21 September 2009

Thoughts about the Afghan National Army

That's the one we're training - the one that will stand up so that we can stand down, to borrow a phrase from Iraq. Herewith some excerpts from an article in Asia Times; I know nothing about the author re biases or reliability, but the report seems believable and includes opinions I have not heard offered elsewhere -
I went out to the training fields near Kabul... Our trainers, soldiers from the Illinois National Guard, were masterful... They were also big, strong, camouflaged, combat-booted, supersized American men... The Afghans were puny by comparison: hundreds of little Davids to the overstuffed American Goliaths training them. Keep in mind: Afghan recruits come from a world of desperate poverty. They are almost uniformly malnourished and underweight...

American trainers recognize that recruits regularly wear all their gear at once for fear somebody will steal anything left behind in the barracks, but they take this overdressing as a sign of how much Afghans love the military... My own reading, based on my observations of Afghan life during the years I've spent in that country, is this: It's a sign of how little they trust one another, or the Americans who gave them the snazzy suits. I think it also indicates the obvious: that these impoverished men in a country without work have joined the Afghan National Army for what they can get out of it (and keep or sell) - and that doesn't include democracy or glory...

American and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) officers often complain that Afghan army units are simply not ready to "operate independently", but no one ever speaks to the simple question: Where are they? ...My educated guess is that such an army simply does not exist. It may well be true that Afghan men have gone through some version of "Basic Warrior Training" 90,000 times or more. When I was teaching in Afghanistan from 2002 to 2006, I knew men who repeatedly went through ANA training to get the promised Kalashnikov and the pay. Then they went home for a while and often returned some weeks later to enlist again under a different name.

In a country where 40% of men are unemployed, joining the ANA for 10 weeks is the best game in town. It relieves the poverty of many families every time the man of the family goes back to basic training... American trainers have taken careful note of the fact that, when ANA soldiers were given leave after basic training to return home with their pay, they generally didn't come back...

As for the police, US-funded training offers a similar revolving door. In Afghanistan, however, it is far more dangerous to be a policeman than a soldier. While soldiers on patrol can slip away, policemen stuck at their posts are killed almost every day. Assigned in small numbers to staff small-town police stations or highway checkpoints, they are sitting ducks for Taliban fighters... British commanders in Helmand province estimated that 60% of Afghan police are on drugs - and little wonder why...

Afghans are world famous fighters, in part because they have a knack for gravitating to the winning side, and they're ready to change sides with alacrity until they get it right. Recognizing that Afghans back a winner, US military strategists are now banking on a counterinsurgency strategy that seeks to "clear, hold, and build" - that is, to stick around long enough to win the Afghans over. But it's way too late for that to work. These days, US troops sticking around look ever more like a foreign occupying army and, to the Taliban, like targets.

Recently Karen DeYoung noted in the Washington Post that the Taliban now regularly use very sophisticated military techniques - "as if the insurgents had attended something akin to the US Army's Ranger school, which teaches soldiers how to fight in small groups in austere environments". Of course, some of them have attended training sessions which teach them to fight in "austere environments", probably time and time again. If you were a Talib, wouldn't you scout the training being offered to Afghans on the other side? And wouldn't you do it more than once if you could get well paid every time?

More at the link.


  1. Afghanistan, unlike Iraq, will never be a self-supporting anything because while they do have natural resources, ( http://www.ctv.ca/servlet/ArticleNews/story/CTVNews/20071113/afghan_resources_071113?s_name=&no_ads= ) they are remote, difficult and dangerous to mine and in the current economy, there is no market. (I do think it is ironic that Americans are clearing the mines from the area of the Chinese copper mine. Americans are dying for the benefit of the Chinese government's $3B copper mine purchase. Will we never learn?)

    China was awarded a copper mining bid in 2008, http://easterncampaign.wordpress.com/2008/07/16/chinas-entry-into-afghanistan/ but interestingly, they weren't the highest bidders. Karzai is trying desperately to please many masters and still stay in power and alive. He does not want to end up like Najibullah.

    And to the current situation, NATO (think EU light) just wants to make friends. The Taliban are fierce fighters. They must be met with force, not friendship opportunities. There are not enough forces there from any nation, though the US has 62K and NATO another 35K.

    Gen. McChrystal just put his ass on the line in a BIG way this weekend. I'd suggest paying attention to his suggestions or pull out, save some American lives and decide how we're going to deal with the Taliban getting nukes when they overthrow Pakistan's Zardari or Kayani or Sharif who ever is in charge at the time.

  2. We once had the opportunity to do right by Afghanistan. We could've driven out every single Taliban with the overwhelming cooperation of the Afghanis themselves- if we had simply built up there infrastructure, schools and hospitals. And the Muslim world would be singing our praises to this day. But that doesn't sell armaments or make Halliburton rich.

    Instead we opted to spend $200 million per day for eight long, obscene years to kill both Iraqis and ourselves. End result- we've effectively lost both "wars on terror" and can't afford schools, health insurance or upkeep to our own infrastructure right here at home.

    Shock AND Awe!


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