Issue Brief: The Afghan Defense Sector Amidst a U.S. Drawdown

Developments in Afghan Security Forces Amidst US Drawdown, Taiwan Arms Sales Skyrocket, F-35 Sale to UAE Moves Forward & more



October 27, 2020

Issue Brief: The Afghan Defense Sector Amidst a U.S. Drawdown 

Security Assistance Monitor, October 2020

A new issue brief from SAM looks at developments in the Afghan defense sector amidst efforts at a U.S. withdrawal from the country. Over the past several weeks, the Trump administration has sown confusion with conflicting messages about the timeline of the U.S. drawdown. Despite a tweet from the President asserting all troops would be home by Christmas, National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien seems to have confirmed that at least 2,500 servicemembers will remain in the country into 2021.  

A withdrawal from Afghanistan has been a priority for three successive U.S. administrations but has long been predicated on the effective development of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) to supplant U.S. troops and take over security responsibilities. Unfortunately, despite an expansion of Afghan troop numbers, the ANDSF has remained plagued by corruption, attrition, and high casualty rates among other challenges, and have struggled to defend the country against insurgent groups. Though the U.S. government has ceased disclosing data on territorial control of the country, the Long War Journal estimates that 65% of Afghanistan’s districts are either Taliban controlled or contested.

The effectiveness of the ANDSF is no doubt an important factor in ongoing intra-Afghan peace talks, which have been placed on shaky ground amidst rising levels of violence in the country. But for the time being, the ANDSF still remains dependent on its external supporters, especially the United States, and with U.S. troop levels set to hit a historic low this year, the Afghan government may be looking for other signals of enduring U.S. support, including in security sector assistance. 

The issue brief gives an overview of these key developments, as well as data on U.S. security assistance, troop levels, and changes in the ANDSF force structure. To read the full brief, click here

Security Assistance News & Research Roundup

News & Blog Posts

U.S. threatens sanctions after U.N. arms embargo against Iran expires

CNBC, October 18

With the UN embargo on the Iranian arms lifted last weekend, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warns that the U.S. will sanction any entity or individual that engages with Iranian weapons programs. U.S. officials have been threatening sanctions since the US failed to renew the embargo in August.

US pitches Greece on a frigate co-production deal

Defense News, October 19

Facing heightened tensions with Turkey, Washington is pushing Greece to purchase 4 U.S. frigates and is offering to co-produce 3 of them in the country as an incentive. The U.S. Ambassador to Greece stated the purchase will advance long-term Hellenic security in a “geopolitically complicated neighborhood.” 

Lawmakers take steps to slow down sale of F-35s to UAE

Defense News, October 21

Several Senate Democrats presented legislation aimed at delaying the sale of F-35s to the UAE under the conditions that the U.S. government would provide a report of the technical risks for sales to non-NATO countries, excluding Japan, South Korea, Israel, Australia or New Zealand. 

U.S. State Department approves $2.4 billion more in potential arms sales to Taiwan: Pentagon

Reuters, October 21

The U.S. State Department has approved the potential sale of 100 Boeing-made Harpoon Coastal Defense Systems to Taiwan in a deal that has a potential value of up to $2.37 billion, and comes just days after the State Department approved the potential sale of three other weapons systems to Taiwan, including sensors, missiles and artillery that could have a total value of $1.8 billion. 

China to Sanction U.S. Weapons Makers Over Taiwan Sales

Wall Street Journal, October 26

China said it will sanction three American defense contractors over proposed arms sales to Taiwan, retaliating against U.S. efforts to deepen security ties with the island democracy that Beijing claims as its territory.


Research, Analysis, and Opinion


To Reboot Arms Control, Start with Small Steps

Defense One, October 19

Security experts argue that the U.S. approach to renewing a START deal with Russia needs to change now, or else it risks a global nuclear arms race. They offer 3 key principles for the U.S. to adopt. First, focus on substance, not format. Second, address arms asymmetry between the U.S., Russia, and China. And most importantly, start talking to each other, not about each other. 

The UAE Is Turning Into the World Capital for Weapons Makers 

Foreign Policy, October 20 

Naomi Cohen argues that the debate over whether the U.S. will sell F-35 fighter jets to the UAE “misses the larger picture” of the Gulf country’s capability and willingness to expand its domestic defense production. Although it is unlikely the UAE will develop a mature sovereign defense industry, it will integrate itself into global supply chains and control more of its technology. 

Managing U.S. Security Partnerships: A Toolkit for Congress

New America, October 26

A new report from New America provides a “briefing tool” to lawmakers and other policymakers on how to leverage U.S. security assistance to improve the behavior of security partners. 

From the U.S. Government

Department of Defense

Data Fact of the Week:

Breakdown Changes to U.S. Troop Levels and Security Sector Assistance Since 2001

The graphic above illustrates the changes in U.S. troop levels and security sector assistance since 2001. Please note, the security sector assistance is presented in fiscal years. 

U.S. troop levels are set to hit historic lows this year, and as the government in Kabul engages in intra-Afghan peace talks, it may look to U.S. security assistance as a signal of enduring American support and a source of leverage in negotiations. 

A new issue brief from SAM looks at these developments, and in efforts to improve the Afghan National Defense and Security forces. 

To see read SAM’s full Issue Brief on the subject, click here

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