By the end of this year, the United States will have spent over $50 billion on training and equipping the Afghan National Security Forces in an effort to hand over security duties once NATO departs in 2014. The past two years have seen almost half of that spending, with $11.6 billion having been spent in 2011, with another $11.2 billion on tap in 2012.
So, what’d we buy?
One of the most interesting recent outlays of cash for the Afghan Army revolves around the initiative to build and equip a new, brigade-size quick reaction force. Being touted as a “Mobile Strike Force,” it can deploy its heavily armored vehicles quickly around the country to meet threats as they occur. It’s the first of its kind for Afghan forces.
The Nato Training Mission-Afghanistan (NTM-A), which oversees the training and equipping of Afghan forces has spent about $500 million on the unit so far, though it won’t begin to see action until August at the earliest. The Brigade will eventually consist of five Motorized Infantry Battalions (called Kandaks), outfitted with 352 Mobile Strike Force Vehicles, variants of Textron Marine & Land Systems’ M-1117 Armored Security Vehicle currently used by the U.S. Army.
In June 2011, Textron received a $125.5 million order for the vehicles, and started delivering them in November. Training the soldiers up on the new equipment and tactics was supposed to start in February 2012, but “delays contracting for life support and incomplete infrastructure” have pushed training back to the end of March, according to U.S. Navy Lt. Aaron Kakiel, spokesperson for NTM-A. Kakiel adds that two of the Kandaks are scheduled to be based in Kandahar, with the other three in Kabul. “There is likelihood these three will deploy for short periods of time to other areas as required,” he says.
But this brigade is only a small part of a larger acquisition surge. By the end of 2012, the ANSF will also be the proud owners of 41,000 Ford Ranger J97 light pick up cargo trucks, along with other vehicles like Navistar's 7000 series Medium Tactical Vehicle (MTVs), the Ford Everest Sport Utility Vehicles (SUV), and Blue Bird and Navistar Buses.
In 2011, American tax dollars also purchased 21 new Russian-made Mi-17 helicopters for about $400 million, with the bird becoming “the primary medium lift helicopter in Afghanistan” according to NTM-A. Those new helicopters obviously require new air crews, so the NTM-A is also conducting pilot training both in the United States, Europe and in Dubai, while funding the maintenance and spare parts packages required to keep the fleet in the air though American provided appropriations.“It would be a conservative estimate to say at least $500 million was spent on creating this the overall Mi-17 Train and Equip effort,” Kakiel said, adding that “a considerable amount” of that money went to build and equip a training center at Shindand Air Base in western Afghanistan. Shindand also happens to be the place from which some sources say the RQ-170 “Beast of Kandahar” that crashed in Iran was operating.
Fiscal year 2011 also saw the United States finishing up its purchases of M16 rifles and M4 carbines for the Afghan National Army, with about 500,000 weapons purchased for the ANSF.
Getting the Afghans all this gear—and the spare parts to keep them working—is one thing. Giving them the capacity to actually keep these fleets humming past the 2014 NATO pullout is something else entirely. In June of last year, the DoD’s Inspector General issued a report (PDF) criticizing the $247 million Equipment Maintenance Apprenticeship and Services program contract, which oversees the maintenance of ANA equipment. Upon inspecting Afghan Army maintenance sites, the inspectors could not account for about $30 million worth of equipment, while finding that the Afghans were not being trained properly in maintenance procedures, all of which led to the contractor being suspended and the contract being overhauled.
The revisions included the removal of Afghan National Army (ANA) supply chain management as a contractor-provided function and instead turned that responsibility (PDF) over to the ANA Logistical Command with “contractor advisor-mentor support.” The contractor is also now required to “design a training program suited to the low literacy rates of ANA personnel and establish Mobile Training Teams to deploy to training sites as needed, instead of establishing apprentice programs at every site as required.”
Hope they’re working hard. They’ve only get two more years to get the ANA up to speed.