The Afghan army - Rizwan Asghar - Saturday, April 09, 2011

The United States will start withdrawing its troops from Afghanistan in July this year, but there is no clear end in sight to the turmoil sweeping across Afghanistan. For too long, the Afghan National Army (ANA) has been considered the cornerstone of NATO’s counterinsurgency efforts in Afghanistan. The long-term strategy to stabilise Afghanistan rests also on the Afghan army’s ability to take control of the situation. But the Afghan army remains a highly unprofessional and fragmented force, pushing the country to the brink of another civil war. It is divided into four main factions; Pashtuns, Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras who consider each other enemies.

Viewed historically, it should come as no surprise that the Afghan army has remained unskilled – political rulers have invariably tried to use it as an instrument for personal aggrandisement. Sardar Daud used the army, with Russian assistance, as a means to take over the government. After the Russian withdrawal, the army was divided along tribal lines. And during the mujahideen years, political rifts blighted its performance.

Since 2001, the US has spent more than $25 billion in an attempt to rebuild the Afghan military but the result has been very poor. At the London Conference in January 2010, NATO countries and the Afghan government agreed that troop levels would be raised to 240,000 by 2014, but no attention was paid to improving the quality of the armed forces.

The Afghan army is beset by a host of problems including poor combat effectiveness because of the factionalisation of the ANA through the early domination of the Ministry of Defence by the Tajik community. Northern Alliance warlords still continue to monopolise resources causing widespread discontent among other ethnic groups.

All appointments to the defence and interior ministries are made on a sectarian basis. For instance, amongst the 100 generals appointed in 2002, almost 90 belonged to the Northern Alliance. The result is that troops are often more loyal to a group led by a local commander than national goals. This policy has fundamentally upended the old slogan of the Afghan Army, “Khuda, Watan, Wazifa” (God, country, responsibility).

Drug addiction is another major impediment to improving the army’s capacity and cohesion. Some analysts believe that the percentage of Afghan soldiers who are drug addicts is very high. Additionally, almost 90 percent of the force is illiterate. ISAF Commander, General Stanley A McChrystal, in 2009, identified the under-resourcing of the Afghan army as one of the chief obstacles to a successful ‘population-centric’ counterinsurgency campaign. Chronic shortfalls in training personnel and poor logistics have seriously jeopardised the ‘army’s quality and long-term viability’.

Additional problems include crippling attrition rates, a weak chain of command, and the fact that many army officers have been involved in drug trade, illegal contracting practices, and killings.

The Indian military’s presence in Afghanistan, in an attempt to deny Pakistan ‘strategic depth’ and expand India’s power projection in Central Asia, has also played the role of a spoiler and has badly affected the unity of the Afghan military.

Members of the factionalised Afghan army are often found fighting alongside militants against the US and NATO forces, playing the role of 10 to 50 dollars-a-day Taliban. They are also known to use army vehicles and helicopters for commercial purposes and sell arms to the Taliban. With such poor management and infrastructure, the Afghan army can hardly be expected to be able to prove effective in the war against militants.

Email: rizwanasghar7@yahoo. com

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