Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Afghan Army Plagued By High Turnover



A BIG PART OF US STRATEGY IN AFGHANISTAN IS "AFGHANIZATION", that is, getting the Afghan government, through an indigenous Afghan National Army (ANA), to fight against the insurgency and thus keep US soldiers out of harm's way. Towards this end the US and NATO have been recruiting and training the ANA, trying to build up troops strength.
According to Gareth Porter, writing for IPS, this effort has been plagued by a high turnover in the military - 1 in 4 in the past year - that is sapping experience and preventing the expansion of a trained force. In fact, rather than an accelerating process of growth, the military's expansion is actually shrinking, down by 33 percent over the previous two years. In other words, turnover is accelerating, making US commander, General McChrystal's  strategic plan to increase the ANA to 134,000 troops by next August an unlikely prospect.
In this, as in so many other ways, the US-led occupation and counter-insurgency in Afghanistan is looking more and more like the Soviet occupation and counter-insurgency of twenty years ago. As an article in Foreign Policy, entitled "Afghanistan is the new Afghanistan", notes:
Similarly, when Soviet leaders decided to invade Afghanistan in 1979, they did not intend to commit hundreds of thousands of troops over a decade to fight a domestic insurgency. They hoped that while Soviet troops provided training and logistical support to the military of the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan, economic aid and a massive advising effort would help build up the governing ability of the main political party. The Kabul government would then have the legitimacy and defense capability to stand on its own two legs without Soviet troops.
This sounds remarkably similar to the present American strategy. And the Americans' growing frustration with corruption, incompetence and contradictory strategies to the client regime in Kabul, is also reminiscent of the various leaders that the Soviets propped up and then dismissed during the course of their stay. The article goes on to note, in relation to the Afghanization strategy of the Soviets:
Likewise, though the Afghan military looked strong on paper, with more than 300,000 men and a generous supply of Soviet weaponry, it proved incapable of leading offensive operations. Within several months Soviet troops were fighting the insurgency directly, while Afghan forces did not take the lead in an operation until 1986. The complaints of Soviet officers working with Afghan troops would sound familiar to U.S. and NATO officers today. Recruitment proved difficult. Desertions were rife. Corruption was widespread. Troops avoided going into battle for fear of retribution against their families.
There are, of course, many differences - not least the fact that the insurgents don't have the backing of a superpower, as the mujahideen had the USA during the Soviet-Afghan War. Though it is not clear how decisive a role this played. In any case, the article concludes that the US could do worse than to follow the example of the Soviets and withdraw before they are decisively defeated. As Obama prepares to announce a "surge" in the number of US troops in the country, he would do well to remember what happened to the other empires that attempted to have their way with Afghanistan.
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