Marines Fight Taliban With Little Aid From Afghans

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 7 months ago

The New York Times has a must-read on the state of the fight in parts of the Helmand Province.  It’s a sad tale of corruption, ineptitude, laziness and lack of governmental viability.  There are a few money quotes that will be called out below.

Governor Massoud has no body of advisers to help run the area, no doctors to provide health care, no teachers, no professionals to do much of anything. About all he says he does have are police officers who steal and a small group of Afghan soldiers who say they are here for “vacation.”

[ … ]

Meanwhile, Afghans in Khan Neshin, the Marines’ southernmost outpost in Helmand Province, are coming to the Americans with requests for medical care, repairs of clogged irrigation canals and the reopening of schools.

“Without the Afghan government, we will not be successful,” said Capt. Korvin Kraics, the battalion’s lawyer, who is in Khan Neshin. “You need local-level bureaucracy to defeat the insurgency. Without the stability that brings, the Taliban can continue to maintain control.”

[ … ]

The Marines, unlike units in some other regions, answer to a NATO-led command and are under orders to defer to Afghan military and civilian officials, even if there are none nearby.

For instance, Marines must release detainees after 96 hours or turn them over to Afghan forces for prosecution, even if the nearest prosecutors or judges are 80 miles away. Some detainees who the Marines say are plainly implicated in attacks using improvised explosive devices or mortars have been released.

[ … ]

The Afghan National Army contingent appears sharper — even if only one-sixth the size that Governor Massoud said he was promised — but the soldiers have resisted some missions because they say they were sent not to fight, but to recuperate.

“We came here to rest, then we are going somewhere else,” said Lt. Javed Jabar Khail, commander of the 31-man unit. The Marines say they hope the next batch of Afghan soldiers will not be expecting a holiday.

First, concerning the issue of the attitude of the Afghan National Army (ANA), this is a depressing account of lazy and cowardly troops who are relying on the Marines to do the heavy lifting in the Province.  Furthermore, they are liars.  No ANA soldier really believes that he has been sent to the worst Province in Afghanistan to take a vacation.  This is one more in our stable of accounts of the poor training, inept personnel, untrustworthiness, lazy attitude and lack of professionalism that plagues the ANA.  As for ANP stealing, this corruption is one more in a large number of accounts that confirm that they cannot be trusted in any circumstance or with any authority whatsoever.

Second, the attitude the Marines are taking to the fight is dissimilar to the fight in Anbar, and relies too heavily on Afghan help.  The government is not strong enough, the ANA not professional enough, and the courts too corrupt and distant to make a difference in Afghanistan right now.  As for the complaint from the Battalion lawyer (why is a Battalion lawyer telling us what it takes to win a counterinsurgency?), he apparently never spent time in the Anbar Province.  It relied heavily on Marines doing exactly what is being done now in Helmand.  To be sure, the governmental institutions need to be brought along, but relying on them before it is time leads to things like releasing IED makers and emplacers who then go back to blowing the legs off of Marines.  It’s worse than stupid.  It’s immoral when it can be done differently.

Third, the problem we just described sounds like we are already operating under an effective status of forces agreement with Afghanistan, whether formal or not.  This is a mistake that will lead irrevocably to loss of the campaign.  Our deference to the Afghan government won’t convince any Afghan to show or have the same respect.  Respect is earned, not granted.

Finally, if the Marines are indeed actually operating as ISAF forces rather than under the purview of CENTCOM (can someone confirm or dispute this?), then this is an error of staggering proportions, and Commandant Conway has lost his bearings if he agreed to such an arrangement for the U.S. Marines.  This error should be immediately undone and the Marines untethered to operate independently from ISAF / NATO.

Prior on ANA: Afghan National Army Category

Prior on ANP: Afghan National Police

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“unlike units in some other regions, answer to a NATO-led command and are under orders to defer to Afghan military and civilian officials, even if there are none nearby.”

The NATO-led command is the exact reason why Afghanistan has been in decline since 2006.

You’ve got to adjust left or right for translation errors on these things. What the ANA Lt likely meant was that their kandak was the one in the Helmand brigade that was on its down cycle (or red cycle), meant to give them a couple months off the line, and for many a couple months for leave, etc., before the Marines showed up and either red cycle was suspended or drastically shortened so that there could be some ANA in the fight. Try assuming these guys are actual soldiers first (the Helmand guys have fought longer and harder than anybody in the ANA), and read it as a badly translated soldiers’ gripe, before jumping to the conclusion that they’re all “liars.” You’d be in a surly mood too if your only leave for a year in either direction was cancelled because you were needed on the line. Plus, “lazy and cowardly?” Dude, it’s a platoon. In a district of 75,000 mostly hostile Pashtuns. What exactly would you expect them to do without the Marines’ help? And hey, it is Ramadan: poor guys haven’t had a sip of water in daylight hours since Friday. So cut the Lt some slack. Odds… Read more »

Hey, chief, I really think you’re missing the point. I am pretty sure that the particular ANA battalion you’re beating up on had been in the front lines and under continuous low-intensity combat for 36 months in Helmand before the Marines showed up. That’s far longer than any tour an American soldier has ever been given in a war in over a century. No transfers. No prospect of relief, either. Just every day walking down hot dusty roads and hoping the IED with your name on it isn’t under foot. They’ve lost lots of legs, trust me. It should be seen as amazing they’re still getting out of the sack in the morning.

I respectfully suggest that if the Marines in question had been on the line for 3 years with no end in sight they wouldn’t be the best soldiers in the world, either. There’s lots wrong with the ANA, I know that all too well, but you’re really being too harsh in this particular case.


First off, I’m not British. Second, 3/305 ANA Brigade has been in Helmand, HQ at Camp Shorabak, since mid-2006. I met their Bde Comd a couple times. The platoon in question will have been serving continuously, mostly elsewhere in Helmand Province, since that point. You’re right that they likely only returned to Garmsir recently.

All the ANA units in the brigades in Helmand and Kandahar Provinces have not seen a relief in at least three years, and none was planned when I left them in April. I’m not making this up.

More here:


Herschel, you miss the point. BG Ghori’s 3-205 ANA in Helmand has maintained a very high tempo of operations for many years. They have taken heavy casualties. It is amazing that they are still operational. Remember that they only have 4 battalions for all of Helmand, one of which formed weeks ago.

If you want the ANA to perform like Marines, give them leave, equipment, training and pay like Marines. ANA soldiers can make far more working for the Taliban than they can serving in the ANA. They serve in the ANA nonetheless because they love their country.

The ANA has’nt been in operation for “many years.” Umm, yes they have. Especially in Helmand. Let’s not forget that there were very few Ameicans in Helmand until recently; because we were a little busy in Iraq. Enlisted Marines are well paid, trained, equipped and supported compared to ANA. Where should I start. -Recently, ANA 2nd Lieutenant academy has been shortened to only 20 weeks because the international community and CSTC-A/NTM-A refuse to pay to train and equip the ANSF. -Many recent private equivalents in the ANA have been getting a lot less than the 12 week bootcamp that is nominally required, because ISAF has not sufficiently resourced the Afghan National Army Training Command. -The entire ANA only graduated their first group of 84 2nd Lieutenants from 4 year academy in January, 2009. The 4 year class that began in January, 2009, only had about 300 cadets. Why? Because Rumsfeld and Cheney didn’t want US taxpayers to foot the bill for the ANSF; as a result the Turks and other NATO countries set up the 4 year academy with limited US help, and very little through put. -The ANA only accepts a small fraction of applicants who want to join… Read more »
“ANA units in Helmand see themselves as “on vacation,”” because they are officially on vacation. 205th ANA needs a lot more time to rest, refit and retrain. Continuous operations for years on end have degraded the force and made them brittle. Many ANA soldiers are operating far away from their families and need to travel home through dangerous areas to pay their families. Most of their vacation is eaten up by this. However, they haven’t had been rotated offline for retraining, refitting, or real vacations (such as the time this unit was spending in Helmand) nearly enough. “This isn’t a defense of the U.S. unit, because they allowed the atmospherics to exist that led to this.” Thanks for admitting this. Try to see it from the perspective of this ANA unit. For all we know, they have been in the fight taking heavy casualties, and killing Taliban for many years. Now these fresh soldiers show up, don’t understand the local terrain and local people as well as the ANA does, may not have taken the casualties inside Afghanistan that this particular ANA unit has taken (the ANA might not know or care about the casualties they took in Iraq), and… Read more »
“were an ISF unit or IP unit to have done this in Anbar they would have found themselves shot, beaten up or in prison.” The Iraqis would have taken this up their chain of command. If PM Maliki found out, the IA or IP wouldn’t have been “shot, beaten up or in prison.” Again we are talking about a dog sniffing a Koran. Dogs can sniff anything else, but not a Koran. It also depends on when you are talking about. After 1st and 7th IADs transfered to IGFC, they were under PM Maliki’s control, period. If memory holds, 1st IAD transfered at the around 2.15.07. 7th IAD transfered around 11.1.07. Even before the transfer of these division HQs to the IGFC from MNF-W, once these units were under the control of their respective brigade and division commander, MNF-W would have taken this up to the brigade or division commander, and had them punish their own troops. Point 3 is well put, and I have heard similar things from many Marines. Here is a rejoinder for you, the South Korean Marines that were trained by the US Marines became as good as the US Marines. While 7th and 1st IADs… Read more »
The Captain's Journal » Counterinsurgency and Water Polo

[…] out into the streets, be relatively ineffective against Taliban fighters, sleep on their watch, and claim to be on vacation in the Helmand […]


You are currently reading "Marines Fight Taliban With Little Aid From Afghans", entry #3654 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Afghan National Army,Afghan National Police,Afghanistan,Marine Corps,Marines in Helmand and was published August 24th, 2009 by Herschel Smith.

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