While members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) meet in Brussels this week to discuss the future of the coalition’s role in Afghanistan, Afghan lawmakers and security analysts issued calls for greater support for the national security forces, particularly the Afghan Air Force (AAF).
Following the NATO invasion and collapse of the Taliban regime in 2001, the international community provided generous financial, technical and political support to Afghanistan, enabling the war-ravaged country to make strides in areas such as its economy, rule of law, press freedoms, reconstruction, human rights and security.
Nevertheless, with the Afghan forces now struggling to keep the Taliban at bay on their own, security analysts and representatives in Parliament have pushed for NATO to supply further equipment, funding and training for the AAF, which is considered one of the most under-developed yet crucial arms of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF).
“We have persistently endorsed the fact that today Afghanistan has its own capable and strong force, but we have to ensure the formation of a strong air force as well,” Parliament’s Defense Commission Chair Mohammad Nadir Baloch said on Friday. “Unfortunately, over the past thirteen years, NATO didn’t focus on the establishment of a capable air force. We in the Parliament’s internal security and defense commissions have always struggled to ask the government to convey our message to the NATO alliance regarding this issue,” he added.
While no details regarding Washington and its allies’ intentions to bolster the AAF have emerged from the NATO conference, coalition defense minsters gathered in Brussels this week have already affirmed their continued commitment to supporting the Afghan forces through 2017. Currently, the U.S. has just under 10,000 troops in Afghanistan, serving primarily in training and advising capacities.
Not all are optimistic about outcomes of the conference. MP Khalil Ahmad Shahidzada on Friday suggested that the fact Kabul has sent an acting minister of defense to Brussels, rather than an appointed one, will likely prove a stumbling block. “We have always talked to NATO from a weak stance; NATO is aware of our weaknesses and needs, therefore the alliance must address these issues according to its commitments,” MP Shahidzada said. “The acting minister of defense participated in the NATO meeting, but how cacn we make requests of the international community while we don’t have a defense minister.”
Afghan security officials say there are over 350,000 Afghan security personnel trained and ready to confront the Taliban and other enemies on the battlefield. Their greatest deficiency, officials say, is in equipment and funding.
“You are aware that Afghanistan never had a strong force on the scale that we have today,” Ministry of Defense (MoD) spokesman Dawlat Waziri told TOLOnews Friday. “Our ground forces do not have any serious problem, but we have some issues in the air force, and soon the issue will be resolved,” he said.
Afghan acting defense minister Masoom Stanekzai, who is in attendance at the NATO meeting in Brussels, has said that the alliance is flexible regarding its troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. Specifically, Washington has committed to supporting the Afghan forces after the rest of the coalition withdraws its forces.