Over fifty senior and semi-senior positions at the Ministry of Defense (MoD) are said to still be occupied by acting officials, despite calls for long-term appointments from lawmakers in Parliament and security experts who fear the vacuum of leadership has enabled Taliban gains.
Since its formation 10 months ago, the national unity government has received much criticism for its delayed appointments. It took over half a year for President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah to get their cabinet fully formed. Now, on the ministerial level, gaps in senior and mid-level leadership remain major obstacles to progress, according to independent analysts.
“In the history of humanity since we have had armies, I have never seen ministries of defense, interior and intelligence run by acting heads,” veteran and military analyst Atiqullah Amarkhail told TOLOnews on Wednesday. “Positions being run by acting officials means there is no command.”
The 2015 fighting season has seen the Afghan security forces loose ground on a number of fronts, including in northern Afghanistan, a region traditionally removed from the ebbs and flows of the southern and eastern-concentrated Taliban insurgency. Although the Afghan military, along with local government-aligned armed groups, have been able to recapture some territory, a number of districts around the country remain under Taliban control and high-profle attacks in Kabul are happening with increasing frequency.
“Today’s general insecurities in Afghanistan, especially in northern Afghanistan, is due to the fact that important positions are run by acting officials, especially in the Ministry of Defense,” said MP Iqbal Safi, a member of Parliament’s Internal Security Commission. “The acting heads do not have the authority to spend or give orders, so the government must appoint individuals at these positions as soon as possible,” he added.
Meanwhile, the MoD has acknowledged the problematic nature of the current stopgap arrangement, but said nothing can be done until the new Minister of Defense is approved by Parliament.
“The Minster of Defense himself is acting, and there is a chance of staff shortages in other directorates,” MoD deputy spokesman Dawlat Waziri told TOLOnews. “Those who have retired, their positions might be run by acting officials. But once the minister receives a vote of confidence, this issue will be resolved,” he said.
The Taliban-claimed attack on Parliament Monday came just before the session in which the nominee for the Minister of Defense position – Masoom Stanekzai – was expected to present himself to lawmakers for a vote of confidence. The bombing and subsequent gun fight sent representatives fleeing and further delayed the appointment, a result the insurgency can celebrate.
In Kunduz, some say the absence of clear and strong leadership for the Afghan forces is evidenced in their lack of progress on the battlefield. “The reason that we don’t have progress in the Kunduz battle is because we don’t have strong support,” a military officer in Kunduz named Abdul Khabir said. “Secondly, there is no single general who can take the lead in the battlefield, so the battle is moving forward without good management.”