What Went Wrong: The 2021 collapse of Afghan National Security Forces


Afghan National Army soldiers set out during an operation in the village of Dasht-e Baghwani, in Nangrahar Province’s Surkh Rod District, to clear Taliban fighters from the area. Photo: Andrew Quilty, 2019.Drawing on interviews with key informants before and after the fall of Kabul and Sharan’s previous research on the role and power dynamics of Afghanistan’s political networks, this report examines the following:

  • The impact of the wholesale, 11th-hour restructuring of the top leadership at the Ministry of Interior and other security institutions at a time when the country faced formidable armed opposition, and the US was withdrawing, on the weakening, if not full breakdown, of chains of command and trust;
  • How Ghani and his inner circle further politicised and ethnicised security institutions to their advantage. The ‘restructuring’ was couched as involving much-needed reforms to deal with very real problems of corruption and nepotism. However, it seems that changes to the senior leadership appeared to be driven by a desire to ‘clean’ the security sector of non-Pashtuns and promote Pashtuns, especially Ghilzai easterners, to shift the balance in favour of Ghani and his inner circle;
  • Examines the strategic calculations and incentives of President Ghani and his inner circle for this last-minute restructuring and how others attempted to understand them;
  • And finally, how the Palace’s decisions and actions undermined the ANSF’s capability and morale to counter Taliban offensives, as senior personnel were consumed by internal politics and job security rather than providing logistical and planning support to those fighting.

The article was published in Afghanistan Analysts Network