Here is your Afghan National Army

BY Herschel Smith
14 years, 10 months ago

General McChrystal’s report to Secretary Gates lays the groundwork for a request for 40,000+ more U.S. troops.  The actual need for troops will be higher than that.  McChrystal’s report relies heavily on Afghan National Security Forces (Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police), closely following the strategy laid out by CNAS to ramp up the readiness of ANA.  But the left side of the isle doesn’t have the sole claim for plans to rely heavily on ANA.  Kimberly and Frederick Kagan also recommend a similar reliance on a rapid increase in the size of the ANA to provide the necessary troops for population security.

But recall the problems that we have documented concerning the ANA.

We have watched the ANA engage in drug abuse, smoke hashish before patrols, collude with Taliban fighters to kill U.S. troops, themselves claim that they cannot hold Helmand without Marines and fear being killed if they even go out into the streets, be relatively ineffective against Taliban fighters, sleep on their watch, and claim to be on vacation in the Helmand Province.

There has been robust debate concerning whether these examples are typical of regular behavior, but the reports of ANA problems keep being filed.  One particularly troubling one comes from David Pugliese the Ottawa Citizen.

Army staff and National Defence headquarters officials were told in 2007 that young boys had allegedly been sexually abused by Afghan security forces at a Canadian base in Afghanistan, but the concern at the time was that the incident might be reported in the news media, according to military records obtained by the Citizen.

In addition, last year Brig.-Gen. J.C. Collin, commander of Land Force Central Area, passed on to the senior army leadership the concerns raised by military police who said they had been told by their commanders not to interfere in incidents in which Afghan forces were having sex with children.

The newly released records raise questions about a military investigation that earlier this year concluded that allegations about sexual abuse of Afghan children by members of the Afghan army and police were unfounded. The Canadian Forces National Investigation Service also stated that its thorough investigation concluded allegations of such incidents were never reported to Canadian military commanders.

The allegations first surfaced publicly in June 2008 after concerns about the incidents, originally raised by soldiers and military chaplains, were reported in the news media.

Former Cpl. Travis Schouten told military officials he had witnessed an Afghan boy being sodomized by two Afghan security personnel at Canada’s Forward Operating Base Wilson in Afghanistan in 2006. Another soldier also came forward to a Toronto newspaper to report a similar occurrence at the same base in 2006. A military chaplain talked about the abuse in a report sent up the chain of command at Canadian Forces Base Petawawa. Two other chaplains have also come forward to state that soldiers came to them upset about such abuses.

The issue is sensitive for the Canadian Forces and the federal government as the Afghanistan mission has been promoted to the public as being about protecting Afghan civilians. The Afghan National Army and police are seen as key to Canada’s military withdrawal from that country in 2011.

It is the position of the Canadian Forces that its troops have no jurisdiction over the activities of Afghan military and police personnel, even those operating on Canadian bases.

The military records obtained by the Citizen through the Access to Information law note that a 90-minute meeting was held between an army public affairs staff member and a member of army commander Lt.-Gen. Andrew Leslie’s executive staff in the summer/fall of 2007. According to the June 2008 e-mail written by Lt.-Col. Stephane Grenier, an adviser on operational stress injuries, the meeting focused on various controversies that might be brought out in the news media, including, “ANP/ANA members having anal sex with young boys.”

ANP stands for Afghan National Police while ANA refers to Afghan National Army.

A second meeting about Afghan police and soldiers having sex with children was held later that week at National Defence headquarters involving senior members of the Defence Department’s civilian and military public affairs staff, according to the e-mail.

In addition, on June 18, 2008, Brig.-Gen. J.C. Collin, commander of Land Force Central Area, passed on to Leslie’s staff and Brig.-Gen. Ian Poulter the concerns raised by several military police officers. Collin called the e-mail from the military police commander, “rather disconcerting.”

Included were details from military police who noted it was well known among Canadian troops that ANA and ANP personnel had sex with kids. Another was upset that military police were told not to intervene in such matters, according to the e-mail.

Also queued up is a recent report by Ann Jones for the Asia Times.

In the heat of this summer, I went out to the training fields near Kabul where Afghan army recruits are put through their paces, and it was quickly evident just what’s getting lost in translation. Our trainers, soldiers from the Illinois National Guard, were masterful. Professional and highly skilled, they were dedicated to carrying out their mission – and doing the job well. They were also big, strong, camouflaged, combat-booted, supersized American men, their bodies swollen by flack jackets and lashed with knives, handguns, and god only knows what else. Any American could be proud of their commitment to tough duty.

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. Many are no bigger than I am (1.6 meters and thin) – and some probably not much stronger. Like me, many sag under the weight of a standard-issue flack jacket.

Their American trainers spoke of “upper body strength deficiency” and prescribed pushups because their trainees buckle under the backpacks filled with 50 pounds (110 kilograms) of equipment and ammo they are expected to carry. All this material must seem absurd to men whose fathers and brothers, wearing only the old cotton shirts and baggy pants of everyday life and carrying battered Russian Kalashnikov rifles, defeated the Red Army two decades ago. American trainers marvel that, freed from heavy equipment and uniforms, Afghan soldiers can run through the mountains all day – as the Taliban guerrillas in fact do with great effect – but the US military is determined to train them for another style of war.

Still, the new recruits turn out for training in the blistering heat in this stony desert landscape wearing, beneath their heavy uniforms, the smart red, green, and black warm-up outfits intended to encourage them to engage in off-duty exercise. 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.

In the current policy debate about the Afghan War in Washington, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin wants the Afghans to defend their country. Senator John McCain, the top Republican on the committee, agrees but says they need even more help from even more Americans. The common ground – the sacred territory Obama gropes for – is that, whatever else happens, the US must speed up the training of “the Afghan security forces”.

American military planners and policymakers already proceed as if, with sufficient training, Afghans can be transformed into scale-model, wind-up American Marines. That is not going to happen. Not now. Not ever. No matter how many of our leaders concur that it must happen – and ever faster …

The current projected “end strength” for the ANA, to be reached in December 2011, is 134,000 men; but Afghan officers told me they’re planning for a force of 200,000, while the Western press often cites 240,000 as the final figure.

The number 400,000 is often mentioned as the supposed end-strength quota for the combined security forces – an army of 240,000 soldiers and a police force with 160,000 men. Yet Afghan National Police officials also speak of a far more inflated figure, 250,000, and they claim that 149,000 men have already been trained. Police training has always proven problematic, however, in part because, from the start, the European allies fundamentally disagreed with the Bush administration about what the role of the Afghan police should be.

Ann goes on to document the poor training of the ANP and the disagreement within both the ISAF and Afghanistan concerning exactly what the capabilities of the ANP should be.  In either case, the ANP are widely known as corrupt and criminal people who don’t have the best interests of the Afghans at heart.  The ANP is horrible, and more horrible still.  Whether it’s the ANP who require bribes or the ANA who pluck the chickens of the locals when they enter their homes, the Afghan National Security Forces are not yet fully trusted by their own people, much less the ISAF, and for very good reason.

There is big trouble looming for those who believe that the ANSF is our strategy for a rapid exit.  This doesn’t mean that the campaign is not winnable.  It does mean, however, that there will be no rapid exit if we are to succeed.  Western armies are the greatest on earth, no only with the requisite moral and social underpinnings of the institutions but also an NCO corps that makes them unique compared to Middle Eastern armies.  Standing up an Afghanistan army will be very difficult, especially one that is large enough to assist in the campaign but also small enough to be supported by the GNP of the country.  Whatever final size obtains, it will almost certainly be too large to be supported by Afghanistan alone.

The need of the hour is ANSF that is somewhat smaller, but much more reliable, more well trained and disciplined, and more respected by the Afghans.  The need is not numbers.  The need is an ANSF that actually contributes to the campaign.  Also needed are more U.S. troops to perform counterinsurgency operations in the mean time, including killing the enemy and protecting the population from the same.  More troops to train the ANSF is a romantic idea, but the notion that we can quickly rely on them is pure myth.


From the Daily Times of Pakistan.

… much of the recruitment that has brought the strength of the Afghan army to some 89,000 has come from Tajik areas, perhaps because Pashtuns have been intimidated into not joining, or perhaps because of the policies adopted by the largely Tajik-dominated bureaucracy of the Afghan defence ministry. The increase already approved to 134,000 will also come in current conditions from the Tajiks or other minority ethnic groups.

The further increase to 240,000 which has or will be proposed by Gen McChrystal will further compound the problem, of having a national army in which the largest ethnic group is underrepresented, and may give added reason for the Pashtuns to identify with the Taliban.

An internal Afghan problem, but affecting our efforts nonetheless.

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  1. On September 23, 2009 at 8:54 am, TSAlfabet said:

    Is there an alternative to ANSF, or at least to a formal, standing Army and National Police?

    Has anyone given any thought to an indigenous security force that is native to the locality they are expected to defend?

    In practical terms, why not let the Marines in Helmand, for example, recruit and train their own, local security force, similar to the Sons of Anbar—i.e., the “Sons of Helmand” ? From what I have read, the main objection to this comes from Karzai and his kleptocrats: they do not want localized forces that would not be under their control as this might give rise to provincial warlords. Does this objection really have any foundation? Is there any, good reason not to opt for local security forces?

    First, the Captain’s posts have amply demonstrated that the ANA/ANP are, perhaps, the worst of all possible options. It does not take an Elijah to forsee that the U.S. will pour billions of dollars into training these schmucks and then maintaining them only to be constantly embarrassed by their brutal treatment of the very people they are supposed to protect. Even more importantly, the money will be wasted because these recruits have no internal motivation to risk their lives in the face of determined, Taliban attacks. In fact, as we have seen on more than one occasion, they have an equal motivation to take as much money and material from the U.S. and then take extra money from the Taliban to sell out U.S. forces encamped with them. It is just a matter of time until the Taliban so infiltrate and/or corrupt the ranks of the ANA/ANP that U.S. forces will be more on guard against their own “allied” forces than they are against the Taliban. Finally, consider the points made in the post that Afghanis do not have a well-developed sense of national identity. They are a far more tribal society than Iraq and spread out over vast distances in thousands of small, remote villages. Afghanis’ loyalty is to the family, tribe, village, leader, not to some remote idea of a national government and especially not to one that is endemically corrupt and inefficient.

    Clearly, a wholesale commitment to a national army or police force is not a sound strategy.

    A local force, on the other hand, has huge advantages.

    For one, it is eminently do-able. The Marines, for one, already know how to build a local security force that can stand up to vicious insurgents. They proved this in spades in Iraq. Marines showed that they are adept at forging ties with local village elders and tribal leaders and coordinating population protection with the local security force. Not only that, Marine commanders in Iraq, using their discretionary fund, mastered the art of local politics by rewarding leaders who cooperated with something tangible for their people: jobs, money, water and sewage improvements. And, by the same token, punishing those leaders who did not cooperate by cutting them off from the funds. These are natural, inherent strengths that the U.S. possesses that are powerful weapons against Taliban tactics. We have people like Tim Lynch over at Free Range International that are proving how private contractors can efficiently work with local Afghans on local projects that improve lives.

    But all of this can only occur in the context of sufficient, LOCAL force. A force that is recruited from the people who live in the villages that they are going to protect seems to be a no-brainer. They have all the incentive in the world to do well as long as they know that the U.S. forces are going to stay there with them and provide support in the event of a full-on attack by the bad guys.

    The price is right as well. As we saw in Anbar, the local security force does not need to be a mirror image of the Marines with full battle gear and heavy weapons. Building such a force would not require anything like the vast sums being contemplated to build a large ANA. The population is already armed for the most part. As Ann Jones’ article points out, they are already skilled at guerilla-style, small weapons warfare. Marines can mentor them on the finer points of unit tactics and defending their village. It would not be surprising to see the local forces mimic the Marines just as the Anbaris did, out of respect. These local forces would be a huge force-multiplier.

    The prerequisite to make this work is more Marines. Politically, this could be sold as an experiment in Helmand province to see whether this model could work and be expanded elsewhere. Pour Marines into Helmand; empty the bases in Pendleton and Lejeune and sitting in the amphibs off shore. Allow for a rotation of R&R at one of the luxury FOB’s for a decent interval, but otherwise the Marines are out there in the villages, living in COP’s with the local security forces, establishing ties with the tribal leaders by providing good jobs, projects, etc… and demonstrating that security is here to stay. Driving out the bad guys and as the local force gains confidence, the size of the Marine force can draw down and expand to nearby villages. Once the locals are on our side, the problem of IED’s will largely disappear as they did in Iraq. The locals will simply not tolerate anyone implanting bombs which threaten their meal ticket– the Marines (not to mention the safety of the local population).

    The T-ban will fight this tooth and nail, to be sure. That is the proof that it is a winning strategy. As the ink spot theory goes, more and more territory will be inhospitable to the T-ban and they will be squeezed out of the secure areas. Long term, the local security forces can be transitioned over to a heavily armed police force.

    If the Marines can make this work in Helmand, the program can be expanded appropriately to other areas. Each locality will then have a choice to make. They can side with the Americans who have now shown that they are serious about providing lasting security and enjoy the real, tangible benefits of cooperation (jobs, schools, clinics, etc..) or they can side with the Taliban who, even today, are feared but not loved by the vast majority of the population. Unfortunately, right now, the Afghans do not have a choice. The Taliban have an increasing presence in the provinces and the U.S. has no real plan to provide any kind of permanent security against Taliban threats. When we come to a village to clear it, the Taliban right now can effectively tell the leaders not to cooperate because the Americans will not stay and anyone who cooperates will be killed. If we can demonstrate this local-security force approach somewhere, U.S. commanders have a powerful rebuttal by pointing to areas where the U.S. has stayed to provide security. It cannot be done all at once, but it doesn’t need to be done all at once. It has to start somewhere and spread from there. The Marines can do it, no doubt.

    Best of all, we are not really nation building here. There is a clear exit point. When, for example, Helmand province is cleared of Taliban influence, we can leave a relatively small rapid-reaction force to insure against any T-ban assault against the locally-protected villages. The remaining Marines can move on and replicate the process in other provinces. Eventually the Pakistan havens are going to have be dealt with decisively. If the Pakistanis won’t do it themselves then the U.S. may have to get it done.

    The main point here is that the U.S. is looking at Afghanistan all wrong. Just as in Iraq where we tried for years to impose a top-down solution, we are going to fail at it in A-stan. The solution needs to start LOCALLY and then work its way up. Local security forces and then, perhaps a provincial security force. What is important is that we stop throwing money away on ‘national’ solutions that essentially only line the pockets of the corrupt officials in Kabul. Far better to put that money in the hands of local Marine commanders who can have broad discretion to spend it as they see the needs in their area of operations.

    Afghanistan may be best off remaining a backwater, under-developed country with a tribal government. A weak, national government with powerful, independent provinces. So long as each province is strong enough to repel Taliban aggression, that is enough.

  2. On September 23, 2009 at 8:56 pm, rrk3 said:

    The Marine Corps started the hamlet program in Vietnam with some success until it was killed by HQ in Saigon. So with the right resources and commitment this could again work however I do not see the current administration supplying the needed men and women. Also the Article from the Asia Times brings up a good point. Why are we training Afghans to fight like we do? The training should be modeled on being able to hold a position and guerilla warfare like the Special Forces teams did the the Yards in Vietnam. It is a fact that Afghans are warriors but not soldiers so train them in methods that will untilize their strengths instead of highlighting their weaknesses.

    My fear with the strong province strategy would be a bunch of warlords pounding on each other all of the time and the cycle of warfare would be worse. Also what incentive do the provinces have to keep the Taliban out?

  3. On September 24, 2009 at 7:04 am, TSAlfabet said:


    agreed, waste of time trying to turn the mass of Afghan recruits into burly, 150-lb lugging infantry. Maybe a hand-picked battalion….

    Perhaps “strong province” would not be the best approach to the extent that tribal or ethnic groups intersect any given province. The idea is to find the most natural affinity for the locals to organize around and maintain their loyalty. The logical choice would seem to be the village/tribe but perhaps there are other affinities that make more sense.

    In any event, the idea is to keep the security situation very local and not create a large, standing, provincial force that could be usurped by a warlord. Again, the Marines showed in Anbar that they know how to control these groups and, in the event that a local leader becomes too corrupt or power hungry, to replace that leader. The Marines in Anbar were careful not to allow any one of the Awakening groups to become too powerful or heavily armed. It was always clear that the Marines were in charge of the show and could bring down the heavy hand if need be.

    As far as incentive to keep the Taliban out, it is the Taliban themselves. With the exception of a few pockets of fanatics, polling and anecdotal evidence is clear that the average Joe Afghan does not like the Taliban or wish them to be back in control. The problem is that the U.S. has created a no-win situation for the average Afghan: he is faced with a corrupt and exploitative ANA/ANP on one hand and the Taliban who are always nearby with a gun. The U.S. has to demonstrate to the locals that they will not be abandoned if they take up arms against the Taliban (let’s hope that the average Afghan doesn’t know about our poor track record of sticking by our ‘allies’….).

    Even if we do wind up with a warlord situation and the “cycle of warfare” that you mention, perhaps that is the ‘stable state’ for Afghanistan in 2009: a balance of warlords who jealously guard their turf against outsiders. As long as the warlords do not allow Al Qaeda or others to set up camps and havens, we have achieved the security interests of the U.S. vis a vis Afghanistan. We do not need to be caught up in their fight. (This might, incidentally, be the only near-term solution in the FATA of Pakistan, too). Warlords can be bought and, failing that, bombed to smithereens. It is much less costly than nation-building.

  4. On September 24, 2009 at 1:20 pm, Herschel Smith said:

    I am against nation-building, and I don’t see that as a necessary appendage (and certainly not a prerequisite) for proper counterinsurgency. I like the idea of co-opting whomever, or else bombing them to smithereens.

    Killing the enemy is the goal, and the enemy are the globalists and those who would harbor them. That includes the Taliban, who harbor and ally themselves with AQ.

    What we must do, however, is address issues of poverty, local governance, and other issues that feed the local insurgency which becomes a barrier to solving the larger problem of the transnational insurgency.

    I think it was alluded to above. Sons of Iraq, payment for services rendered, contribution to your own security, intense communication with and policing of the population. It’s all a necessary part of the effort.

    Note that my description of what needs to be done (viz. Anbar) is not even nearly the same thing as nation-building. It’s what TSAlfabet describes above.

    Then later, when the area has been pacified, we can work out the issues of governance, long term stability, etc. That simply cannot be done while people are dying. The enemy must be killed.

    Pacify Afghanistan by killing the enemy. Let them figure out how to govern themselves.

  5. On September 24, 2009 at 7:04 pm, TSAlfabet said:

    For those interested, here is a link from Steven Pressfield’s site for what promises to be a fascinating series dealing with U.S. military outreach to the tribes (i.e., local security forces):

  6. On September 25, 2009 at 7:56 pm, rrk3 said:

    Personally I do not know when, why, or how the United States took on this nation building role after beating the crap out of a country.

    Herschel, I am with you kill them so fast and in such numbers that they want to quit. It seems we get wrapped up in the hows and the whys and forget the main point which is to kill Taliban and AQ.

  7. On September 25, 2009 at 9:56 pm, TSAlfabet said:


    was the U.S. “nation building” in the case of either Germany or Japan after WWII? What about South Korea? Panama?

    Is it ‘nation building’ per se that is objectionable or could it be the manner in which it has been done since 1950?

    Did becoming a Omni-Power make the U.S. more sensitive in some ways to world opinion? Is the problem that we care too much about others’ opinions rather than too little? Maybe the U.S. is simply not unilateral enough?

  8. On September 26, 2009 at 7:19 pm, rrk3 said:

    You are correct but in the case of Europe, Japan, Korea etc.. we were not still fighting a war at the same time. We are good at breaking things and putting them back together but doing it at the same time is a challange for any military.

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You are currently reading "Here is your Afghan National Army", entry #3886 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Afghan National Army,Afghan National Police,Afghanistan,Featured,General McChrystal and was published September 22nd, 2009 by Herschel Smith.

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