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Commandos of the Afghan National Army standing ready to train at night at a base near Kabul in September. Is there any reason to believe Afghan security troops can be a force for stability? (AP photo)

The flaws in Obama’s Afghan plan are right there in the open

ASK THIS | December 10, 2009

Journalists don't need to dig far to find the self-deception at the heart of Obama's Afghan surge: A little Googling is all it takes to see that his hopes for the Afghan forces are absurdly high.

By Haviland Smith

The success of President Obama’s surge in Afghanistan depends on raising the effectiveness of the Afghan National Army (ANA) and the Afghan National Police (ANP) to the point where they will be able to secure and hold their own country.

But it seems the Obama administration is mired in the same bog of self deception in which the Bush administration foundered, that is, they see the world as they wish it were, not as it really is. As long as that is the case, and as long as these kinds of important decisions are made on the basis of the domestic political needs of the Administration (the coming congressional and presidential elections), rather than the objective facts in Afghanistan, they will lead to the adoption of policies that try to please as many people as possible, rather than solve policies and probably will not find success.

At the most elemental level, and putting aside all the legitimate concerns about the nature of Afghanistan, its people, culture and present leadership, our press might properly and profitably zero in on the most important element in this just-announced Afghan policy – the Afghan security forces.

There are few if any secrets involved in this matter. The Afghan National Army (ANA) and the Afghan National Police (ANP) have been the focus of every conceivable examination and inquiry the United States has to offer and there is a plethora of results of such examinations on the internet.

All an enterprising reporter has to do is Google “Afghan Army Readiness” or some permutation thereof and a world of estimates of the combat readiness of the ANA and ANP will appear authored by foreign news services, the GAO, the Armed Forces Journal, the Council on Foreign Relations, the Foreign Policy Research Institute and legions of others. The first 200 hits out of almost one million produced by the aforementioned search raise enough questions about Afghan readiness to keep the press occupied for decades.

Afghanistan cannot be considered to be a modern state with a modern population. It is a family-based agglomeration of towns, villages, valleys and mountain tops where residents identify themselves as where they are from, rather than what they are. On the “what they are“ scale, they are dead last “Afghan”.

Therefore, the root question is whether or not such a state can rationally be expected to produce effective and appropriately ethnically diverse national organizations like Police and Army, when the primary allegiance of their people is to the family. What will a Tajik soldier do when asked to participate a military operation in Pashtun country? A Pashtun the north? Will they fight, run abstain, defect or mutiny? Those will be the questions every time a multi-ethnic force gets committed in Afghanistan.

In that context, it might be illuminating to examine the effects that some or all of the following issues are likely to have on unit cohesion, morale and effectiveness:

  • The stipulated ethnic balance of the forces; ethnic tensions are said to be high.
  • The effect of ethnicity on future military engagements.
  • An ANA turnover rate or 25% and rising, according to US army figures.
  • The ANA’s unwillingness to fight on certain occasions.
  • Painfully slow training and uneven troop effectiveness.
  • Inadequate ANA and ANP leadership as identified by U.S. military advisors.
  • The effect of endemic national illiteracy on the training process.
  • Very high narcotics use in the security forces.

Journalists should also note that it took eight years to grow the Afghan army to 100,000 soldiers. How long will it reasonably take to get to the desired 350,000, if that’s even possible?

The results of these inquiries will not lead to optimism. The limitations of the human raw material central to our new policies will very likely make our goals difficult if not impossible to achieve.


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