Forces: September 17, 2004

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The new Afghan army continues to grow. Total strength is currently 15,500 troops. This includes 2,500 in training, and, as of mid September, about 5,000 deployed around the country in combat operations. After nearly three years of effort, American, and European, trainers have learned to adapt their training and operating methods to Afghan sensibilities. Afghanistan has long struggled to create a modern army. Most of the population is rural, and belongs to a warrior culture that takes a dim view of professional soldiers. 

Russian trainers created a Soviet style army in the 1970s, and this force survived, in one form or another, until the early 1990s. The Soviet style of soldiering was heavily reliant on robot-like compliance with orders and strict discipline. This didnt work very well for the Russians, nor did it for the Afghans. The American style is somewhat more acceptable, because of  the greater reliance on experienced NCOs (the Russians have officers do a lot more of the supervision of troops.) Also important is the skill, and success, of American infantry against Afghan warriors. Russian commandoes (Spetsnaz), using similar tactics, also fought successfully against the Afghans. The Afghans admire effective infantry, and their new army relies heavily on training them to fight successfully in this style. It isnt easy, as the average young Afghan doesnt take well to the discipline needed for an effective soldier. Afghans are accustomed to following tribal leaders, especially those who have distinguished themselves in battle, and thus earned the right to be a leader of warriors. The Western concept of appointing officers, who must be obeyed even if you don't know them, and followed in combat, is hard for many Afghans to accept. There were also complaints about the pay, which has since been raised several times. It seems that many Afghans dont fully understand the concept of a three year enlistment. They believe that if they see a better economic opportunity, it is their right to improve themselves by leaving the army and taking the better job. There have been several thousand deserters so far (not counting many who left, but were persuaded to return.) 

After two years of hard work, a core of experienced troops, especially NCOs and officers, has been created. These men can explain to the new recruits, in terms the Afghans can understand, what they have got themselves into, and what to expect. Eventually, the Afghan army is to have 70,000 trained troops. In the past, anyone with enough money could easily raise a force of 70,000 guys with guns. But these fellows would not fight hard, or reliably. If they sensed they were likely to be defeated, running away was considered a perfectly reasonable thing to do. With a force of 70,000 real soldiers, the government will be able to deal with warlords and other forms of civil disorder. It will take several more years to get all 70,000 troops through their three months of basic training. It will be at least ten years before the entire force has experienced NCOs and officers. 

In the past year, Afghan troops have proved capable of using their training to good effect. American troops regularly operate with Afghan units, and do so successfully. This has built confidence, and contributed to reducing desertions. Afghan troops, like soldiers the world over, develop a bond with their fellow troops once theyve been in combat, and dont want to leave their friends in the lurch. One thing that has to be watched carefully, though, is combat fatigue. While Afghan troops only enlist for three years at a time, thats three times longer than American combat units are in Afghanistan. One thing American troops learned in Vietnam, where they had to work with South Vietnamese troops, many of whom had already been at war for over a decade, was that everyone has a limit when it comes to time spent in a combat zone. Ignore that, and youll end of with a force of troops more interested in avoiding combat, than in taking care of it.

 


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