I show what the U.S. and Afghan governments can learn by studying how Colombia reformed its army and greatly improved its security situation.
Ten years ago, Colombia faced a security crisis in many ways worse than the one Afghanistan currently faces. But over the past decade, Colombia has sharply reduced its murder and kidnapping rates, crushed the array of insurgent groups fighting against the government, demobilized the paramilitary groups that arose during the power vacuum of the 1990s, and significantly restored the rule of law and presence of government throughout the country.
Over the past decade, with the assistance of a team of US advisers, Colombia rebuilt its army. In contrast to the current plan for Afghanistan, Colombia focused on quality, not quantity. Its army and other security forces have achieved impressive success against an insurgency in many ways similar to Afghanistan's. Meanwhile, despite the assistance of nearly 100,000 NATO soldiers and many billions of dollars spent on security assistance, the situation in Afghanistan seems to be deteriorating.
Afghan and US officials struggling to build an effective Afghan army can learn from Colombia's success. This article explores the similarities and differences between the insurgencies in Afghanistan and Colombia, examines how Colombia reformed its security forces, and discusses how to apply Colombia's success to Afghanistan.
I discuss the similarities and differences between the security challenges in Afghanistan and Colombia. I then argue that Colombia's relatively small but elite professional army, its emphasis on helicopter mobility, and its local home-guard program provide a model for reforming Afghanistan's security forces.