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    Experts against reducing ANSF funding

    WASHINGTON (PAN): Reduction of current level of funding to the Afghan National Security Force (ANSF) from $6 billion a year to $4.1 billion after 2014 could be counterproductive, top American experts told lawmakers on Friday, insisting the US should not take a decision.

    “This is something that causes me the greatest concern, the fact that currently the administration plans to reduce funding from about $6 billion a year down to $4.1 billion a year after 2014, which will necessitate a reduction in the ranks of the ANSF by about 120,000 soldiers and police,” Max Boot, Senior Fellow for National Security Studies, Council on Foreign Relations, said during a Congressional hearing.

    “It's far from clear where these 120,000 could possibly find gainful and legal employment in Afghanistan's economy.  Many would no doubt wind up working for drug lords or insurgents.  This is perhaps the most calamitous step we could possibly take to destabilise the situation in Afghanistan,” he argued.

    “I really do not see the necessity of doing so when all we would be saving is approximately $2 billion a year, which I realise in the real world is a lot of money, but around here it's not a significant portion of the federal budget,” he said.          

    “In any case, we don't have to contribute the entire amount ourselves.  We should certainly do more to try to get our allies to pay.  But I think it is incumbent on us not to reduce and shortchange the ANSF, which could have calamitous consequences for Afghanistan's security,” Boot said.

    “How can we expect the ANSF to protect the people with one-third less force only a year after we almost zero out the US-NATO force of 100,000?  And the issue is about $2 billion a year.  We spent over a decade investing in the training and equipping in the ANSF.  By 2014, we will have the results of that investment and ANSF capable of protecting its people.  So why, after all these years of investing, would we gut that force and put the entire security mission at risk?” asked Army General Jack Keane (retired), former Army Vice Chief of Staff.

    “In terms of the timetable, the ANSF funding should remain through 2020, in my view, as part of our strategic partnership agreement and, of course, as Afghans are able to pay an even greater share then that should be expected.  “And we can reduce that force in size prior to 2020 based on the conditions but let it be the conditions and not on an arbitrary financial number.  A 230,000 ANSF force beginning in 2016 would have a disastrous impact on the morale of that force and I believe in of itself almost certainly guarantees the return of Taliban domination,” he argued.

    Keane in his testimony believed that the ANSF is a capable force and it's beginning to stand up to the task of taking over from the US and NATO forces. 

    However, there are many challenges, he noted. “You know 2014 is a major transition year for us, politically, economic and also from a security perspective.  On the political and economic side there's been considerable less effort in a successful transition than there has been on a security side, from my perspective, even though that was not the major part of my assessment in Afghanistan.  It has always been security.  But you cannot be immune to what's going on around the security situation,” he said. 

    Michael O'Hanlon, Director of Research, Senior Fellow and Chair, Brookings Institution's Foreign Policy Program, too expressed his concern over the proposed downsizing of the ANSF.

    “I'm especially concerned about what we're saying now about the potential downsizing of the Afghan forces, and I just want to give a quick anecdote based on my trips to Afghanistan of how this concept of downsizing rapidly began and I think how it's been misconstrued in the ensuring discussion,” he said.

    “I think we should assume the Afghan forces need to stay at 350,000 for some number of years after 2015 until proven otherwise,” he argued.