Afghanistan: January 23, 2002


The U.S. Department of Defense has not yet released any data on what the war in Afghanistan is costing. Published estimates range from a hundred million dollars a month (too low, and obviously ignorant of logistical costs) to over a billion dollars a month. The larger estimate is more realistic, especially when known cost data is examined. The major cost, especially now that the bombing has largely stopped, is largely transportation related. The hundreds of air force transports flying at the same rate as commercial transports creates an additional cost of some $300 million a month. At the height of the bombing, the additional cost of combat aircraft operations was some $200 million a month and the bombs they dropped another $200 million. Additional troops costs are low, because most of the troops were navy and would have been at sea anyway. The number of troops on the ground is low, as is their cost. This cost will go up as construction costs for new bases increases. The current cost is probably some $500 million a month.

The New Afghanistan Armed Forces

Forming a new Afghan armed forces is still in the planning stage and plans to use current warlord forces as the basis of the new army. Current armed men 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 made 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 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 division
Herat Corps with two infantry divisions
Bagram Corps with two infantry divisions
Taloqan Corps with three infantry
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 will probably be Russia, as that is the cheapest available and the Afghans have been using Russian stuff for decades. Moreover, Russian equipment is easier to maintain by inexperienced troops. 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. 

The air force would probably be mostly 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 over thirty 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 (that are 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 would probably 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 a national police force and border guards that will probably contain 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 will probably 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 will probably 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 it solves. Like everything else in Afghanistan, it is an undertaking loaded with risk as well as opportunity.

The Afghan government is going to try 30 Pakistani and 10 Afghan Taliban members. The men will be tried for crimes against Afghan civilians. 

There are now 1500 foreign peacekeepers in Kabul, and over a thousand American paratroopers outside Kandahar. Several hundred more American troops are in northern Afghanistan, and several hundred special forces troops still operate all over the country. The central government is still popular, and interim leader Hamid Karzai has so far been able to keep the feisty warlords quiet. But this may not last. The minor warlords are still trying to settle turf disputes and these disputes have increasingly turned into gun battles. The major warlords are obliged to back their lesser warlords and this could trigger major fighting and a renewal of the early 1990s civil war. That's how the last civil war started.

Twenty Turkish troops, the advance party for a Turkish peacekeeping force, have arrived in Afghanistan. 




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