Task Force Works Toward Successful Transition in Afghanistan
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Apr. 19, 2013 With an eye toward 2014 and lessons learned from the drawdown in Iraq, a new task force in Afghanistan is working to ensure a smooth transition of responsibilities that will set the Afghan government and security forces up for future success, the task force commander reported.
The NATO-Afghanistan Transformation Task Force stood up in January as part of the International Security Assistance Force staff, Air Force Maj. Gen. Michael J. Kingsley told American Forces Press Service during a telephone interview from the Afghan capital of Kabul.
Its goal, he explained, is to ensure the well-coordinated transfer or termination of hundreds of tasks being carried out by NATO or U.S. Forces Afghanistan. This includes about 20 tasks identified for transfer to ministries within the Afghan government by December 2014.
Marine Corps Gen. John R. Allen, who recently retired as the ISAF and U.S. Forces Afghanistan commander, recognized that the transition process in Iraq had started too late, Kingsley said. This overwhelmed both Iraqi government and U.S. interagency capacities, a problem exacerbated when failure to reach a bilateral security agreement speeded up the drawdown timetable.
“This task force was born from the lessons from Iraq,” Kingsley said. “General Allen knew the importance of getting ahead of this game to understand what tasks needed to be transferred to which agency, and the need to start that process early.”
Building on groundwork laid by a U.S.-headed Interagency Operational Planning Team, the NATTF includes staff from eight ISAF nations and across the interagency spectrum.
One of its first missions was to evaluate 977 tasks ISAF and U.S. forces were carrying out and identify which could be eliminated or had overlap. Based on guidance from the North Atlantic Council about what specific roles NATO will and won’t play in Afghanistan in 2015 and beyond, the task force then prioritized what they deemed the 371 tasks critical for transition, Kingsley said.
It’s an exercise that’s never been done, he acknowledged, noting that it’s laying groundwork that can be applied to future missions around the world.
Top priority through the team’s paring-down process went to tasks that, if not successfully transferred, would have a negative impact on the success of the entire Afghanistan campaign, Kingsley said. This includes capabilities required for the Afghanistan government’s long-term viability, many that need to be built incrementally.
“What we are dealing with is infrastructure and civil-military tasks that have a pretty large consequence to the success of this country,” Kingsley said, pointing to aviation and telecommunications as examples.
Seven members of the task force team are dedicated exclusively to the transfer of airport navigational aids and control of civilian airspace and other aviation assets to Afghanistan’s Ministry of Transportation and Civil Aviation.
It’s a complex issue, Kingsley explained, involving not just the transfer of assets and infrastructure, but also the development of laws, policies and expertise to run the aviation enterprise. Another part of the equation is getting Afghanistan’s three airlines, all now blacklisted by the European Union, up to safety and credibility standards for accreditation.
“All of that has to be developed by the Afghans, because right now they have almost zero capability,” Kingsley said. “But aviation transition is vital, because in a landlocked country like this, it is a primary means of commerce.”
Meanwhile, a U.S. team is helping the Afghans develop a fiber-optic network around Afghanistan. “The potential for their income revenue is amazing,” Kingsley said. “It could reach a potential $1.5 billion per year, if we can successfully transfer that task to the Afghans.”
While helping the Afghans build capacity in these and other vital areas, Kingsley acknowledged that it’s not likely to be completed and fully operational by December 2014. “So the second part of what we are doing is to enable them to contract that capability to bridge the gap until they gain the capacity,” he said.
The task force also is working with the Afghans to ensure a smooth transfer of tasks related to the NATO and U.S. mission in Afghanistan to build up the Afghan national security forces. This covers the gamut, Kingsley said, from medical evacuation and logistics capabilities, to the ability to conduct operations, intelligence and security and provide mobility.
Throughout the process, Kingsley called communication -- across the international community, the interagency and with Afghanistan government leaders -- a vital part of the effort. That helps lay out a timetable for what needs to be done, and when, and to identify shortfalls early on so they don’t become surprises later in the drawdown process, Kingsley said.
The carefully planned process not only builds Afghan capacity, he said, but also enables Afghanistan to step up and demonstrate its sovereignty. That, he said, helps allay concern in Afghanistan and among the international community about the country’s post-2014 future, he said.
“To me, the biggest challenge is ensuring that [the Afghanistan government] and the Afghans understand and are able to accomplish the tasks that we are going to transfer to them,” Kingsley said. “Through this process, we want to ensure they are set up for success.”
The successful transfer of civil-military tasks is the next logistical step in the strategic partnership the United States and Afghanistan are building for the future, he said.
“This is big part of building that long-term strategic partnership,” Kingsley said.