March 22, 2007:
The Afghan army was hoping to do
better than the U.S. Army when it came to retention rates. This is the
percentage of troops that reenlist. The Afghan army is only getting 42 percent
of first-term troops to sign up for another tour. That's about the same as the
American army. The major problems for the Afghans are homesickness and better
civilian jobs. Family is more important to Afghans, than it is to Americans.
That's because you can't depend on the government for much in Afghanistan.
Family, and extended family (tribe) is all you got. So people like to keep in
touch. People also don't like strangers. Thus, when an Afghan soldier is sent
to a different part of the country, not only is he away from his family, but he
is among strangers. And the strangers are not always friendly. Eventually, when
peace returns to the country, army units will be recruited from a province, and
the units the troops will join will stay in that province. Soldiers will never
be far from their families.
Competition with the civilian economy is another
problem. While the Afghan army is not as picky as the American army, there are
standards. The average Afghan recruit is a cut above other Afghans his age, and
thus more likely to get hired for higher paying civilian jobs. There are more
of those jobs to be had. The troops know it, and when it comes time to reenlist,
the choice between more money, plus not getting shot at, is hard to resist.
The desertion rate is down to 15 percent, and
headed for ten, which is lower than It's ever been in the Afghan army. Some
problems cannot be addressed, like soldiers who don't like combat, or don't
like fighting other Afghans. From an Afghan point-of-view, these attitudes are
perfectly normal, even though they seem strange to Westerners.
Afghans have been able to adjust to these odd
Western concepts of military discipline and intense training. Trainers find
that, because Afghans are big fans of Western adventure movies, they have to
work extra hard to teach their recruits that you cannot fight, and survive, by
doing it as it's portrayed in films.
Even with the desertions and without higher
retention, the billion dollar training program has created a 35,000 man army of
professional soldiers. That's a first for Afghanistan. The troops are
effective, and only a handful were found to be working for the Taliban, despite
energetic Taliban efforts to infiltrate the armed forces. There are some 5,000
foreign trainers working with the Afghan army, and 2,000 new recruits are being
turned into soldiers each month.
The government wants an army of at least 50,000
troops, or 75,000, if they can get enough foreign aid to pay for it. NATO has
advised that the government pay the troops more, a lot more than the hundred
dollars a month they get now. Higher paid troops and officers would be less
corrupt, better behaved and more likely to stay in the service. The government
can't afford to pay the troops more money, so the coalition has to come up with
the money, for some time to come, if this approach is going to be tried. No
word yet on whether this experiment will go forward.