Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Afghan National Army and Canadian advisers in action

Interesting to find this major story in the Christian Science Monitor (would be nice if some Canadian papers reprinted it). I'd wager that if a Canadian reporter had written the story the air strikes would be near the top, not the end:

It is just after dawn when the Afghan soldiers creep into lush fields splashed with morning light. Their job is to turn back an insurgency whose members lurk among the grapevines, almond trees, and red-flowered poppy fields that border their military compound. Today, that means stopping a stream of attacks that has disrupted supply routes here in Kandahar Province, in the troubled southern reaches of Afghanistan.

As the men move through the vegetation, only a rooster's crowing breaks the enduring silence, suggesting that the mission may prove a bust. But then gunfire shatters an otherwise pristine morning – and Lt. Col. Sheren Shah, the Afghan commander, grabs the phone strapped to his radio operator and starts barking orders in Pashto.

In the tug of war between the increasingly robust Afghan Army and a potent – if much smaller – enemy, Colonel Shah is the kind of commander that his Canadian advisers like. Shah has earned a reputation for moving quickly, sometimes spearheading a mission just after receiving last-minute intelligence. In response, the Canadians have given him considerable latitude, deferring to him as commander even as they provide essential support.

On this day, after a brief lull in the gunfire, Shah directs his men to send a barrage of small arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades that fills the morning air as they move toward what they believe is an insurgent safe house.

As they observe Shah's operation, the dozen or so Canadians advising this mission say the Army has come far in the past five years. But while wars in Afghanistan have imbued at least two generations of Afghans with a warrior spirit and strong sense of nationalism, the soldiers still lack key discipline and organizational skills. And, as the summer season approaches, opening the door to more aggressive fighting, the Afghans are fighting as a modern army trying to fight an opponent schooled in very different ways.

"The [Afghan National Army] has potential to face the challenges of face-to-face war if the spring offensive happens to have the form of conventional war," says Ahmad Idrees Rahmani, a cofounder of Afghanistan's Center for Research and Policy Studies in Kabul. "The problem of the war against the Taliban is that [conventional warfare] is not their fighting strategy. Each time they take over a district, the ANA and other forces can easily take them out in a few days."

Trouble begins, he adds, "when they retreat and attack in the form of guerrilla fighters. Then it becomes hard to find a fish in the sea of people."

But with disagreement persisting over NATO force levels and longer-term commitments, the Canadians here in Kandahar are under pressure to "stand up" an effective Afghan force that can ultimately step into Western forces' shoes...

Critics say the approach to training here under the embedded training teams is still uneven. Despite efforts to ensure uniformity across the training teams, each of the militaries nonetheless approaches mentoring from different perspectives. And US officers who have spent time here say there is little effort to share information, or in military parlance, spread "lessons learned" based on each teams' experiences. "Everyone does something a little different," says one Canadian officer.

The Afghan Army, for example, still is not able to perform many logistical functions like using its nascent intelligence service, fully planning a mission, or providing its ground forces the air support it needs. The intelligence that comes from the Afghan service, for example, can fall prey to political vendettas as Army or police commanders settle debts by politicizing what they put out.

Still, in the middle of a hodgepodge of foreign forces, the Afghan National Army has quietly grown more capable. Coalition forces say part of their job is to make that point to average Afghans – instilling a confidence in them that their national Army is up to the task...

The insurgent safe house they target is thought to have six men inside. Later, it's found to be a small bombmaking factory. Directing his men by radio from an abandoned earthen compound less than a mile away, Shah aligns two rifle companies around the building.

With the help of the Canadians, Shah orders his men to flush out the house. At his side is Major Ritchie, who tips the battle on the ground by calling in an airstrike. In minutes, an unmanned US plane known as a Reaper drops a 300-pound bomb on the house, killing five men. The firefight continues as the soldiers pursue a sixth man who has run away.

It is later learned that one of the dead men is Loy Lala, whom the Canadians and Afghans had been looking for for some time. Shah's men find motorcycles used by the dead insurgents and Shah decides they should be burned...

Later, as Shah's men reposition themselves, another group of Taliban is found in the green thicket. But the Afghan forces don't move quickly enough. Ritchie makes another call and a British Harrier Jump Jet arrives, flying low in a show of force, but fails to flush them out.

Ritchie, who has been talking almost nonstop on his radio to his men and coordinating troop movements and airstrikes, marvels that British, US, Canadian, and Afghan forces have all worked on this mission. "Four countries contributing to do the right thing," he says.

Shah's men ultimately find a cache of weapons, including two recoilless rifles used to harass Canadian-Afghan police substations in the area. Shah is ecstatic.

"This is good, Colonel," Ritchie says...
Update: Much more on the ANA here:
Is Afghanistan worth it? A brigadier general answers
In April, 2007, I joined the Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan, a coalition comprising military personnel from Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, Poland, Albania, Germany, France and Romania, as well as contracted civilian advisers, all working together as mentors and trainers. Our mission is to partner with the government of Afghanistan and the international community to organize, train, equip, advise and mentor the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police. As deputy commanding general for Afghan National Army Development, I am focused on development of the army...

Brigadier General Dennis Tabbernor is deputy commanding general, Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan.
Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan is not under ISAF, rather it's US-led under Central Command:
A military strength of more than 1,000, CSTC-A is under the control of United States Central Command (CENTCOM). Under CSTC-A’s operational control is Task Force Phoenix, with military strength of more than 6,000, responsible for training, mentoring and advising the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police.
And note this about Combined Joint Task Force Phoenix:
CJTF Phoenix mentors ANA and ANP to conduct sustained, independent Counter Insurgency operations in Afghanistan to assist the ANA to defeat terrorism within its borders.
Upperdate: The official description of OPERATION ARCHER:

Since July 2005, Canada’s participation in Operation ENDURING FREEDOM in Afghanistan has been conducted under Operation ARCHER.

The primary activity under Operation ARCHER is the deployment of about 12 senior CF members in Kabul with the Combined Security Transition Command – Afghanistan (CSTC-A), a U.S.-led multinational organization that provides mentors and trainers to help Afghanistan’s Ministry of Defence and Ministry of Interior organize, train, equip, employ and support the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police.

The military nature and coalition structure of Operation ENDURING FREEDOM makes it adaptable to a wide range of multinational projects, such as the CSTC-A, designed to help the Afghan authorities build the components of a new security infrastructure: operational forces and their sustaining institutions, and the general staff and ministries to direct these organizations. These projects are part of the long-term international effort to rebuild Afghanistan’s infrastructure, government and national institutions, including the army and police, that began with the fall of the Taliban in December 2001.


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