Results – Evaluation of the Dutch Contribution to Resolute Support
Between 2015 and 2021, the NATO Resolute Support Mission (RSM) took place in Afghanistan. The Netherlands was one of the countries taking part in the mission. Dutch contributions to missions under Article 100 of the Dutch Constitution are subject to an obligation to evaluate the deployment after it has been completed. IOB evaluated the Dutch contribution to RSM.
The Resolute Support Mission focused on training, advising and assisting officers of the Afghan armed forces and police (Afghan National Defense and Security Forces, ANDSF) and officials in the Afghan ministries of Interior and Defense. The objective of the mission was to create a professional and self-reliant Afghan security apparatus that would be able to independently maintain security and permanently resist the Taliban and other insurgents. The Netherlands contributed to the mission with 100-160 people at a time, including advisers, staff officers, Force Protection units, and logistical and medical support staff.
Central research questions
To what extent were the objectives of the Dutch contribution to Resolute Support achieved, how can this be explained, and what lessons can be learned for future Dutch mission contributions?
Conclusions, and recommendations to the Cabinet
Below you can find a summary of the main conclusions of the evaluation, as well as the recommendations to the Cabinet. More details can be found in the full report of the evaluation.
The main objective of RSM was not achieved after the mission ended.
In August 2021, the Taliban took power from the government in Afghanistan. The main objective of RSM—to create a self-reliant Afghan security apparatus that could permanently resist the Taliban—was not realised. The immediate reason for this was the unilateral decision by the United States to withdraw all of its troops from Afghanistan, thus terminating RSM de facto, even though it was known that the ANDSF were not yet capable of providing security on their own.
During the mission, RSM was also not on track to achieve its objectives.
The Taliban gained control of more and more territory during the entire period of the mission, and there is no evidence that the self-reliance or professionalism of the Afghan armed forces and police improved structurally over the course of the mission. The ANDSF remained dependent on foreign troops and contractors, and continued experiencing major problems with key functions such as supply, command and logistics. In addition, the ANDSF continued to suffer from widespread corruption, high turnover, and heavy casualties, as well as poor morale and low combat readiness on the part of troops.
The Netherlands contributed to a limited extent to achieving the objectives of the mission.
The Netherlands contributed to a limited extent to the professionalisation of individual ANDSF officers, but not to structural improvements in the self-reliance of the ANDSF. During the mission, Dutch advisers took small steps to help improve the professional skills of individual officers. Most progress in this regard was observed in the training of the Afghan Special Security Forces unit ATF-888 by Dutch and German special operations forces, starting in 2018. However, these steps did not lead to any structural progress in the self-reliance of the ANDSF.
Many different factors limited the effectiveness of the mission.
A number of factors limited the effectiveness of Resolute Support, and thus of the Dutch contribution. These included problems with mission design and execution, but also wider problems in Afghanistan. Several of these factors were known before RSM started, and they made it unlikely that RSM would achieve its objectives.
Recommendations for future mission contributions:
The progress of the mission was presented too positively.
Within NATO, and also in the Netherlands, during the mission, the progress achieved in strengthening the ANDSF and the developments in the security situation in Afghanistan were presented more positively than was warranted by the facts. This was the case in reports from the field to NATO Headquarters and in reports by NATO to member states and the outside world. It was also the case in reports from the Cabinet to the House of Representatives, mainly in the years of the mission up to 2020. A collective wishful thinking emerged in which staff within the NATO organisation and in participating countries stuck to the same positive narrative even though the evidence did not support this, and in which they did not pay enough heed to the signs that not all was well.
Recommendations for future mission contributions:
Dutch grounds for participation were too ambitious and insufficiently substantiated.
As justification of its decision to participate in the mission, the cabinet formulated a number of ‘grounds for participation’: allied solidarity; countering migration; preventing Afghanistan from becoming a safe haven for terrorism; and consolidating economic growth, human rights, and the rule of law in Afghanistan. These grounds for participation were very diverse and ambitious, given the relatively small contribution to the mission: 100-160 people at a time. They were also based on assumptions about the effects of the mission contribution—assumptions that were not substantiated by the cabinet and that were, in some cases, questionable. This type of ‘grounds for participation’ makes it difficult for the Cabinet to account for the extent to which a mission deployment actually contributes to the ambitions to which the deployment is supposed to contribute.