Battleland

Training the Afghan Military

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Army photo / Staff Sgt. Billie J. Nelson Jr.

A U.S. soldier trains members of the Afghan National Army on use of a 60-millimeter mortar in Khost province

A just-released Army report offers insights into the challenges associated with weaning the Afghan military off its dependence on U.S. and allied support. The ability for Afghanistan to defend itself after U.S. combat forces pull out by 2015 is vital.

An Army Human Terrain Team spent several weeks late last year and earlier this year in Khost and Paktiya provinces in eastern Afghanistan. Its members interviewed both U.S. and Afghan troops about how their training and partnering arrangements were going.

(PHOTOS: A Long and Distant War: Photos from Afghanistan, 1988-2009)

While only snapshots, they give a sense of the magnitude of the task that needs to be completed if U.S. combat forces are to withdraw by 2015 and leave an Afghan force capable of defending their country.

Excerpts:

HTT’s [Human Terrain Team] survey results show that CF [Coalition Forces] perceive their Afghan counterparts as lacking motivation…This apparent lack of motivation, according to the CF Soldiers we interviewed, is a contributing factor to ANA [Afghan National Army] poor performance and initiative to function independently. According to one U.S. Staff Sergeant working with the ANA in Mandozai District, Khost Province, the ANA are not interested in taking on more responsibility: “We do the heavy lifting, they put a face on it.”…

“All the battalion commanders that I have been with, they have the old idea from Russian times. They don’t really respect their NCOs…their mentality, their ideas, are from ancient times…The chain of command we have, they’re too old to be a battalion commander or a brigade commander or any higher ups. The officers are dying their beards, their hair, to look young. And that’s the problem, because they’ve got old ideas.”

– Afghan commander…

According to one Kandak Command Sergeant Major, a regular paycheck is the main reason Afghan fighters join the ANA. He cited his salary as what led him to join, but pointed out that it was still not sufficient. “When we joined the army we were getting 3,500 Afghanis and now 20,000 Afghanis. But it’s still not enough for family support.” Afghans report that insurgents pay more due to financial support from Pakistan and that the current global recession has impacted young men’s choices for employment. Men who would have left to work abroad in Dubai or Saudi Arabia are finding fewer opportunities given the current economic climate. These young men are said to be joining the ANA as an alternative, though further research is needed to confirm how widespread this trend may be…

“One of our ‘ANA-led’ missions was an air assault mission, which is problematic number one, because they don’t have any helicopters. I would say that was an ANA idea, but definitely not an ANA-led mission because we did all of the planning on it and obviously all of the resourcing on it. So it wound up being their idea, and then we planned and executed it. Obviously we did it partnered, but really it was just me spoon-feeding [my counterpart] the operations order and the whole plan.”

– U.S. commander…

Education in Afghanistan, according to Afghans, is what separates peaceful Afghans from those who wage war. In one of the ANA training facilities at Camp Parsa, an English translation of a Pashto/Dari poster reads: “Remember to forgive, and keep away from the uneducated.”…

“So we can’t really say the missions are being led by the ANA if they’re being driven by our intel. We can say it’s an ANA-led patrol and we can go out there and just sit there, pull security for them and let them talk to people, but again, going to villages every single day and just talking to people, that gets old for us and it’s getting really old for them.”…“And they don’t have the intelligence assets that we have so it makes it really hard to do a targeting assessment when you can’t share the target information with them because it’s all classified information. So if you start talking to them about information ‘I heard about a guy in the area’ you can ask him about the guy, but you can’t tell him about any of the information that you have on that guy or why you’re looking for him, which is counterproductive. That’s one of the biggest things. And then we do all these assessment working group meetings and targeting meetings, but we’re in there by ourselves. And those meetings drive our operations. How can you do that if you’re partnered? Why is there not ANA sitting there beside us? I don’t get it.”

– U.S. commander…

U.S. Soldiers interviewed by HTT admitted that while ANA does contribute some intelligence, U.S. intelligence still drives most partnered missions. “Until they take ownership of it, they’re just going to be along for the ride.” Much of that intelligence is classified beyond a level that is made available to their Afghan partners. “Since the ANA doesn’t know [the intelligence], and it doesn’t matter to them because they don’t sit in on your targeting meetings, they’re just going to go out and do their talking points…” This dynamic results in a lack of ANA ownership and, accordingly, a lack of motivation. “If you plan something, you want to see it done correctly. The patrols that we’ve done, where they’ve planned them and did them, have been our best…Everybody was more motivated. But when we call and say tomorrow at 9 o’clock, at the trucks, 15 Soldiers. The ANA are like, who wants to go today?”…

“They won’t do a patrol unless U.S. forces are on a patrol. If you ask them ‘hey what did you guys do today,’ you will never hear ‘oh we kicked out a patrol over to Seway, 3 trucks, 15 guys went over there, trying to find out some information about blab blah blah…’ Never gonna happen. They’re just going along with us whenever we need them.”

– U.S. commander…

Due to the “intangible” nature of building relationships and conditions for effective partnership, the role of training is all the more important. Although Combat Advising curriculum taught by Advise and Assist Brigades stateside has been revamped to reflect the strategic significance of the role of advising for the U.S. military, partnership is not incorporated into the training that units receive at Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC). The fact that there is no template of instruction for partnering runs counter to all U.S. Army instruction and to the mindset of “train like you fight.”…

“…just the planning we can take the lead. But if it’s the operation equipment, or the stuff we need for the operation then we cannot take the lead…We always feel the support of the U.S. army, but we have M16s, 50-calibers, but those are not good enough weapons to defend the country. When we have the air force, tanks, and heavy weapons like artillery, then we will be able to do everything independently. Then we wouldn’t need their support, we would support them. If U.S. forces leave Afghanistan, the country isn’t capable enough to stand on its feet. We’ll be sent back 10 years or 15 years back to mujahedeen time.”

–  Afghan commander…

U.S. Soldiers explained to HTT that even once they arrived in Afghanistan, they received conflicting guidance about whether to prioritize fighting the insurgency versus preparing the ANSF to fight the insurgency…

“We should either be tasked to train ANA or accomplish missions, doing both we accomplish neither.”

– U.S. soldier…

Moreover, “…probably the biggest thing slowing the ANA down is their inability to make decisions at lower levels. Almost everything has to be approved by the brigade commander or higher…To go out on patrols, it has to be signed off on by the brigade or kandak commanders. These ANA Soldiers cannot just go out and make decisions on their own, they have to call up and ask for permission…” According to the 2010 International Crisis Group report on the ANA, the “Soviet-style, top-heavy command structure” of the Afghan army culture presents a serious obstacle to ANA development. Close partnership at the command and staff level is needed to combat this tendency and push the ANA to decentralize decision-making in order to become a flexible force…

“The language barrier is a problem. When you only have one interpreter on patrols but you’ve got two platoons who are trying to work together, then you’ve only got the two leaders talking, but no talking, no communicating at any other level down. How are you supposed to teach, train, or interact?”

– U.S. commander…

The most operationally relevant cultural difference HTT observed of the ANA 1st Brigade and TF Raider was not religious or social, but rather was the clash of organizational cultures. The U.S. Army follows a decentralized “mission command” that trusts well-trained, highly educated officer and NCO corps to make decisions because they are closest to the ground truth of the operating environment. However, Park (2010) explains that the Afghan Army is not set up that way: “Afghanistan is one of the most traditional societies in the world. Its people value the opinions of their elders and superiors more than individual common sense dictates. As most U.S. Soldiers learn, the Afghans value their tribal identities more than their national identity. Tribal elders make all decisions for the tribe in outlying areas…The military is a reflection of the society from which it springs, and it operates in the same way as the society it protects. The Afghan commander and his highest-ranking staff officers run ANA units in a strictly top-down, centralized manner, similar to how the local elders and imams run most villages in Afghanistan.”…

I mean, if you say, it’s so safe in this area but you never go there, then what makes a place safe? Then in another area where there’s a lot of contact, we go there all the time. So maybe we’re providing the insurgents with a target opportunity. So if I stopped going to an area, the sig acts [significant activities] would stop. Does that mean that the area’s safe and that we’ve achieved success? I don’t know…It depends on what you consider good performance.

– U.S. commander…

Effectiveness of U.S. efforts in Afghanistan depends at least in part on the effectiveness of the ANA. If the ANA are ultimately viewed as incapable by the Afghan population, then CF efforts to build them up will have failed. CF needs to continue to track their effectiveness in disrupting the insurgency’s ability to sustain a continuing level of violence, but if CF cannot affect their effectiveness in gaining legitimacy and increasing the perception of stability, then CF has only fought half the battle. The ANSF will be able to clear, but not to hold or build….

“If we were strictly tasked with partnership that would be fine, but we’re trying to do so many other things…we’re so focused on doing our American operations that we’re not really helping the Afghans with their operations. So we’re doing everything on the tactical level, but where the planning comes down and where the focus is, and the lines of effort—why are there not Afghan lines of effort and us supporting those by supporting them?…Get rid of all the computers. Just work entirely with the Afghans. As a mentor, combat advisor, you don’t worry about any other lines of effort, all you do is develop your ANSF….here the focus is insurgents, projects, all that kind of stuff. Here we’ve got other focuses. We’ve got too many irons in the fire.”

– U.S. commander…

“When we started to do that with 6/1, we started to truly defer in a lot of ways to their priorities, in terms of when and where we were conducting operations…and made it much more equal. It was to our benefit, because we started to really see their confidence take off. And as a result, from the American perspective when you see these guys acting more confident, you gain more respect. That’s what’s missing in some instances. Some Coalition folks, they don’t have the respect for their partners that they should or could. As one former Company Commander previously deployed to Nangarhar explained, when CF focuses on what is truly possible with their Afghan counterparts, it pays dividends. As he phrased it, when he had a company covering several districts in Nangarhar, he was faced with the decision of relying on the “25 sets of eyes we could have deployed at any given time or we could increase that to 1,000 by getting the ANSF proficient or further increase their effort to 25-30,000 if they got the population to believe in the ANP. If we focus on killing 50 insurgents, there is the chance we would only create 200 more.”…

“Yesterday we also got a rocket but it flew over us. The ANA did not cower or remove themselves from the fight. The ANA fired their 240 Bravo on the back of the Ford Ranger and fired the entire belt. The Taliban was probably scared to death. If I had an ANA guy shooting like a maniac at me, even if I knew for a fact he could not hit me, I would not want to get up and start shooting rockets at them.”

– U.S. soldier…

As CF seeks to develop the ANSF [Afghan National Security Forces] in ways that are “Afghan sustainable,” it is important to increase constructive dialogue with their counterparts to solicit their views on the challenges that lie ahead. If both CF and ANSF commit to putting this effort into their partnership, they will develop the common understanding needed to best leverage ANSF strengths to complement CF military capabilities. Obtaining an honest appraisal of where ANSF leaders feel they are and where they feel they need to be is critical to factor into CF plans reaching the desired end state of Afghans taking the lead on security for their country…

“I’ve never seen the ANA be abusive in any way. If anything, just the opposite, overly cautious, so respectful to the point that there are areas that they don’t want to go into because they’re afraid of offending someone. And some of that may be, like I mentioned before, familial ties and tribal ties. But the ANA just kind of have this ‘we want to be the good guys’ mentality. They like the fact that when we go into the villages, that the villagers like them.”

– U.S. commander…

One 1st Lieutenant described NTM-A [coalition] mentors as a “random group of people from all over Kabul – Air Force, Navy, Army, active duty and National Guard – [were] pulled from their previous assignments, [are] thrown together and expected to do a job that none of us were trained in any meaningful way to do… we are expected, by virtue of time-in-grade and membership in the US military, to be able to train a foreign force in military operation, an extremely irresponsible policy that is ethnocentric at its core and which assumes some sort of natural superiority in which an untrained American soldier has everything to teach the Afghans, but nothing to learn.”

– h/t Public Intelligence

VIDEO: The Afghan Army in Action

2 comments
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anonguest7619
anonguest7619

the media has fallen into this habit of printing these "American soldiers say Afghans are lazy and corrupt" but...[insert positive aspect about ANA here], and moral of the story is that if we all just listen better we could really get along. Let me tell you something: this is not a sitcom from the 1980s. People are dying. The only moral of the story is that the Afghans need to step up, because ready or not we are out of there.

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