US-Afghanistan: Implications of the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA)

06 Feb, 2014    ·   4293

Col Rajeev Agarwal says that the BSA will ultimately be unable to ensure the security of Afghanistan

The debate on the signing of the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) between Afghanistan and the US has been reignited after the State of the Union address by the US President on in January 2014. While the US is insisting on signing it at the earliest, Afghan President Karzai is in no hurry, saying that it should be considered only after the Afghan presidential elections in April. The US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel asserted on that the US and its allies cannot continue to put off decisions about a post-2014 mission in Afghanistan indefinitely, and urged President Karzai to sign the pact.

While the debate continues, it would be interesting to examine whether the BSA can actually deliver peace and ensure lasting security, as being projected by the US. Will the signing of BSA severely alter the security situation in Afghanistan post 2014?
The BSA has taken into consideration some of the key concerns of the Afghan government. It states that the US does not seek permanent military facilities in Afghanistan or a presence that is a threat to Afghanistan’s neighbours, and has pledged not to use Afghan territory or facilities as a launching point for attacks against other countries. It also reaffirms American commitment to the sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity and national unity of Afghanistan, as well as respect for Afghan laws, customs and traditions.

The BSA also states that the US military operations to defeat al Qaeda and its affiliates would continue in the common fight against terrorism. There would, however, be no unilateral US counter-terrorism operations, but would complement and support ANDSF’s operations, with ANDSF in lead and with full regard for the safety and security of the Afghan people, including in their homes. It clearly highlights the commitment to financial pledges set at the Chicago Summit in 2012 to support the ANDSF.

What does BSA Promise?
The BSA promises the presence of around 10,000 troops, training and support and financial assistance to ANDSF. The troops are to be located in five to six bases which the US would retain in Afghanistan. The troops would be employed in training the ANDSF and provide logistics, air, communications and intelligence support. The troops could also be employed in counter-terrorist operations within the guidelines given in the BSA. The overarching promise of the BSA, as projected by the US, is the security guarantees it would be able to give to Afghanistan if it retains its troops there. It would however be interesting to see how feasible this would be.

At the peak of the US-led operations in Afghanistan in 2010-12 and to some extent even in 2013 (when responsibility was been transitioned to ANDSF), there were around 1,48,000 international troops. These troops had full authority over military operations in Afghanistan. The ANDSF was meanwhile being raised from a mere 70,000 to around 3,52,000 by the end of 2012. This included about 1,49,000 Afghan National Army (ANA) personnel and the remainder as police forces. The US-led forces conducted sustained ‘summer military campaigns’ over these three years to establish security as well as counter the Taliban’s ‘spring offensive’ every year.

As repeatedly admitted by US military commanders, despite sustained military operations, the Taliban remained resilient and strong. The international forces were able to drive out the Taliban from selected areas and even reverse their momentum in key areas including the core areas of Helmand and Kandahar, but only for some time and that too at the cost of increasing Taliban influence in west and north Afghanistan. Even with troops on the ground, air assets, drones and embedded intelligence, the international forces could not prevent Taliban attacks across the country. Even the closely guarded city of Kabul was witness to frequent Taliban attacks. The recent incident of the Taliban suicide attack on a Lebanese restaurant that left 21 dead, including 13 foreign civilians, in Kabul is being counted as one of the deadliest attacks on foreign nationals in Afghanistan.

The BSA hinges on three issues: security in Afghanistan, building up the ANDSF, and financial support. Of these, only the first one primarily requires the presence of foreign troops. Building up capability can be done through training missions or teams co-employed with Afghan instructors in various academies and training centres. Also, the option of training them abroad exists. Financial aid hinges on how honest the international commitment towards rebuilding Afghanistan is, and this could thus be delinked from the BSA.

It is interesting that although the BSA is being propped up as the most essential pre-requisite for security in Afghanistan post 2014, the fact remains that it is not. 10,000 or 12,000 troops cannot do what 1,50,000 better equipped troops could not do over a decade. ANDSF ultimately requires mentoring, equipment and funding. They have to be able to fight their own battle.