The U.S. Built An Army In Its Own Image: It Collapsed

BY Herschel Smith
2 years, 6 months ago

Small Wars Journal, The Afghans That Fought.

The Commandos were built by the U.S. Army Special Forces, commonly known as the Green Berets, and designed as an elite light infantry force similar to U.S. Army Rangers.  While selection of Commando candidates did not differ significantly from that of the average Afghan National Army soldier, each had an additional twelve weeks of training and were regularly partnered with small elements of Special Forces advisors.  In practice the Commandos were frequently used as shock troops, shuttled from key battle to key battle, rather than used as special operations forces.  While they were partnered with American elements, especially Special Forces teams, the Commandos usually fought and performed capably.  The presence of critical U.S. enablers, such as air support, medical evacuation, and intelligence that went along with being partnered with Americans often stiffened the resolve of the Commandos to the point that they were generally a dependable partner.

They could fight at night, conduct limited internal sustainment, and hold their own against the Taliban.  Through airframes and ground vehicles within the Afghan National Army Special Operations Command, the Commandos could provide emergency resupply for their forces that enabled them to operate in combat for up to 72 hours.  Some even could call in their own air support and conduct intelligence driven operations.  Commandos suffered far more casualties than American forces, and their headquarters element even set up a wounded warrior program to allow injured fighters to be able to continue to serve in non-combat roles within the organization.  A set of Special Forces officers and sergeants even attempted make the force capable of operating with minimal internal logistic support that was prepositioned at each of the Commando bases, such as “chuck wagon” style mobile feeding and mortars for fire support rather than aircraft.  Unfortunately, senior leaders decided instead that the Commandos should operate inside a functional Afghan military logistics system for any operation that lasted more than 72 hours.  That fatal flaw, building a force in our image logistically, proved to be the Commandos’ Achilles heel.  American Army units are designed to function in a resource intensive logistics system which can provide just in time delivery of critical supply needs.  Yet when faced with Afghanistan’s infrastructure challenges of few roads and vast distances, even our logistics system strained.

As the security situation in Afghanistan deteriorated and province after province fell, many Commando units continued fighting.  Around Kandahar City, Commandos and other security forces battled the Taliban for more than a month.  When the U.S. contracted logistics withdrew and the Afghan supply system collapsed, the Commandos were not able to perform as they were designed: supported by a heavy logistics footprint that could resupply them on demand.  Commando elements began to run out of ammunition, food, and water.  Some surrendered after extended sieges or battles, putting themselves at the mercy of the Taliban.  At least one Commando unit was summarily executed, likely a warning by the Taliban to those who would similarly resist.  Even after the fall of Kabul, several Commando units refused to give in and began the slow march to the Panjshir, where a nascent resistance to the Taliban was building.  Other units moved to Hamid Karzai International airport and helped secure the outer perimeter during the U.S. led evacuation.

Amateurs talk tactics.  Professionals talk logistics.

So the notion that the Afghan army was filled with cowards and ne’er-do-wells is just not accurate.  Oh, to be sure, some of the regulars were that and much less, but there were some well-trained fighters.

They were built in our own image, relying on a heavy logistics footprint, and when we withdrew leaving them no means of fulfilling that footprint, the entire schema collapsed because it was built on a foundation of first world fighting doctrine, not Afghanistan.

And because rather than kill the Taliban, we wanted to play armed social worker and try out fancy COIN doctrine with ROE that disillusioned and disemboweled the American fighting man.  I still have record over this blog of folks in the Helmand Province literally begging the Marines to go after and kill the Taliban rather than stick around and try to “win hearts and minds” and build the society.  So in addition to leaving them with a doctrinal understanding more suited to American warfare, we left them with an enemy that had not been substantially weakened.

Because we had idiots in charge – idiots that killed the sons of America with their malfeasance.

I think this is what Lt. Col. Stu Scheller has been saying all along.  Michael Yon also has thoughts.


  1. On September 28, 2021 at 11:13 pm, Georgiaboy61 said:

    Re: “The U.S. Built An Army In Its Own Image: It Collapsed”

    The Afghanistan intervention was probably doomed from the start to become a debacle and then a disaster, once the decision was taken to engage in nation-building, winning hearts-and-minds and other acts of “armed social work,” rather than break things and kill bad guys, which is the job of the military. Or at least, it used to be their job.

    A punitive raid in force is likely the strategy which would have worked best for our national interests and in delivering the sort of “kinetic message” which needed delivering at the time to our enemies there. We didn’t do that – and the die was cast for failure.

    All of reasons for failure mentioned by the author are valid, but there is something more: The hubris that people are basically the same everywhere and that they aspire to basically the same things and ways of life. The U.S. ruling class, including its foreign-policy arm, hold this ignorant arrogance of belief as an article of faith. They never stopped to consider the fact that the Afghans neither needed nor wanted what we and the other ISAF – NATO members were offering.

    Specifically, the notion that western-style representative democracy can be transplanted root-and-branch into the inhospitable and arid soil of Afghanistan (and for that matter, Iraq) – is the height of foolishness, historical and cultural illiteracy, and unbridled arrogance.

    This is sheer nonsense. The Afghan tribes have lived as they have lived for more than a thousand years, and they’ll probably going on doing it for another thousand. They aren’t like us; they have their own ways of living, their own traditions, their own culture, their own beliefs. We may not agree with them or find them civilized, but that does not change the fact of their existence or that the Afghans believe in them.

    And note that there are few ways of making someone into an implacable enemy more-quickly than telling him his way of life is wrong and that you mean to change it for him!

    So, there may have been a few Afghans who drank the multicultural Kool-Aid and genuinely cooperated with the ISAF & the U.S.-NATO, but most of those who crossed over did so out of expediency and the chance to get some high-end military training and gear from Uncle Sugar, at taxpayer expense. They played us – meaning the cream of the foreign policy establishment and our senior military officers – for everything they were worth. As they say there, “The Americans may have the watches, but we have the time…”

    Given these truths, it isn’t any surprise that the much-vaunted “Afghan National Army” evaporated quickly after we departed. It was never real in the first place.

  2. On September 28, 2021 at 11:35 pm, Jimmy the Saint said:

    “They were built in our own image, relying on a heavy logistics footprint, and when we withdrew leaving them no means of fulfilling that footprint, the entire schema collapsed because it was built on a foundation of first world fighting doctrine, not Afghanistan.”

    Other than the Afghanistan bit, that all sounds vaguely familiar.
    – Marvin the ARVN

  3. On September 29, 2021 at 8:17 am, Fred said:

    @jimmy, this is my chief concern about some patriots that are vets. Their planning seems to assume some long and robust supply chain.

  4. On September 29, 2021 at 10:57 am, Matthew said:

    Have any of you read Martin van Creveld’s Supplying War?

    I’m about halfway through and it’s been enlightening, especially interesting to read as our own operations became catastrophically constrained by logistics.

    It’s no surprise that reliance on our logistical operations set the Afghans up for failure, since we can only maintain them by excessive consumption of fuel and long and complex lines of communication. I wonder what the annual consumption of fuel, both in gallons/pounds and in dollars, of the DOD is.

  5. On September 29, 2021 at 12:46 pm, scott s. said:

    Supplying War is very good. I also recommend his book “Command in War”.

  6. On September 29, 2021 at 9:25 pm, Bill Buppert said:

    You will see, the whole martial house of cards that is the entire American armed forces will fold like a cheap suit in the first 72hrs of any conflict proximate to the homeland of China or Russia. Peer competitors are preparing for kinetic war and the Russians are very good in the EW war[s] to come.

    The longer it takes with the current wokeist paradigm shift in the Pentagram to percolate through the ranks, the more thorough the defeat of the US military.

    Does this mean that America can be invaded [no country has the strategic sealift and airlift to concentrate the necessary number of forces to support a lodgment or beach-/air-head much less a locally contained invasion]? Probably not possible but the defeat will set many political ripples in play in CONUS+ that will tip off a hot civil war among domestic factions.

    The wild card is Canada (a wholly owned subsidiary of the Chinese now) or Mexico hosting foreign forces and building a density sufficient for martial mischief.

    There are many layers of the onion to be peeled when it comes to building in your own image and failing to fully grasp how 4G warfare works.

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This article is filed under the category(s) Afghanistan and was published September 28th, 2021 by Herschel Smith.

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