By Steven Pressfield | Published: December 21, 2009
[Again, we’re pleased to have this fresh post from independent correspondent Andrew Lubin, who has just returned from six weeks in Afghanistan, where he was embedded with Army and Marine troops and spent time with their Afghan National Army counterparts. Here’s Part Two of Prof. Lubin’s report.]
Training the Afghans how to shoot and move is the easy part. A typical Afghan soldier can probably beat an American tri-athlete up a steep hill; add in the flak, Kevlar and other equipment our troops carry, and the Afghans look back at us in amusement.
What’s not so amusing is the drug use, absurdly low pay, desertion, casual corruption, and problems caused in Kabul, much of which affects the ANA’s ability to fight.
The pay issue was finally addressed last week when Lt. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, who now oversees the training of all Afghans, increased the pay for both the Army and the Police. The salary for a basic soldier is now $165/month, for a sergeant $210. While this is still far below the $250 or so that the Taliban pays its fighters, Afghan patriotism is such that enlistments boomed within the next days. One can imagine the results if we simply paid these volunteers close to the same.
The issue facing Gen. McChrystal and Gen. Caldwell is not just one of increasing the size of the Afghan Army, but rather having an efficient Afghan Army. If the war is to be “Afghanized,” then the ANA needs to be an effective army and not just a job-training program where the troop strength numbers look good on paper but don’t add up in the field. The question is not only how to properly train the young Afghans who enlist so enthusiastically, but how to better utilize the Afghan army as it is.
There are simple solutions here, except both are studiously being ignored in ISAF Headquarters, which is actively trying to over-complicate the ANA in their zeal to turn them into mini-American soldiers:
1 – Instead of forming more kandaks (Afghan Army battalions), increase the size of the existing ones. The ANA is short of good officers and senior enlisted; forming more kandaks will dilute these numbers even further. Inexperienced or incompetent officers and senior enlisted are bad for discipline, bad for morale, and they sap the Afghans’ ability to fight.
Increasing the kandaks from the current 670 to, say, 900 will enable the good officers and senior enlisted to retain control of their troops while incorporating the new and inexperienced troops into their kandaks.
2 – Push the ANA into the fight without further delay. It’s going to take years to get them spun up to Tier One units; so get their headquarters units co-located with their American mentors. Get the Afghans involved in the planning, in the logistics, and in their own training. Push them into the fighting ASAP; their “good enough” is in fact good enough. Plus they’re respected by the Afghan people; the more you can get them in front of the locals, the more you’ve Afghanized the war.
There is already a program in place, instituted by the 3rd Marine Division, whose officers and men have been working with the ANA’s 201st Corps for the past four years. It’s called “Muscular Mentoring” and it’s extremely effective. Each Marine is paired with his 201st Corps counterpart, with the Marine colonel mentoring the 201st Corps CG. From going into the field together to planning missions to sharing chai and conferring about leadership, the Marines and Afghans serve as one.
The program works; in Kapisa Province’s Tagab River Valley, the ANA built their own FOB; their troopers maintain security in the southern part of the valley. Giving the Afghans their own battlespace builds both their expertise and effectiveness, as well as promoting their reputation amongst the locals.
This is a vivid contrast to the situation some 20 miles away in Mether Lam, where an American National Guard unit has no interaction with an 80-man ANA troop with whom they share a base. With an increase in IED attacks on the main road, it is disturbing that the Guardsmen have not approached the ANA for joint missions, but instead continue to patrol from the back of their MRAPS with minimal ANA input on intel, tactics, or strategy.
Last year I interviewed a group of young Afghan enlisted men. “Why’d you join up?” I asked. “My mother and father fought the Russians,” one soldier told me, “and my great-great grandfather fought the British, as did his grandfather. I hate the Pakistanis, and want to kill them all.” These young men don’t need to sit through an Army PowerPoint; if we could harness this sort of fighting spirit to some reasonable leadership, we won’t have to worry about withdrawing in July 2011; we can withdraw tomorrow.