Archive for the 'Afghan National Army' Category

Afghan National Security Forces: Promise or Problem?

BY Herschel Smith
11 years, 9 months ago

Jim Foley gives us a little room for hope in the Afghan National Army.

… this was the first time the Afghans attached to HHT 1-75 had decided they were going after a bad guy.  It shows the importance of getting native soldiers who can speak the language and know the culture, off the Forward Operating Bases and out into the problem towns etc.  Captain Krayer said it was the first patrol the ANA had gone on without the U.S.  Also the first one they’d acted on their own intelligence gathering.

I’ve seen U.S. forces try to place Afghans in critical areas in Kunar and down in Kandhar after larger offensive operations.  In most cases the ANA/ or Afghan Police failed to hold the area- following Eagle Strike in Kunar the ANP supposedly abandoned their positions after a few weeks.  And in one of the most contested clearing operations in a heavily IED-ed strip called Macwan here in Kandahar, where two U.S. have been killed and many more wounded, the ANP are still dragging their feet on putting up an outpost.

Still, I can’t forget the speed and control the ANA were able to use in apprehending the suspects.  Some U.S. guys later joked they still would be out there trying to blow through grape walls if it had been done jointly.  The U.S. would surely have done it safer, but probably wouldn’t have been able to identify the suspects, much less nab them.

Read Jim’s entire writeup.  In this case the ANA showed some promise.  In other areas, the ANP is showing how bad things are in parts of the Afghan National Security Force.

An Afghan police unit cut a deal with insurgents to torch their own police station and defect, government officials said yesterday, in a bitter parody of the Government-led effort to bring rebel fighters in from the cold.

The incident triggered hours of pillaging as insurgents swept into a remote district south-west of Kabul, burnt government buildings, stole weapons, food and pick-up trucks, and escaped along with 16 policemen who were in on the plot. Nato and Afghan forces re-took the district in the volatile province of Ghazni the same morning.

The reintegration programme, one of the main planks in the Government’s efforts to make peace with the Taliban, offers low-level fighters amnesty and vocational training if they switch sides-or rejoin the “national mainstream”, in President Hamid Karzai’s words.

The programme has met with some success: yesterday 15 insurgents in western Afghanistan handed over their weapons and promised to lobby other insurgents to do the same.

But despite pledges from the international community of millions of dollars to the programme, there have been consistent reports of promises of training and support being broken. And many potential defectors are thought to be too scared of Taliban retribution, and doubtful of the Government’s ability to protect them, to make the change.

In Ghazni, provincial governor Musa Khan Akbarzada said that police stationed in Khogyani had handed over the district to the militants without a shot being fired, contradicting some earlier reports that the rebels had seized the area by force. When coalition forces arrived three hours later the attackers simply melted away.

A Taliban spokesman claimed that the police had switched sides after “learning the facts about the Taliban,” according to The New York Times.

“We never force people to join us,” he said. “The police joined us voluntarily and are happy to work with us and to start the holy war shoulder to shoulder with their Taliban brothers.”

Some news articles are focusing on astoundingly stupid things like whether ANP stations are being constructed according to seismic design criteria (yes, seriously).  Still short of answering the all-important question of whether the stations are able to withstand earthquakes, there is the question of whether the ANP should even be there.  If they are loyal to the Taliban (or only to themselves), then they have no business being employed.

And that’s the root of at least one problem.  The U.S. has made it clear that we want more ANP, even more than doubling the current size.  I advocate exactly the opposite approach.  We need a smaller Afghan National Security Force, both ANA and ANP.  Since the U.S. controls the purse strings, it doesn’t work to say that we don’t have authority over this process.  That “dog won’t hunt.”

We need a smaller, more reliable, well trained, force that will do the things that Jim Foley observed, and even more efficiently.  U.S. troops should be working hard to ferret out those who will and those who won’t, send home those who won’t, and give the extra pay to those who will.  Incentive is a common motivator for all mankind.

Showcase Afghan Army Mission Turns to Debacle

BY Herschel Smith
12 years ago

From The New York Times:

An ambitious military operation that Afghan officials had expected to be a sign of their growing military capacity instead turned into an embarrassment, with Taliban forces battering an Afghan battalion in a remote northeast area for the last week.

The fighting has been so intense that the Red Cross has been unable to reach the battlefield to remove dead and wounded.

The operation, east of Kabul, was not initially coordinated with NATO forces, but the Afghans called for help after 10 of their soldiers were killed and perhaps twice as many captured at the opening of their operation nine days ago, and American and French NATO forces poured in to the area.

“There are a lot of lessons to be learned here,” said a senior American military official, who spoke on condition of anonymity about the debacle. “How they started that and why they started that.” He said there had been no public statements on the battle because of the need for confidentiality during a rescue mission.

The Afghan National Army now numbers 134,000 men, and only Wednesday, the new American commander, General David H. Petraeus, complimented the Afghans on reaching that target three months ahead of schedule.

Still, the Afghan National Army runs relatively few operations on its own, particularly large-scale operations. They take a little more than half as many casualties as coalition military forces here, who now have roughly the same number of troops in the country. (In 2009, according to NATO figures, 282 Afghan soldiers were killed, compared to 521 coalition soldiers.)

The operation began when the Afghan Army sent a battalion of about 300 men from the 1st Brigade, 201st Army Corps, into a village called Bad Pakh, in Laghman Province, which is adjacent to the troubled border province of Kunar. Their operation, which began on the night of Aug. 3, was to flush out Taliban in a rugged area where they had long held sway. First, using the Afghan Army’s own helicopters, a detachment was inserted by air behind Taliban lines, while the main part of the battalion attacked frontally.

But, according to a high-ranking official of the Afghan Ministry of Defense, the plan was betrayed; Taliban forces were waiting with an ambush against the main body. Then the airborne detachment was cut off when bad weather grounded its helicopters, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.

In the confusion, the 201st Army Corps commanders lost contact with the battalion. The battalion’s 3rd Company — 100 men — took particularly heavy casualties, the official said, although he did not have a number. He said many of the company were killed, captured or missing, and as of Wednesday at least, the situation of the rest of the battalion remained unclear.

However, the senior American military official said the battalion had not been lost. “We know exactly where that battalion is, although there are several soldiers unaccounted for and several killed.” He estimated that “about 10” soldiers had been killed, and no more than a platoon-sized number were missing, meaning up to 20. An official of the Red Crescent in the area said casualties were very heavy on the government side and that the Taliban had destroyed 35 Ford Ranger trucks, the standard Afghan Army. transport vehicle, which typically carry six or more soldiers each.

Analysis & Commentary

There is no indication whether the Taliban massed forces as is their practice when encountering larger concentrations of U.S. troops.  But it’s probable that they did, and that gives us a good basis for comparison of the performance of U.S. forces and the Afghan National Army (ANA).  I have detailed the drug abuse, refusal to go on night patrols, lack of discipline and refusal to obey orders, sleeping on post, poor marksmanship and other catalog of problems with the ANA.  But even granting the assumption that these problems didn’t effect their performance in this engagement with the Taliban, this example speaks poorly of the capabilities of the ANA.

The loss of operational security is unfortunate and still shows how easy it apparently is to corrupt the individual members of the ANA.  But that’s not the salient point here.  Engagement with the Taliban was bound to happen, and the ANA should have been able to employ enough fires from infantry combined arms (rifle, automatic fire, mortar, etc.) with a force this size to have both defended themselves and inflict severe damage to the Taliban.  In fact, a force this size should have been able to employ maneuver tactics to close with the enemy.

In comparison, while the battles at Wanat and Kamdesh are still fresh in our memories and remain an unfortunate testimony to the need for force projection, the U.S. forces in these battles were approximately platoon-size, lost fewer men than the ANA in this engagement, and faced Taliban massing of forces (300 or more fighters in each case).  In neither case was the U.S. outpost overrun.

The comparison and contrast isn’t perfect, as the U.S. forces had close air support (CAS), although not as soon as they needed.  But this size ANA force is a huge unit to have performed so poorly against Taliban fighters.  We have have fielded 134,000 ANA troops at the present, but it really doesn’t matter.  Numbers are irrelevant.  They would disintegrate in the face of heavy engagements, and this portends a significant problem with the administration plans to begin winding down U.S. troop presence in 2011.

Undisciplined Gun Play by ANA Troops

BY Herschel Smith
12 years ago

The CBS News article is titled Wild Gun Battle, but that doesn’t even begin to describe what this video depicts.

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — A frontline U.S. military base in southwest Afghanistan was the scene of a wild gun battle Saturday morning, initiated by Taliban insurgents against a private Afghan security convoy, but which quickly drew in Afghan National Army troops and U.S. soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division.

The gun battle lasted nearly an hour-and-a-half with Afghan National Army soldiers and armed contractors from the private Afghan security firm known as Compass, shooting light machines guns from the hip, Rambo-style and indiscriminately, across a wide open field where the initial Taliban attack began.

The fighting started when insurgents fired a rocket-propelled grenade into what appeared to be a large sports utility vehicle belonging to Compass. The destroyed vehicle was left burning about a quarter mile from the front gate of Forward Operating Base Howz-e-Madad, a rapidly expanding, U.S. military compound in the Zhari District of Kandahar in southern Afghanistan.

Compass, which is contracted to protect trucks transporting materials to U.S. military installations in the region, is routinely targeted by Taliban insurgents, even more so than U.S. and Afghan troops, according to Lt. Col. Peter Benchoff, commander of the 2-502nd, part of the 101st Airborne Division.

Because of the indiscriminate firing by both Compass security personnel and Afghan army soldiers, some of which in several instances nearly hit passing civilian vehicles, Benchoff, concerned about potential civilian casualties, sent a quick reaction force out of the base in heavily armored vehicles to try to diffuse the situation.

But when the base itself was targeted by the Taliban, U.S. soldiers had to return fire.

No American soldiers were killed or wounded in the attack, but at least one Compass contractor was injured.

I have written extensively on the Afghan National Army: the incompetence, the drug abuse, the undisciplined behavior, etc.  But the behavior is a good followup to that depicted below.

We are in the very best of hands when we turn over to the ANA on Obama’s time table.

Update on Afghan National Army Water Polo

BY Herschel Smith
12 years, 3 months ago

Note in my in-box concerning Counterinsurgency and Water Polo.

I thought your blog was very interesting and I enjoyed reading it.  I have seen many different sides to the war and many other things in Afghanistan.

The program in Shorabak was what I did in my off duty time (The few hours that I had since I worked many hours every day).  It is not something that was planned or a set job, it was just something that I did on my own.  It is my own outreach into the local community.

Please call me if you ever want to chat or get more insight into the program.

The only correction to your blog I would suggest that you make to your blog is that there are Marine officers (Not NCOs) working this project…

Keep on writing!


Jeremy B. Piasecki
Executive Director/Head Coach
Afghanistan Water Polo
(760) 451-1783 (USA) Office

I stand corrected.  These were officers and not NCOs.  Also, in the original article I wasn’t knocking Water Polo.  I have never played and know nothing about it.  But I maintain by disappointment in the ANA, and still believe that sports are a poor replacement for good training, discipline and esprit de corps.

Training the Afghan National Army?

BY Herschel Smith
12 years, 5 months ago

In keeping with our running coverage and commentary on the ANA, from AFP.

For Lieutenant Ed Maloney, the most difficult part of leading a four-day mission in eastern Afghanistan was persuading Afghan soldiers to leave their base in the first place.

It took three hours of negotiations on the night before departure to convince the Afghans the expedition to Sherzad district in Nangarhar province was worthwhile.

“Their predecessors had a tough time in this district, and these soldiers thought it was unnecessary and too risky,” Maloney said.

“Of course we can’t order them to do things, but we told them it was exactly the sort of security mission they needed to do and which should impress their bosses.”

Let’s leave behind the issue of tactical capabilities, corruption, drug use, officer entitlement and all of the other bad traits we have seen in the ANA.  Force projection and assessment of atmospherics are the most important aspects of counterinsurgency.  In the absence of U.S. forces to persuade them to work at the right things, with the ANA sitting on their FOBs afraid to go on patrol, the Taliban have nothing to fear.

The issues go well beyond knowing how to do what they are supposed to be doing.  The root of the problem is that they don’t even understand what they are supposed to be doing and why they are supposed to be doing it.

C. J. Chivers on the Afghan National Army

BY Herschel Smith
12 years, 5 months ago

One of our favorite war correspondents, C. J. Chivers, weighs in on the performance of the ANA in Marjah.

MARJA, Afghanistan — As American Marines and Afghan soldiers have fought their way into this Taliban stronghold, the performance of the Afghan troops has tested a core premise of the American military effort here: in the not-too-distant future, the security of this country can be turned over to indigenous forces created at the cost of American money and blood.

Scenes from this corner of the battlefield, observed over eight days by two New York Times journalists, suggest that the day when the Afghan Army will be well led and able to perform complex operations independently, rather than merely assist American missions, remains far off.

The effort to train the Afghan Army has long been troubled, with soldiers and officers repeatedly falling short. And yet after nearly a decade of American and European mentorship and many billions of dollars of American taxpayer investment, American and Afghan officials have portrayed the Afghan Army as the force out front in this important offensive against the Taliban.

Statements from Kabul have said the Afghan military is planning the missions and leading both the fight and the effort to engage with Afghan civilians caught between the Taliban and the newly arrived troops.

But that assertion conflicts with what is visible in the field. In every engagement between the Taliban and one front-line American Marine unit, the operation has been led in almost every significant sense by American officers and troops. They organized the forces for battle, transported them in American vehicles and helicopters from Western-run bases into Taliban-held ground, and have been the primary fighting force each day.

The Afghan National Army, or A.N.A., has participated. At the squad level it has been a source of effective, if modestly skilled, manpower. Its soldiers have shown courage and a willingness to fight. Afghan soldiers have also proved, as they have for years, to be more proficient than Americans at searching Afghan homes and identifying potential Taliban members — two tasks difficult for outsiders to perform.

By all other important measures, though — from transporting troops, directing them in battle and coordinating fire support to arranging modern communications, logistics, aviation and medical support — the mission in Marja has been a Marine operation conducted in the presence of fledgling Afghan Army units, whose officers and soldiers follow behind the Americans and do what they are told.

That fact raises questions about President Obama’s declared goal of beginning to withdraw American forces in July 2011 and turning over security to the Afghan military and the even more troubled police forces.

There have been ample examples in the offensive of weak Afghan leadership and poor discipline to boot.

In northern Marja, a platoon of Afghan soldiers landed with a reinforced Marine rifle company, Company K, Third Battalion, Sixth Marines, which was inserted by American Army helicopters. The Marine officers and noncommissioned officers here quickly developed a mixed impression of the Afghan platoon, whose soldiers were distributed through their ranks.

After several days, no Marine officer had seen an Afghan use a map or plan a complicated patrol. In another indicator of marginal military readiness, the Afghan platoon had no weapons heavier than a machine gun or a rocket-propelled grenade.

Afghan officers organized no indirect fire support whatsoever in the week of fighting. All supporting fire for Company K — airstrikes, rockets, artillery and mortars — was coordinated by Marines. The Afghans also relied entirely on the American military for battlefield resupply.

Moreover, in multiple firefights in which Times journalists were present, many Afghan soldiers did not aim — they pointed their American-issued M-16 rifles in the rough direction of the incoming small-arms fire and pulled their triggers without putting rifle sights to their eyes. Their rifle muzzles were often elevated several degrees high.

Shouts from the Marines were common. “What you shooting at, Hoss?” one yelled during a long battle on the second day, as an Afghan pulled the trigger repeatedly and nonchalantly at nothing that was visible to anyone else.

Not all of their performance was this poor.

Sgt. Joseph G. Harms, a squad leader in the company’s Third Platoon, spent a week on the western limit of the company’s area, his unit alone with what he described as a competent Afghan contingent. In the immediacy of fighting side by side with Afghans, and often tested by Taliban fighters, he found his Afghan colleagues committed and brave.

“They are a lot better than the Iraqis,” said the sergeant, who served a combat tour in Iraq. “They understand all of our formations, they understand how to move. They know how to flank and they can recognize the bad guys a lot better than we can.”

Capt. Joshua P. Biggers, the Company K commander, said that the Afghan soldiers “could be a force multiplier.”

But both Marines suggested that the Afghan deficiencies were in the leadership ranks. “They haven’t had a chance yet to step out on their own,” Sergeant Harms said. “So they’re still following us.”

Shortfalls in the Afghan junior officer corps were starkly visible at times. On the third day of fighting, when Company K was short of water and food, the company command group walked to the eastern limit of its operations area to supervise two Marine platoons as they seized a bridge, and to arrange fire support. The group was ambushed twice en route, coming under small-arms fire from Taliban fighters hiding on the far side of a canal.

After the bridge was seized, Captain Biggers prepared his group for the walk back. Helicopters had dropped food and water near the bridge. He ordered his Marines and the Afghans to fill their packs with it and carry it to another platoon to the west that was nearly out of supplies.

The Marines loaded up. They would walk across the danger area again, this time laden with all the water and food they could carry. Captain Biggers asked the Afghan platoon commander, Capt. Amanullah, to have his men pack their share. He refused, though his own soldiers to the west were out of food, too.

Captain Biggers told the interpreter to put his position in more clear terms. “Tell him that if he doesn’t carry water and chow, he and his soldiers can’t have any of ours,” he said, his voice rising.

Captain Amanullah at last directed one or two of his soldiers to carry a sleeve of bottled water or a carton of rations — a small concession. The next day, the Afghan soldiers to the west complained that they had no more food and were hungry.

It was not the first time that Captain Amanullah’s sense of entitlement, and indifference toward his troops’ well-being, had manifested itself. The day before the helicopter assault, at Camp Leatherneck, the largest Marine base in Helmand Province, a Marine offered a can of Red Bull energy drink to an Afghan soldier in exchange for one of the patches on the soldier’s uniform.

Captain Amanullah, reclining on his cot, saw the deal struck. After the Afghan soldier had taken possession of his Red Bull, the captain ordered him to hand him the can. The captain opened it and took a long drink, then gave what was left to his lieutenant and sergeants, who each had a sip. The last sergeant handed the empty can back to the soldier, and ordered him to throw it away.

The Marines took the latitude to oust the ANP forces upon initial entry to the town of Aynak in the Helmand Province, and install a better ANP unit they had brought with them.  In the case of the worthless ANA officer in Marjah, no amount of training or retraining will help.  This ANA unit is completely dysfunctional from the top down, and the only solution to its problem is to sack the officer and install a new one – and to do so immediately.  Until they see consequences, they won’t change.

Whether they understand formations or not, if this unit is indicative of the state of the ANA we will be in Afghanistan for a very long time – decades, not years.  They suffer from the same problems we have noted in Concerning the Importance of NCOs (citing From Why Arabs Lose Wars, Norvell B. De Atkine), with entitlement mentalities and very flat organizations that don’t recognize the value of NCOs.  The strength of the U.S. military is, quite literally, the NCOs and enlisted men.

C.J. should keep up the good reporting and watch his six.


Afghan National Army category

Afghan National Police category

The Battle for Marjah

BY Herschel Smith
12 years, 6 months ago

The battle for Marjah is underway, apparently thus far without serious resistance from the Taliban.  So what is going on in Marjah?  Our friend Tim Lynch at Free Range International gives us his perspective.

Operation Moshtarak, the assault on the Marjah District in the Helmand Province started today.  The press has been looking at it for months from various angles with stories stressing that secrecy has been lost, or that civilians will be killed, or with speculation on why the military is publicizing Operation Moshtarak in the first place. These stories all contain grains of truth but none of them is even close to telling the real story.  Here it is: when the Marines crossed the line of departure today, the battle for Marjah had already been won.

That is not to say there will be no fighting – there will be – pockets of Taliban will need to be cleared out along with a ton of IED’s.  Just as they did last summer in Now Zad the Marines spent months talking about what they were going do in Marjah while focusing their efforts at shaping the fight behind the scene.  Like a master magician General Nicholson mesmerized the press with flashy hand movements to draw attention away from what was important.  The press then focused on the less important aspects of the coming fight.  Just like a magic show the action occurred right in front of the press in plain view yet remained out of sight …

The current Marjah operation is a replay of the Now Zad operation last summer.  Back then the Marines were in the news, constantly saying they did not have enough Afghan security forces (Karzai sent a battalion the day he read that story despite virulent protests from RC South) and that they didn’t have enough aid money (the embassy responded by sending more money and FSO’s).  Those complaints were faints – the Marines welcomed the Afghans, ignored most of the FSO’s and because they have their own tac air, artillery, and rocket systems they were able to cut out both the big army command and control apparatus in Bagram and the Brits who head RC South at the Kandahar Airfield.

Okay, stop there.  Let’s briefly assess what Tim is saying.  I don’t believe this analysis.  Not that I know enough to dispute it, but it isn’t compelling – not yet.  Tim goes on to explain that Scout snipers and Recon have been in Marjah killing Taliban for quite a while, and many or most of the bad guys are already dead.  Shaping the battle space, we are.

SOF cannot kill enough Taliban (or any other enemy) to win a campaign.  As for killing HVTs, regular readers know what I think about that tactic.  It remains an unimpressive distraction.  The Taliban – all of them – need to be killed, not chased away only to come back later.  With Lt. Col. Allen West, I don’t believe in holding terrain.  And it would be better to leave the mid-level commanders alive and let his troops see him fail rather than give new Taliban a chance to prove their mettle at being a new commander.

Shaping the battle space.  It sounds nice, and it’s what we claimed we were doing in Now Zad.  But go back and study my Now Zad category, the most comprehensive coverage of Now Zad anywhere.  We weren’t shaping the battle space.  We were losing Marines and Marines’ legs to IEDs, Marines were sleeping in Hobbit Holes at night, and for more than one year we had inadequate force projection – all of this while the population had left, the Taliban were using Now Zad as an R&R area and daring us to a fight, and we had an unmitigated opportunity to kill the enemy without even so much as a chance of killing noncombatants.  Yet in a tip of the hat to population-centric COIN, we refused because there was no population to protect – as if the Taliban wouldn’t leave Now Zad and go back to the population.

The Marines who bravely fought in Now Zad are heroes and the fact that we own it now is a testimony to their skills, courage and honor.  The brass who developed the strategy (or lack thereof) superintended a failure.  Now Zad was a failure entirely because brass didn’t resource the effort.  We let the Marines in Now Zad suffer while we sent infantry battalions to sea on wasted MEUs.  Finally, as to this notion that the Marines constantly complained that they didn’t have enough ANA in Now Zad, there wasn’t any ANA – period.  There was no ANA in Now Zad.  It was all Marines.

Back to Marjah.  Tim gives me pause if he claims that Marjah is a repeat of Now Zad.  Joshua Foust compares and contrasts coverage of Marjah, and concludes that there are contradictory reports from even reporters in the same locale and talking to the same people.  One report stands out, though.  This campaign is heralded as the point at which the ANA stands up.

For a second day US marines and Afghan troops have been clearing houses one by one of explosives.

One villager says they knocked on his door this morning and he saw Afghan soldiers in the lead and Americans following. He says he thinks the operation is going well.

But what is the ANA really doing?  “As Marines unloaded equipment needed to build an outpost at Five Points, others manned “fighting holes” — what the Army calls foxholes. Most of the Afghan soldiers sat in their trucks, with the engines running and the heaters at full blast.”

Last, it would appear that the only thing consistent about the reports is that a dozen noncombatants have been killed.  Predictably, McChrystal has prostrated himself before Karzai.  To be sure, we should pay the family, Marine officers should sit with surviving kin, and so on and so forth.  But the public nature of the posturing after such events is becoming a silly overreach, as if we are attempting to convince the American or Afghan public that there is any such thing as riskless war – war conducted in laboratories by men wearing white coats, where mistakes are mere failures to follow procedure and can be fixed by retraining men and retooling paperwork.  It’s all a lie.  The noncombatant deaths aren’t a mistake in procedure or protocol.  They are a tragedy of war, a tragedy that can only be avoided by losing the campaign or losing our own warriors.


Announcing the Marjah Offensive

No Secrets to Marine Plans for Marjah

Afghan Army Troop Surge?

BY Herschel Smith
12 years, 7 months ago

From Reuters:

Afghanistan is sending 8,000 to 10,000 troops to its most volatile southern provinces, where U.S. and NATO commanders complain of having too few Afghans to back them up, the Afghan Defense Minister said Saturday …

U.S. and British commanders complain the Afghan army and police have fielded far too few troops in the main battlefields, especially southern Helmand province, where 10,000 U.S. Marines and 9,000 British troops vastly outnumber their Afghan allies.

Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak told Reuters about 8,000 to 10,000 additional Afghan troops will deploy in Helmand and neighboring Kandahar, by far the deadliest areas for foreign forces since the war started in 2001.

Neither the British nor especially the U.S. Marines need Afghan National Army “backup.”  They are implementing the policy dictated from above, namely a quick startup of the ANA.  But one recent report from the Helmand Province isn’t so promising concerning their new Afghani colleagues.

The U.S. Marines were tense looking for bombs buried near a mud compound in this remote farming town in southern Afghanistan. Their new Afghan police colleagues were little help, joking around and sucking on lollipops meant for local kids.

The government had sent the new group of 13 police to live and train with the Marines just a few days earlier. Most were illiterate young farmers with no formal training who had been plucked off the streets only weeks before.

ANP, sure.  But the ANA aren’t any better.  We’d better plan on pacification of Helmand without the ANA or ANP.

Counterinsurgency at a Sprint

BY Herschel Smith
12 years, 7 months ago

Analysts and pundits were quick to dismiss Mr. Obama’s intention for beginning troop level drawdown in Afghanistan in 2011 as mere pressure on Hamid Karzai and the balance of the corrupt Afghan administration.  But Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Larry Nicholson has no illusions about the task ahead.

“I can’t tell you where we’re going to be in July of 2011, but I can tell you that we understand what the commander-in-chief has said, and that’s when he wants to draw down, and we are sprinting,” Nicholson says. “The message to our Marines every day is that the clock is running and the world is watching.”

In the coming assault on the town of Marja in the Helmand Province – current stronghold of the Taliban – the U.S. Marines want the ANA (Afghan National Army) to take the lead.

Nicholson said Afghan security forces would hopefully head the Marja operation, with extensive training planned for the next few months.

“We’re going to come in together. We’re going to take Marja back,” Nicholson said, adding that a district governor had already been selected for the town.

“We’re building a team around him of Afghans and US and UK representatives to go in and … try to take care of people quickly.”

A centrepiece of Obama’s Afghanistan strategy is the training of Afghan security forces to a point where Nato forces can withdraw. Obama has said that a US troop withdrawal would begin in 18 months, raising alarm bells among some in the Afghan political and military leadership, who fear being abandoned.

But can the ANA perform this function as quickly as we might like?  Recall that I have observed that:

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.

Now, via Bruce Rolston, here is a report on the current state of the ANA that is of immeasurable value.

Creating an Army isn’t about teaching them to shoot straight.  It’s about having the cultural, religious, familial and historical underpinnings that will support the personal sacrifice for something greater than oneself.  This cannot possibly be created in two years.

Counterinsurgency at a sprint sounds nice, but sooner or later we must face reality.  If we are going to rely on the ANA to do the heavy lifting for us, it’s going to be a very long time before they will be ready.

Postscript: For proponents of population-centric counterinsurgency, it should be pointed out that there is an alternative.

Dangerous Precedents in Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
12 years, 9 months ago

From Stars and Stripes:

SHAH JOY DISTRICT, Afghanistan — An Afghan army commander whom American troops had dubbed “Snoop” was angry, accusing a U.S. dog handler of allowing his Labrador retriever to sniff a copy of the Quran while searching a cluster of villages that U.S. forces suspect is a Taliban stronghold.

The commander — named for his resemblance to the rapper Snoop Dog — warned 2nd Lt. Blake Wyant of Company C, 4th Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment that he and his men were ready to quit the village and never work with American forces again.

Wyant, 24, of Sioux City, Iowa, listened patiently until Snoop threatened to kill the dog if the incident happened a second time. Muslims consider dogs to be unclean.

Speaking through an interpreter, Wyant looked evenly at the Afghan commander.

“You tell him that’s not going to happen,” he said. “You tell him that shooting that dog would be just like shooting an American soldier.”

The incident and several others during the three-day mission last week in a suspected Taliban stronghold underscored the fundamental challenges that U.S. troops face in Afghanistan. As the war drags into its ninth year, and as President Barack Obama contemplates sending thousands more troops, Americans are fighting alongside Afghan government forces more closely than ever. But it’s an uneasy alliance.

Wyant and Snoop struck a compromise. The handler and his dog would not search any more houses without an Afghan interpreter present. Later, after Snoop and his men had moved on, the interpreter told Wyant that they had actually threatened to kill not only the dog, but all of the U.S. soldiers in the village as well.

“Well, I know that isn’t going to happen,” Wyant said. “We’re much better shots than they are.”

U.S. and other international troops are now also fighting under strict new counterinsurgency guidelines laid down in September by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan. The rules emphasize protecting Afghan civilians over destroying the Taliban. The goal is to convince Afghans, worn down by 30 years of warfare, that the Afghan government and its security forces offer them a better life than the insurgents.

Under the new policy, Afghan soldiers and police have been thrust to the forefront, with U.S. and other international troops playing more of a supporting role. U.S. soldiers say the policy has led to several changes in how they conduct operations, including a rule that prohibits them from cutting locks on doors while searching for weapons and explosives. That task is to be handled by Afghans.

But during their mission here, U.S. soldiers complained frequently that when Afghan troops came across a locked door, they left it alone if they couldn’t find anyone to let them inside — a practice that many soldiers said works in the Taliban’s favor.

“The ANA (Afghan National Army) is supposed to do that, but they don’t want to,” said Wyant. “You could probably put a lot of stuff in a room and lock it up, and we wouldn’t be able to get to it.”

Other soldiers said new rules have severely limited how they can react to enemy threats. Several soldiers recounted how, on Aug. 20, as Afghans cast their votes for president, they received mortar fire from a Taliban position in a village. The fighters were out of range of rifle fire, but the troops couldn’t fire back with heavy weapons because the Taliban position was in a populated area.

“You could see the house where they were shooting from,” said Sgt. 1st Class Michael Spaulding, 39, of Spring Hill, Fla. “They’d shoot, and then they’d walk around the side of the house to see where the rounds were impacting.”

“The enemy is smart,” he said. “They fire at us from a building inside a village, and they know we can’t fire back at them.”

Other soldiers said the restrictions were placing U.S. forces at too much risk.

“The rules of engagement here are so strict there is nothing we can do,” said Staff Sgt. Gary Grose, 31, of Alexandria, La. “We kind of shadow the ANA and drive around and get blown up.”

“It’s like tying a boxer’s hands and then throwing him into the ring and telling him he can’t use his feet to kick,” Grose said.

Analysis & Commentary

There were problems not dissimilar to these in Iraq.

… the Iraqi brigade, which is predominantly Shiite, was assigned a new area and instructed to stay away from Nasr Wa Salam, Colonel Pinkerton said. But he said he believed that the Iraqi soldiers remain intent on preventing Sunni Arabs, a majority here, from controlling the area. He cites a pattern of aggression by Iraqi troops toward Abu Azzam’s men and other Sunnis, who he believes are often detained for no reason.

Recently, and without warning, Colonel Pinkerton said, 80 Iraqi soldiers in armored vehicles charged out of their sector toward Nasr Wa Salam but were blocked by an American platoon. The Iraqis refused to say where they were going and threatened to drive right through the American soldiers, whom they greatly outnumbered.

Eventually, with Apache helicopter gunships circling overhead and American gunners aiming their weapons at them, the Iraqi soldiers retreated. “It hasn’t come to firing bullets yet,” Colonel Pinkerton said … Pinkerton’s experiences here, he said, have inverted the usual American instincts born of years of hard fighting against Sunni insurgents.

“I could stand among 1,800 Sunnis in Abu Ghraib,” he said, “and feel more comfortable than standing in a formation of Iraqi soldiers.”

But Iraq was primarily pacified before the Status of Forces Agreement was inked.  The SOFA now places U.S. Soldiers under virtual house arrest, and right now there are a lot of frustrated U.S. troops wasting a lot of time in Iraq.  The SOFA was an extremely bad idea that makes U.S. presence largely irrelevant in Iraq.

Hamid Karzai has pressed for a SOFA for U.S. and ISAF forces in Afghanistan, and thus far this request has been rebuffed.  But there is a dangerous precedent being set in the account above in spite of the lack of formal agreements.  The empowerment and growth of the Afghan National Army, due entirely to U.S. pressure, money and training, can have deleterious consequences on the campaign.  If the U.S. is not present and operating under the notion of sovereign power (due to the presence of enemies of state), then the campaign needs to come to a close.

Unless we wish to see the ebb of our influence in Afghanistan, no quarter can be given to rogue ANA units such as this one, no matter how much the administration wishes to withdraw from Afghanistan.  This ANA unit ought to have been immediately disarmed and disbanded upon learning that they had threatened even a dog belonging to the U.S., much less the lives of Soldiers.  Culture notwithstanding, there is absolutely no excuse for threats, and this ANA unit should have become an example to other units.

As for Company C, 4th Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment, they should have been given the latitude to make such decisions, and if not latitude that was given, then it should have been taken.  No commanding officer is worth his pay and respect who risks the lives of his men around troops who won’t fight alongside them, much less troops who will fight against them.  There is simply no excuse for this ANA unit or the U.S. troops suffering their bluster and threats.

Finally, I strongly suspect that this ANA unit is full of cowards who would not only treacherously undercut the U.S. forces, but run when confronted by Taliban fighters.  If they won’t search homes for ordnance, then they won’t face down fighters shooting at them.  They are full of treachery and bluster, but essentially worthless to either the campaign or the future of Afghanistan.  Such are the men we are arming in Afghanistan to take our place.

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