By Capt. Andrew J. CarpenterOctober 15, 2018
Advising Afghan logistics can be a humbling experience. The logistics infrastructure the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) employ is not complex, but it is fairly nascent.
Afghans and their coalition counterparts continue to improve tactics, techniques, and procedures to optimize sustainment delivery throughout a country presenting seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Advisors are enabling their counterparts by implementing a train, advise, and assist (TAA) approach toward four primary efforts: integrating automated logistics business systems, transitioning to demand-based logistics, adhering to established systems and processes, and overcoming cultural inhibitors.
AUTOMATED LOGISTICS BUSINESS SYSTEMS
After many years of using an analog logistics application, the Afghans were introduced to the Core Inventory Management System (CoreIMS), a logistics software capable of tracking the shipment, receipt, and storage of commodities. This system is the centerpiece of ANDSF automated logistics. It improves visibility and accountability and enables the gradual transition to demand-based logistics.
Nine years after CoreIMS was first introduced, the ANDSF's reliance on analog systems continues to be difficult to curb. U.S. advisers encourage periodic Afghan-led training courses and frequent training in the use of the system, with the hope that Afghan units will ultimately reconcile their on-hand inventories. Once a unit has achieved reconciliation, the true test of their proficiency is the ability to maintain reconciliation through repeated cycles of receipt and issuance of various commodities to customer units.
TRANSITIONING TO DEMAND-BASED LOGISTICS
With the integration of CoreIMS, Afghan logistics is transitioning toward a demand-based, or pull, system. Historically, the Afghans have used a push system, which is a centralized approach in which a higher headquarters pushes supplies to subordinate units on a recurring schedule of delivery or, at times, at random intervals.
Consequently, this often creates excess and stockpiling. Optimistically, this offers additional supplies for austere locations when distribution is difficult. However, such excess can create opportunities for personnel to take advantage of poor consumption visibility for their own profit. After many years of operating under the push system, remnants of it are still visible in Afghan warehouses that are filled with excess items for which they have no use.
The U.S. military is not averse to operating under a push system. For example, in a joint forcible entry operation, the military uses push logistics by initially air dropping supplies to supplement sustainment for seizing, securing, and retaining the lodgment. Once the lodgment is secure, aircraft begin air-land operations to deliver both combat power and additional sustainment to ground forces, allowing them to expand the lodgment and accommodate follow-on port-opening forces. Eventually, however, the military transitions back to demand-based logistics.
Instituting a demand-based system and integrating CoreIMS has prompted a paradigm change in Afghan logistics operations; Afghans have historically operated in a reactionary capacity. Advising Afghan counterparts to forecast requirements based on demand signals and historical data can be a time-consuming and lengthy process, often taking months of effort to yield only minimal results.
Within the Ministry of Interior, CoreIMS is actively used only at the ministerial level, at the seven Afghan National Police zone headquarters, and in the seven zone-aligned regional logistics centers. Eventually, integration will occur at the provincial police headquarters level and, later, at subordinate echelons once underlying enablers such as electricity, internet, and CoreIMS access are emplaced.
ADHERENCE TO ESTABLISHED SYSTEMS AND PROCESSES
Aside from CoreIMS, consumption reports are one of the highest priorities an adviser uses to encourage sustainment transparency and requirements forecasting. Consumption reports are submitted monthly and offer a sustainment disposition snapshot to higher headquarters.
Theoretically, G-4 staffs should construct a logistics status from the consumption reports that will create a system in which they can anticipate requirements. Anticipatory actions can significantly improve the timely delivery of sustainment, especially considering the numerous obstacles facing the ANDSF, such as enemy threat, accessibility concerns attributed to geography, and an inferior distribution capability as compared to coalition forces.
Anticipatory actions are often negated by the lack of adherence to established systems and processes; establishing processes is an even more fundamental step toward coaching counterparts to adjust their aperture and thrive in a demand-based requirements system.
The ministries of Interior and Defense, with the help of coalition advisers, established systems and processes years ago as a function of instituting organization and discipline and setting the foundation for the bourgeoning logistics enterprise. Today, those systems and processes include the organization's standard operating procedures. They designate hierarchal structure within the enterprise, outline roles and responsibilities of key billets, and dictate recurring submission deadlines and recipients for reports.
Without systems and processes, no organization can succeed. Advisors must advocate strict adherence to support the transition of ANDSF logistics from its current posture to one of self-reliance. A friction point at the Afghan National Police provincial level is the overreliance on liaison officers at the ministerial level. These officers often submit requirements directly to the ministerial level instead of following the validated process through the zone headquarters.
Circumventing the zone undermines the visibility of subordinate provinces' sustainment disposition, thereby undermining the incremental transition to a demand-based system in which zone G-4s can forecast requirements.
OVERCOMING CULTURAL INHIBITORS
Perhaps the most basic TAA effort toward achieving success in Afghan logistics is overcoming cultural inhibitors. Advisers are not in Afghanistan to change culture, but rather to diligently train organizational identity and unity of effort as an extension of Afghanistan's multicultural and multiethnic identity.
Purposeful organizational identity will ultimately lead to unity of effort, but the difficulty advisers face is refocusing counterparts' professional approach from a personal, ethnic, or tribal focus to one that serves the best interests of the organization. At times, advisers must refocus their approach toward unity of effort, allowing counterparts to see that communication and cooperation with each other not only produces the desired effects but also benefits both themselves and the organization.
Progress in overcoming seemingly small cultural inhibitors will be beneficial throughout the ANDSF and will help the G-4s synchronize horizontally and vertically. The results will improve the efficiency and effectiveness of their respective organizations.
With the formation of security force assistance brigades and an enduring advising mission in Afghanistan, below are a several prominent lessons learned for current and future advisors.
LEVERAGING KNOWLEDGE BROKERS. Once in country, advisers should conduct battlefield circulation to meet ministerial-level counterparts. Open a dialogue with them to ensure you understand the systems and processes on which you will advise, and keep communication open for continued education and support.
At each advising echelon, units retain personnel for continuity, such as Department of Defense civilians, contractors, law enforcement professionals, or linguists. These individuals are the key to a successful transition and can provide historical perspective to help you formulate advising efforts.
During engagements, linguists are your best resource as cultural advisers and often have experience with Afghan counterparts. Self-education is equally important before and during deployment. Maximize education on Afghan culture; read publications from the Center for Army Lessons Learned and material provided to you by the knowledge brokers listed above.
SELF-ASSESS AND SET REALISTIC EXPECTATIONS. All advisers want to make a positive impact. Advising is often self-motivated and the adviser determines what they wish to achieve during the deployment; however, the advisee gets a vote, too. Even the best advisers will face difficulties in yielding tangible results. Failure to do yield results does not equate to failure of the mission, but it is an opportunity for successors to continue those advising efforts and yield the desired result.
ASSESS YOUR COUNTERPART. Generally, in just a few engagements, advisers can honestly assess their counterparts. Professionalism, initiative, determination, and passion are all important qualities for both the coalition service member and the ANDSF members. Accurately assessing your counterpart will allow you to establish lines of effort tailored to their reception of your advising style. Tailoring your efforts to their personality, work ethic, and goals will yield more favorable outcomes.
BALANCING EFFORTS. Your priorities will often not be the same as your counterparts'. You may begin an engagement intent on discussing form routing, CoreIMS reconciliation, or sustainment updates from the G-4, but he only wants to discuss fuel concerns or weapons shortages. This is permissible as long as you do not allow his priorities to drive all future engagements. The key is to make counterparts reciprocate your concerns. Yours are theirs, and theirs are yours. This can be done with sincere conversation, demonstration of care, and understanding augmented by the rapport you build.
Coalition advisers have made great progress in recent years. Continuing logistics initiatives, particularly those that move Afghan logistics from analog processes to an automated demand-based requirements system that promotes adherence, accountability, and communication, will exponentially improve ANDSF logistics. Afghans are resilient, unquestionably adaptable, determined, passionate, and capable. Those qualities along with the coalition's enduring advising efforts will eventually enable the ANDSF to be self-reliant and secure Afghanistan's future as a sovereign nation.
Capt. Andrew Carpenter is the incoming commander of Fox Forward Support Company, 2nd Battalion, 377th Parachute Field Artillery Regiment, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division. He previously served as an Afghan National Police logistics advisor in Train, Advise, Assist Command-East. He holds a bachelor's degree in Management from Appalachian State University. He is a graduate of the Logistics Captains Career Course, the Static Line Jumpmaster Course, the Air Assault Course, the Master Resilience Trainer Course, and the Non-Standard Logistics Course.
This article is an Army Sustainment magazine product.