China and Neighbourhood

Security Sector Reform in Afghanistan: Whose Security?

By Prof. Alp Ozerdem | 01 April 2010


As part of the liberal peace agenda, the international community has implemented Security Sector Reform (SSR) in almost all contexts where it has undertaken state-building initiatives in recent years. There are four key areas in such a reform process as being: the political (entailing objective and subjective civilian control), economic development (including minimal resource use by the security sector), institutional (the professionalization of armed forces, police and paramilitary), and societal (the provision of physical security for people).

Since the Bonn Agreement of 2003, one of the main obstacles to the peacebuilding process in Afghanistan was the fragility of security. The United States (US) military response to the presence of the Taliban and al-Qaeda members in different parts of the country, particularly in the south, has meant the continuation of armed conflict with corresponding high levels of violence. In tandem with the ‘war against terrorism’ waged by the US, there has also been a vicious lawlessness in most parts of the country. The deployment of International Security Afghanistan Force (ISAF) was supposed to deal with the security challenge in the country, but its jurisdiction was limited to Kabul and its immediate vicinity, and until NATO’s takeover of command in 2003 meant that there was a major security vacuum in the countryside of Afghanistan in the early days of the reconstruction process. It was in such a context that the Afghan SSR process has been structured over five pillars as disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) of Afghan Military Forces which is led by Japan; restructuring of the Afghan national army by the US; restructuring of the police force by Germany; reform of the justice system by Italy; and the fight against narcotics by the UK.


The re-structuring of the Afghan National Army (ANA) was one of the first pillars of the SSR to be initiated in the country, and the ANA reached a personnel strength of 86,000 in June 2009; which is often recognized as a success story of the Afghan SSR process, as over 52,000 of them are currently engaged in combat operations. However, it is important to note what indicator is used to assess success here – not the level of security improvement for Afghans but the ANA’s participation in combat. Meanwhile, the new Afghan       National Police (ANP) force of 87,000 personnel has already been marred by the three major problems of corruption, human rights violations and poor operational capabilities.


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* Published in the First Issue of Political Reflection Magazine (PR).

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