PENTAGON – The fate of the international effort to train Afghan national security forces has become increasingly uncertain as Pentagon officials highlight other priorities with just about three months before US and NATO forces complete the withdrawal of their troops from the war-torn country.
Resolute Support’s training, advisory and assistance mission, which began in January 2015, has for years helped Afghan forces develop their skills ranging from budgeting, transparency and accountability to force generation, sustainment, intelligence and strategic communications, according to US Central Command.
“Recently, we have participated in all these trainings, alongside our partners,” a defense official told VOA.
Some leaders expressed hope that this training would continue outside the country after the withdrawal. As late as Tuesday, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said in a statement that the alliance “is examining how we can provide military education and training outside of Afghanistan, focused on the forces of ‘special operations”.
Pentagon officials have said their priorities lie elsewhere, however.
“For the time being, post-withdrawal support to the Afghan national security, national defense and national security forces will largely focus on financial means, with some logistical support on the horizon, for example aircraft maintenance. “, he added. Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told reporters on Wednesday.
“Beyond that, I have no political decisions to take into account,” Kirby added when he again stressed the issue of training.
Not 100% sure
Last month, Army General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also told reporters that the military’s intention was to keep the US embassy in Afghanistan open and “to continue to support the Afghan government, the Afghan security forces, with financial assistance and money. “
“We will also continue to consider training them in maybe other locations – but no, we haven’t figured that out 100% yet,” he added.
Months, if not weeks, before the withdrawal is complete, the Pentagon is running out of time to put in place a pre-release training and assistance plan.
US President Joe Biden announced in April that US troops would leave Afghanistan by September 11, after nearly 20 years of military engagement in the country.
The US central command said on Tuesday that the withdrawal of its troops was between 30% and 44% complete.
Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, speaking at a Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD) event on Wednesday, stressed that action must be taken to prevent the United States from having to leave again at war in Afghanistan as they did in Iraq in the 2010s. He said one of those steps must be to provide training to Afghan forces.
“Make sure that we provide military assistance and continue to provide training to the Afghan forces. Make sure that we try to develop a strategy that protects the main population areas of the Afghan cities,” said Panetta.
“It’s not just ‘We’re taking off and damn it.’ We’re going to have to get involved there, if only to make sure that the men and women in uniform who gave their lives there don’t die in vain, ”he said.
Panetta pointed to the recent Taliban gains as proof that the Taliban fighters “are going to move much faster to retake this country than we suspect, and that will create a real dilemma for the United States.”
His words contrast sharply with those of Milley, who told reporters last month that “it is not a given” that the Taliban win and Kabul falls.
Afghan security forces have been fighting the Taliban and some of the 20 or so terrorist organizations operating in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region for years.
The Taliban have made territorial gains across the country, including Baghlan province to the north, Helmand province to the south, Farah province to the west and Laghman to the east.
Experts remain mixed on the effectiveness of training Afghan forces in another country after the withdrawal of US and NATO forces from Afghanistan.
Jason Dempsey of the Center for a New American Security told VOA: “Take small parts of it out of them and train them overseas, then put them back – if they don’t know who they’re fighting for, for which faction, which warlord is the one taking control of the government, so we offer them a little support, but I’m not sure that will be effective. ”
Bradley Bowman, an Afghan war veteran and defense expert with the FDD, disagreed, telling VOA that financial and logistical support to the Afghan government and security forces was “important” but probably ” insufficient to prevent a disaster in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of US and international forces. “
“The United States and our allies should at least provide ongoing training to Afghan forces from outside Afghanistan,” he said.
The Pentagon has requested $ 3.3 billion in military aid from Afghanistan, $ 300 million more than the United States gave Afghanistan in the past fiscal year. If approved by Congress, this amount would include money for training needs.
White House offers slight increase in aid to Afghan forces
Defense budget proposed by US President Joe Biden for fiscal year 2022 calls for an additional $ 300 million to support Afghan government forces in the absence of US troops
National Security Correspondent Jeff Seldin and VOA’s Afghan service contributed to this report.