The ANDSF are capable of increasingly complex offensive operations, often without any coalition support. They will be on the offensive in 2018, building on the successes of 2017 and the renewed resolve of Resolute Support Mission and the U.S. Operation Freedom’s Sentinel.
KABUL, Afghanistan – The Afghan National Defence and Security Forces will be on the offensive in 2018, building on the successes of 2017 and the renewed resolve of Resolute Support Mission and the U.S. Operation Freedom’s Sentinel.
Last year "has seen a number of successes for Afghan forces, including denying the Taliban any of their stated battlefield objectives,” said General John Nicholson, Resolute Support commander. "In 2017 the Taliban failed to take any provincial capitals and the ANDSF were on the offensive in up to six corps areas at a time.”
The current winter season is traditionally a time when both Afghan and insurgent forces regroup and prepare for the traditional fighting season in the spring and summer. This relative lull in kinetic operations offers ANDSF personnel an opportunity to train and rest in an Operational Readiness Cycle. The Afghan National Army 215th Corps leveraged training by Task Force Southwest during their ORC to develop their individual and collective infantry skills throughout the course to more effectively combat the Taliban in the province.
This winter, however, Afghan and U.S. forces are continuing to attack Taliban strongholds and support networks. There are active offensives in all six corps zones—the first year this had been possible in January. A new U.S. policy was announced in August that strengthens the commitment to Afghanistan and allows for increased offensive action on insurgent forces and enablers.
In 2017, the U.S. military dropped three times the amount of ordnance it used in 2016, more than 3,554 bombs. A new offensive targeting Taliban drug labs was led by the Afghan Air Force. It resulted in the deaths of key Taliban leaders and the destruction of $80 million in narcotics, which Resolute Support estimates has removed nearly $20 million directly from the Taliban’s pocketbook.
"It will be a very long winter for the Taliban,” U.S. Air Force Brigadier General Lance Bunch told Pentagon reporters Dec. 12, 2017. Airstrikes from U.S. and Afghan air forces continue to target narcotics facilities, explosives and weapon storage facilities, and other sources of the Taliban’s illicit revenue and support networks than enable them to launch attacks against the Afghan people.
Poppy farmers are not being targeted by these strikes, because they are often coerced by the Taliban to grow poppy. This situation in Taliban-controlled areas is "a tragic part of the story,” said General Nicholson. "When the farmer can't pay their debts, the Taliban end up taking their sons or daughters as collateral, or they simply live in debt, a form of slavery, to the Taliban.”
Afghan Special Security Forces have also raided Taliban narcotics facilities and homemade explosives factories, contributing to the effects mentioned above. Recent operations in late 2017 and early 2018 liberated numerous Afghan captives from Taliban prisons, and in many cases Taliban fighters have chosen to surrender rather than face the well-trained Afghan Commandos.
Afghan president Ashraf Ghani is personally overseeing the growth of these two offensive pillars of the ANDSF: the ASSF and the Afghan Air Force.
He activated the ANA Special Operations Corps in August, an essential step in his commitment to nearly double the size of the undefeated ground forces that consist of Commandos, Special Police Units, and the Special Mission Wing.
"This year you defeated the enemy on the battlefield. I can see the results of your fight from last week and I see the huge improvement from last year,” Ghani said to a group of Commandos in August. "To the enemy: our Special Forces will defeat you.”
The first Black Hawk helicopters arrived for the AAF in October, and the first Black Hawk pilots graduated training in November. In all, 160 Black Hawks are expected to arrive in the coming years, with the next delivery scheduled for early January.
"We share the same value of defending freedom, of living without fear. Terrorists of this world should know … they will not thrive here. We will eliminate them,” Ghani said.
"A tidal wave of Afghan airpower is on the horizon,” Nicholson said, emphasizing that the UH-60 Black Hawk is part of the modernization that will strengthen the force sustainably into the future. "The momentum has shifted, and it is irreversible.”
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg announced in November that 28 nations had committed to increasing their troop levels, and that the total size of the NATO mission is expected to reach 16,000 troops. That number in 2017 averaged about 13,000.
This increased commitment will support the Resolute Support train, advise, assist mission which has already overseen significant grown the in ANDSF and increased pressure on the Taliban and anti-government entities like IS-K.
The U.S. airstrikes grew out of the new U.S. South Asia policy referenced above, but the unity of effort with the ANDSF and the capability of the Afghan forces participating in these operations are the result of effective training, advising, and assisting by the entire Resolute Support Mission.
"Afghans are leading this fight,” Nicholson said. "Afghans are not asking us to do their fighting for them, or for the international community. We stand with them.”
NATO is assisting by helping the ANDSF create unity of command and effort by providing advisors to internal Afghan ministries. NATO is also helping train the next generation of Afghanistan’s leaders.
The ANA Officer Academy has commissioned over 3,000 officers since September 2014, graduating its 10th class during 2017. There have also been a record number of female graduates in 2017.
The Asia Foundation’s latest report shows an increase in the number of Afghans who strongly agree that the Afghan National Police is honest and fair, and that the ANDSF help improve security.
"There is a real opportunity now for hope for the future,” said General Nicholson. "The Afghan people want peace and the international community is with you in that journey. It is a shared vision that we can all work towards, together.
"We are with the Afghan people and we will stay with the Afghan people going into the future.”
Read more: What's different in 2018?