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How Ready Is The Afghan Army?

Coalition Forces Train Afghan Local Police To Fight Talibani
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March 15, 2012
As U.S. and other NATO troops prepare to withdraw from Afghanistan in 2014, they are stepping up efforts to train local security forces. Voice of America reporter David Axe traveled to one isolated village along the border with Pakistan, where coalition forces are hoping that a risky local police initiative will win over villagers and help weaken the Taliban.
Join Voice of America reporter David Axe as he travels to one isolated Afghan village along the border with Pakistan, where coalition forces are hoping that a risky local police initiative will win over villagers and help weaken the Taliban.

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Uniformed Afghan Kills ISAF Troops

Western and Afghan officials say two American soldiers have been shot dead by two Afghans, including a man believed to be a soldier.
By Charles Recknagel
On paper, the Afghan National Army (ANA) looks strong enough to secure the country almost immediately.

The force had a listed strength of 173,000 personnel in October and should reach 195,000 soldiers by the end of 2013.

That means that by the end of next year it will be 1 1/2 times the size of the 130,000-strong International Security Assistance Force deployed in Afghanistan today.

But if the ANA is now a large force after years of slow growth, its level of training and effectiveness is less certain. And as political pressure grows in the United States for a more rapid drawdown of forces in Afghanistan, a key question is how soon the Afghan National Army will be ready to defend the country by itself.

A report on the army and police issued in June 2010 by the U.S. office of the special inspector-general for Afghan reconstruction revealed widespread absenteeism, corruption, and drug abuse among the Afghan forces.

The report suggested that only 23 percent of Afghan soldiers were capable of working unsupervised and found that in the month before the report was issued 12 percent of the army had been absent without leave.

Since then, there have been improvements.

'Really Good Job'

The NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan (NTM-A) said in August 2011 that the quality of recruits and retention is improving following a pay raise and improvements in the ANA's payroll system.

The NTM-A said between 90 and 95 percent of new recruits are able to pass a weapon-qualification test after graduating from basic training. That compares to just 25 percent a year earlier.

A dust-covered Afghan National Army soldier during a patrol near the Taliban stronghold of Panjwaii in Kandahar Province. (file photo)
A dust-covered Afghan National Army soldier during a patrol near the Taliban stronghold of Panjwaii in Kandahar Province. (file photo)
"The army in particular has done a really good job in getting recruits in," says Joshua Foust, a regional expert at the American Security Project in Washington. "The challenge with that is that even though they are better than they were in 2008 or 2009, you still don't have a lot of units that can operate independently."

He says Afghan forces are increasingly doing their own sweep operations in areas under their control but that they remain dependent upon foreign forces in multiple ways.

"They are completely reliant on the United States or on NATO for the logistics, for their planning, for their intelligence, for their air support, for their quick-response forces if they get into trouble," Foust says. "So there are a lot of ways in which there is the illusion or appearance of their being self-sufficient when they are really not."

Top U.S. commanders in Afghanistan acknowledge the overall level of the Afghan National Army remains far from that of Western standards.

But they say the level of the ANA's special forces is constantly improving and that it is those forces that are the key to fighting a successful counterinsurgency.

"Will [the ANA] be at the standard that we have for our soldiers? No -- not, at least, the conventional forces," Lieutenant General Curtis Scaparrotti, the deputy commander of U.S. Forces-Afghanistan, said last month. "Their response forces we're training, their [Special Operations Forces], the commandos, are being trained to a very high level. And I think that's one thing that's a bright picture here for them is that their response forces are really coming along very well. And that will be...quite an asset for the country here in the future."

Taliban Infiltration

A very different problem the ANA faces is infiltration by the Taliban.

A Special Forces member from the Afghan National Army mans a machine gun on an armored vehicle while leaving for a mission with U.S. Special Forces soldiers in Kunar Province on March 12.A Special Forces member from the Afghan National Army mans a machine gun on an armored vehicle while leaving for a mission with U.S. Special Forces soldiers in Kunar Province on March 12.
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A Special Forces member from the Afghan National Army mans a machine gun on an armored vehicle while leaving for a mission with U.S. Special Forces soldiers in Kunar Province on March 12.
A Special Forces member from the Afghan National Army mans a machine gun on an armored vehicle while leaving for a mission with U.S. Special Forces soldiers in Kunar Province on March 12.
About 70 members of the NATO-led force were killed in 42 insider attacks from May 2007 through the end of January 2012. The killings show the Afghan National Army has yet to develop an effective vetting system for keeping sleeper agents out.

As General Abdul Hameed, the top army commander for the southern region of Afghanistan, said earlier this month, "Placing the rogues inside the army is well-planned by the enemies. The Taliban give them special training."

He said preventing infiltration will require far better intelligence to indentify suspects and prevent them from enlisting.

All this makes predicting whether the ANA will be able to defend Afghanistan a bit like trying to determine whether a glass is half full or half empty.

Optimists can take heart from the fact that international forces have been able to steadily hand over security responsibility to the ANA, with about half of the country's population now living in areas the ANA controls.

Pessimists can point to the fact that the most conflict-ridden areas remain the responsibility of foreign forces, particularly in the east and south.

What both viewpoints can agree on is that the true test for the ANA has yet to come, and that when it does, the future of Afghanistan will hinge upon the result.
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Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: jackie robertson from: windsor, IL
March 20, 2012 11:42
the short answer to the question in the headline is, "It isnt and never will be." I fear the deluge.
In Response

by: ahmed from: HP
March 20, 2012 12:44
Is it a fact that the Taliban pay is more than that of the Afghan Army pay. ?

Who controls the Afghan Air Force now ? Under who will the Afghan Air Force be when Western troops withdraw ?

If the Taliban can infiltrate the Afghan Armed Forces, why can not the Afghan Government, infiltrate the ranks of the TALIBAN ?

Why do some AFGHANS have a soft corner for Taliban ideology ?
In Response

by: Mike Smith from: Afghanistan
March 20, 2012 14:50
There are two reasons why the Afghan government can't infiltrate the taliban. The first is that, while ANA battalions are comprised of complete strangers of different ethniticies who have no social cohesion, Taliban operating groups of 20-30 guerillas are all men who are related in some way and all know each other. They are all from the same small Woleswali and most of them have known each other since childhood. The second reason is, of course, that the Karzai government is utterly and totally incompetent and riddled with spies, and can barely drink tea without spilling it.

by: Mike Smith from: Afghanistan
March 20, 2012 14:34
Did the Pentagon write this article? Here are the facts:

The Afghan National Army has just over 100,000 men actually present for duty (the rest are phantom, or "ghost" soldiers who don't really exist except on paper). Ever since there was an Afghan Army, the officers have always doubled the number of men they report as present, in order to receive extra food rations and sell them in the local market for their monthly "bonus."

According to the UN, 75,000 men of the 100,000 are drug users, and 94,000 of them are totally illiterate. Many of them are Taliban infiltrators, and the rest are the dregs of Afghan society: the homeless, the drug addicts, criminals on the run from the law, and young men thrown out of their villages for petty crimes.

Worse, according to the Pentagon, 40% of the entire Afghan Army deserts each year or fails to reenlist. Recently, the US Army officer responsible for the ANA program said that not one single ANA battalion is capable of operating independently, after 11 years of existence.

In comparison, the South Vietnamese Army (ARVN) had just over one million men, including a large, modern air force with over 100 late model jet fighters, a modern, well-developed medical system and a fully functioning logisitics system. The Afghan National Army (ANA) has none of those functions.

Afghanistan is four times larger than South Vietnam. So, in any given area, where the ARVN had 40 troopers per square mile, the ANA has 1 soldier (the ARVN was 10 times bigger in a country 1/4th the size). The ARVN collapsed in three weeks of fighting.

In short, there is zero possibility of the ANA succeeding in providing security for the country.
In Response

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
March 20, 2012 19:06
Here is one guy - Mike Smith - who sounds damn competent. If RFE/RL hired people like him to write articles, one would even take this whole web-site a little more seriously.

by: Mamuka
March 20, 2012 15:36
There is also the Police, who may play an equally important security role. Are they any better than the Army?
In Response

by: Mike Smith from: Afghanistan
March 20, 2012 17:09
The Afghan Police are the most hated institution in Afghanistan. They are a net security negative -- if the entire Afghan Police ceased to exist overnight, Afghanistan would literally be a more secure country with less crime and corruption in the morning. The Afghan Police make the Afghan Army look like the Coldstream Guards.They won't even be a speed bump on the Taliban's drive to Kabul in 2015.
In Response

by: Vakhtang from: Moscow
March 21, 2012 04:06
I want for some reason to believe Mr.Mike Smith from Afghanistan and to remind that the problem of Americans in the wrong tactics in Afghanistan.
Тhey repeated the same mistake as the Soviet Union.
Leonid Brezhnev and President Bush-two pair of boots..
There was no need to get involved in ground operations and create an allied army.
Massive carpet bombing, rocket attacks, coupled with localized impacts for several years would bring the desired results with minimal losses without contact with the guerrillas, would help to develop and test new weapons.
...not humane, but practical and ultimately good for Afghans...

The population of Afghanistan and the numerous tribes of seeing the hopelessness of the situation would be hardened against the Taliban and would begin to destroy the Taliban massively..

Now - train is off..
Americans leave- the Taliban comes...
In Response

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
March 21, 2012 09:16
MIKE SMITH, where do you get all this first-hand knowledge on the Afghan affairs, if it's not a secret?

by: Ray F. from: Lawrence, KS
March 21, 2012 01:57
Things are darkest before the dawn. So what if we have to bankrupt the United States treasury and destroy this country’s reputation. Just a couple more years, a few more hundred billions, a few more thousand dead and wounded, and victory will be ours! Then we can handover this achievement to our grateful Afghan brothers-in-arms, and there will be no more 9-11s, and everyone will live happily forever....

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