Training the Afghan army

November 22, 2009 at 12:18 am (Global Issues, Pakistan, Politics) ()


By Brian Cloughley

Daily Times

In Afghanistan the training course is ten weeks, and 90 percent of recruits are illiterate and language-incompatible with their peers, let alone the foreigners. Afghan instructors are keen but barely effective and the logistics system is a tattered joke

In Kabul last week, “an American service member and an Afghan police officer got into an argument because the American was drinking water in front of the Afghan police, who are not eating or drinking…because of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan…[The policeman]

shot the American and seriously wounded him, while other American troops responded and seriously wounded the [policeman].”

This depressing cameo encapsulates the problem for foreign troops in Afghanistan. And it shows the problems that Afghans have with ignorant foreigners whose boorish insensitivity would be laughable were it not so dangerous.

A perceptive American military officer told the Washington Post that “Having US troops enforcing martial law where they don’t understand the people or speak the language — this is a recipe for disaster.” Quite so. (Although his use of the phrase “martial law” is a trifle disconcerting.) And the same applies to the training of the Afghan army and police force.

The training and “mentoring” of Afghan troops and policemen by foreign advisers (shades of Vietnam era condescension) are inadequate.

First, the training is conducted by different nations, none of which have similar instructional methods. Indeed the foreign armies in Afghanistan don’t even have compatible rules of engagement, communications systems, logistics arrangements, equipment, command structures or domestic political imperatives. NATO and the “International Security Assistance Force” have some 65,000 troops in Afghanistan. About half are American, but more than 30,000 other US troops operate under entirely national command.

To state that this arrangement is a cockamamie nonsense is to put it mildly. Here are the lordly superior nations of the West, intent on bringing law and order to Afghanistan, and they do not have a single distinct headquarters that is responsible for commanding all military operations.

If a young captain at any military college in the world came up with such a structure, when told to design a configuration for the most effective use of military power by a group of supposedly allied armies engaged in a counter insurgency war in a foreign country, he would be laughed at.

There is no overall Mission Statement for the 100,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan. As the war intensifies it is likely that national contingents now operating in comparatively safe areas will be subjected to action by warlords, Taliban, drug barons and other criminal thugs. If this happens, there will be even more chaos.

It is stated that training of soldiers is the responsibility of the Afghan army with assistance from others, which is true, so far as it goes. But at least six nations are involved in such training — a recipe for confusion. So last April, realising that the training process had failed, NATO announced that it would create a Training Mission with “a single commander for both the US-led Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan and the NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan.”

And the best of luck. But it won’t work. Because what is needed is a stand-alone training system that could be designed in detail by a competent major in about a week.

When I returned to Australia from serving in Vietnam, I was made responsible for the basic training of hundreds of soldiers, a task I much enjoyed in spite of rising at 0530 every day for the morning run. It wasn’t easy to train youngsters straight from civil life, but it was worthwhile, and at passing-out parades proud and happy parents who flew from the other side of the continent would tell me they never thought that anyone could persuade their sons to make their own beds.

Terrific.

But I had many advantages: all recruits were literate and spoke the same language; the dedication and ingenuity of my staff of instructors never ceased to amaze me; and the logistics system was staggeringly efficient. (One recruit had size 16 feet, so the quartermaster phoned the boot supplier and we had two pairs next day. And we won the inter-company swimming, too, because Bigfoot went like a motorboat.)

The course of instruction took 12 weeks of enormous effort by everyone. At the end of it the recruits were able to begin to serve in their units. But their training was far from complete, because they had a great deal more to learn about soldiering. I won’t go into boring detail, but it takes at least a year to produce a reasonably efficient soldier — and that’s with an almost perfect system. It would be criminal to commit a soldier to hazarding his life before he was competent.

In Afghanistan the training course is ten weeks, and 90 percent of recruits are illiterate and language-incompatible with their peers, let alone the foreigners. Afghan instructors are keen but barely effective and the logistics system is a tattered joke. Some foreign instructors may be good, but most are depressingly ignorant of language, culture and customs.

It is reported that “As part of the Obama administration’s surge, the 4th Brigade of the 82nd Airborne is being deployed to serve as trainers. This brigade is a regular Army brigade not specifically structured for the advisory mission.” My case rests.

What a farce.

So the foreigners’ training system in Afghanistan won’t work — and nor will the absurdly complex new command arrangements supposed to be in place on 12 October. There is going to be a “new ISAF Upper Command Structure, [which] will consist of a higher operational Headquarters, ISAF HQ commanded by a 4-star General, and a subordinate 3-star HQ called ISAF Joint Command (IJC) HQ. Both will be located in Kabul…” And so on.

In a marvellous piece of gobbledygook milspeak, “COMICJ [which acronym is not explained by the authors of this twaddle] will be exclusively a NATO Commander, as opposed to COMNTM-A who will be double-hatted as NATO/ISAF Commander and Commander of the US-led Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan (CSTC-A).”

COMIC ? You couldn’t make it up. But it’s real, if barely believable.

Heaven help Afghanistan

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1 Comment

  1. Brian Curdy said,

    Dear Colonel Cloughley,

    This article reminds me of a moment back in September 1972 when I was attending the US Army’s Basic Parachutist’s course at the (US) Army’s Infantry School in Fort Benning, Georgia. Some of my fellow students were ARVN elements: commissioned and non-commissioned officers of (South) Vietnam’s Army of the the Republic of Vietnam. They (the Vietnamese soldiers) seemed better trained and motivated than the Afghan recruits you describe.

    I was a young man then and things weren’t quite as evident as they seem now.

    You state my feelings well, Sir…
    May Heaven help Afghanistan (Inch’Allah)

    Respectfully,
    Brian E. Curdy,
    1stLt USMC (Disability Retired)

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