The Perfect Soldier: Special Operations, Commandos, and the Future of Us Warfare by James F. Dunnigan
Afghanistan's New Armed Forces
by James Dunnigan
A new Afghan army, still in the planning stage, is expected to employ current warlord forces as its basis. Armed men, currently organized and under warlord control, number some 40,000. There are several hundred thousand more men who have weapons and would join whichever local leader makes an effective appeal to them.
Conscription has never worked very well in Afghanistan. The new regular army will put as many as 100,000 volunteers into uniform. The pay, high by Afghan standards (perhaps several hundred dollars a month) will be a big attraction and meeting the payroll regularly will go far to insure some loyalty.
Even though the new government would like to disarm the warlords, this is politically impossible. The major warlords expect to be appointed provincial governors and receive a large chunk as "their fair share." There will be a lot of negotiating. The warlords will want to control the military payroll for troops in their area, and negotiations will end up preventing the central government from having complete control.
Even though foreign donors are insisting on strict accounting of donated funds, the warlords live and die by the cash they can get their hands on. It's literally a matter of life and death for them. In Afghanistan, a warlord who steals less than a hundred percent of foreign aid is considered a splendid fellow and a paragon of virtue. Foreign donors, and the foreign media, are going to have an interesting time adjusting to these Afghan habits. And the struggle for control of the national army will be even more contentious, because this involves guns and money.
Based on current warlord forces and needs of the central government, a provisional order of battle might be:
Army headquarters in Kabul, plus seven army corps headquarters and 15-17 divisions. One tank division and an air mobile infantry brigade would probably be assigned to army headquarters, but stationed somewhere else in the country.
Kabul Corps with three infantry divisions. Nangarhar Corps with two infantry divisions. Kandahar Corps with one or two infantry divisions. Herat Corps with two infantry divisions. Bagram Corps with two infantry divisions. Taloqan Corps with three infantry divisions. Mazar-I-Sharif Corps with one or two infantry divisions.
These units will be smaller and much less well equipped than their American counterparts. Most of the equipment probably will be Russian, as that is the cheapest available and the Afghans have been using Russian stuff for decades. Moreover, Russian equipment is easier for inexperienced troops to maintain. There will be fewer tanks, artillery and engineering equipment (except for demining gear, a job the troops will probably have to do). Most transport for the troops will be trucks, and probably not enough of those to move every division at any time.
Another option being discussed is to put 250,000 men on the military payroll. Monthly pay would be less, but it would help the unemployment and crime problem. Again, the major difficulty would be disciplining that many new troops. There are plenty of warriors in Afghanistan, but not many trained soldiers. This large number would reduce crime by not only putting a lot more young guys under some sort of supervision, but also provide more men to guard the roads and hunt down bandits.
The air force would probably consist of a few dozen transports and armed trainer aircraft, plus a few dozen transport helicopters (some can be armed). Russia would be a likely donor (or seller, at attractive prices) of the equipment as the Afghans have been using Russian air force equipment for more than 30 years. Eventually, Afghanistan would want jet fighters, but foreign aid donors would resist spending any money on these. Russia could donate some older combat aircraft (currently in storage and wasting away anyway), but even the Afghan government would probably prefer to use the native pilots they have for transports and helicopters, which would be of more use in the next few years.
There probably will be a tiny navy, with some patrol boats on the rivers that form part of the nation's borders.
In addition to the armed forces, there will be national police force and border guards containing probably as many men as the armed forces. These will be even more subject to corruption, even if the cops are given a good wage. The major problem is that few Afghans have ever encountered honest police or soldiers who did not loot and plunder civilians.
The foreign aid money allocated for the new army and police probably will come with military and police advisors to train the Afghans. But there are language and cultural differences that will make it difficult for the foreign instructors to make a radical change in the way things are customarily done in Afghanistan.
More effort probably will be put into training programs for new officers and NCOs. Initially, most of the officers and NCOs will be current militia leaders who will just be given an equivalent military rank. But as these men are put through the training courses intended to teach them professional military skills, the quality, and honesty, of military leadership will increase. But this training program will take years before all the military leaders get it, and in the meantime there will be tension between the "old warriors" and the "new professionals."
There are some Afghan military professionals, but these are tainted by where they got their training. Those trained in Russia are seen as anti-Pushtun and those trained in Pakistan are seen as pro-Pushtun. Because of this, who the trainers are can also be a problem. Many Pakistani Pushtuns are professional soldiers and would make good trainers for the Afghan Pushtuns. The Iranians could provide trainers for the half of the Afghan population that speaks a dialect of Farsi (the Iranian language). Turks could provide trainers for the Turkic Uzbeks. But supervising and coordinating trainers from so many different countries and military traditions creates more problems.
The new Afghan armed forces will be expensive and may create more
problems than they solve. Like everything else in Afghanistan, it is an
undertaking loaded with risk as well as opportunity.
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