Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Problems training and mentoring the ANA

From Aviation Week's "Ares" blog:
...While Afghanistan currently fields about 134,000 soldiers and 82,000 police officers, the quality and reliability of these soldiers and cops fluctuates widely depending on the region, the command staff, and the dedication of the U.S. and coalition mentors assigned to them. The stories floating around the FOBs here about Afghan troops are endless. A photographer friend recently told the story of a 10-hour firefight between Georgia National Guard soldiers [see end of this post], partnered with Polish and Afghan troops, and a sophisticated group of Taliban fighters. The Polish soldiers [Ghazni province, more here], after several of their own were wounded, ceased to be an effective fighting force while the Afghans simply ran away—leaving a handful of Guardsmen to fight it out while begging for air support, which came hours later in the form of a pair of Apache helicopters that arrived after two NATO aircraft flew over the battle, but who didn’t have the authorization to fire.

Over the past several weeks I’ve talked with American Army and Air Force trainers and mentors, as well as French instructors, all of whom are working to get Afghan forces up to speed. The consensus seems to be that the Afghans are tough, and can fight, but their planning and logistics abilities are inadequate if not non-existent in almost all respects.

The Embedded Training Team of Alpha company of the 48th battalion of the Georgia National Guard has been working with the 2/1 Kandak of the Afghan Army’s 203rd Corps since this past spring out at Clark forward operating base, in Khost province in eastern Afghanistan, and has met with both success and frustration. The 48th isn’t trying to remake the Afghan army into a version of the American army, as some critics have charged, but instead has been working on what it can improve in the short time they have here. Likewise, a French Army mentor in Kabul, working with newly recruited Afghan officers, recently told me that the training for Afghan Army Lieutenants with no prior military experience has been cut from 26 weeks to 20 weeks, half of which is counterinsurgency training, and half the fundamentals of being a platoon leader [more on French here].

It remains to be seen if any of this is enough. Out at 2/1 Kandak and the smaller company-size outposts spread throughout their area of operations, the competence and dedication of both the Afghan grunts and their leaders varies wildly, with small acts of theft and corruption common, and rumors of larger acts of collaboration, or deal-making with the Taliban, frequent. But almost as common are stories of bravery, sacrifice, and tactical competence that counterbalance these endemic problems. A lot of stress is being put on these small units, with companies of Afghan troops in the field for months at a time with no replacements available, even as they’re involved in near constant contact with the enemy and continue to sustain losses. The trick now is to grow the force quickly enough to plug these holes and offer some relief, while not rushing it so much that we’re throwing troops unready for combat out into the field.
More here, here and here.


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