special Forces A-teams.

The organizational descendents of the militia forces hired by the Central Intelligence Agency and trained by SF troops in late 2001 and early 2002, the ASF function as the security force for the A-teams at their firebases and on some combat missions. Bolduc said that he was not permitted to reveal the exact number of ASF men employed by TF 31, but he is authorized to contract for up to 100 per firebase. At one firebase visited by Army Times, there were between 40 and 50 ASF fighters and an equal number of ANA soldiers.

But the ASF troops are better paid than the ANA troops they fight beside when on missions with the A-teams. The average ASF fighter makes between $125 and $150 per month, whereas a junior enlisted ANA soldier makes between $62 and $70 per month, plus $2 extra for every day he is deployed away from his home base. Because ASF troops are essentially U.S. military employees, they don’t have to share the worries of their ANP counterparts about their pay being skimmed off at each level of bureaucracy.

And unlike the ANA forces at each firebase, who hail from all over Afghanistan, many ASF troops are locally recruited and therefore have a better feel for the region’s people and geography.

But because the ASF represent the most lucrative option for any adventurous young Afghan man looking to earn a living with an assault rifle, the force is a drag on recruitment for the Afghan government’s principal security forces: the ANA and the ANP, as well as the smaller highway police and border police forces. For that reason, plans are in place to demobilize the ASF in 2006, giving each ASF fighter a parachute payment and the option of joining one of the Afghan government security forces. Ninety percent of the ASF are projected to take up that option, Bolduc said.

We’re trying to build a modern, Western-style, ethnically balanced Army and National Police loyal to Kabul, and Kabul is supposed to be the capital city of the newly-empowered Westphalian nation-state that monopolizes the legitimate use of force, so friendly Pashtun Irregulars, tribal levies, militias, lashkars, Kit Carson Scouts and MIKE Forces are out of the question.

Just the kind of guys we need for cross-border ops.



Filed under IW, The Forgotten War