Afghanistan National Army : Legion of Modern State

Nation states and armed forces have a symbiotic relationship. Thus, one thrives on the other. The Roman legions were one of the prime instruments, which molded ancient Rome into a republic and after the rise of Augustus into an empire. A national army is thus an important instrument of a modern nation state. The Afghan National Army (ANA) is destined to represent the Afghan nation, which is a state comprising of a number of fiercely independent ethnic communities with a long history of conflict and lacking legacy of homogeneous national congruence. The collective psyche of the Afghan people is thus devoid of tradition of national consciousness; thereby, coagulating the Afghan soldier into a national army is a difficult task. History of three failed attempts at wielding together a national force adds to the problems of incertitude of success. Nonetheless, the Afghans have a great martial and warrior tradition. As many Western soldiers who have worked with Afghan compatriots have recently testified, the fighting qualities of the Pathan, Tajik or the Uzbek, main ethnic communes that contribute to the ANA is par excellence.

However, fighting ability is one attribute of a modern soldier, there are many others including basic level of education to assimilate the functionalities of the plethora of equipment and systems which designate combat capabilities. There are inherent weaknesses in this area, so is the commitment to central authority, as the very concept of nationalism has to be built from the scratch. The trainers, largely US and NATO forces belong to varied nationalities, French, British, German or Canadian, thus there are barriers of language and communication. Despite all these challenges, the ANA has made considerable progress in the past few years. Four years is too short a period to assess an army, yet a mid course evaluation may be fruitful to provide corrective paths of guidance for enhancing efficacy.

Reformation of the modern nation state of Afghanistan is linked with the rising of the Afghan National Army. This is the fourth attempt at formation of a national fighting force legalizing violence in a state traditionally fractured into different ethnic communities, which in turn are subordinated to the loyalty of warring tribal leaders. The socio political trials of building this force are thus immense. One of the primary missions of the International Security Force (ISAF) composed under the Bonn Agreement has been rebuilding the Afghan National Army (ANA) and Police. Undertaken just about four years ago, the ANA has risen to approximately 50,000 troops organized into Kandaks or battalions, brigades and five regional corps, each located at the regional headquarters. Recruitment has been a major problem, while retention is also proving difficult with reenlistment after three-year tenure below 50 percent. Constant absenteeism and desertion has now come down below 13 percent but is still alarming. The ANA is armed with a mix of weapons and equipment drawn from a number of sources, the primary one being the erstwhile Soviet armory gradually replaced by western tanks and guns. The training of this force has been undertaken by armed forces of different countries, French, British and Americans, with the Canadians carrying out validation. The initial period of training of recruits is less than half that of other armed forces at 15 weeks. Almost immediately, many of these soldiers are thrown into battle, yet their performance has been improving each day as many operations such as the most recent ones, Maiwind and Silicon denote.

However, even Afghan commanders doubt the effectiveness of their army without mentoring and embedded teams provided by NATO forces. This special relationship between ANA and ISAF based on camaraderie bred through facing the bullet and the bomb, a constant companion in Afghanistan is growing. However, many doubt the credibility of some of the Afghan soldiers with filial links with the Taliban; nonetheless, sub unit or unit level mass desertion has not been reported. The ANA is no doubt facing many problems and challenges. Though, given the commitment, patience, perseverance and diligence of the ISAF to stay the course for a decade or more, a truly national ANA could emerge from the ashes of todays combat with the Taliban. For the ANA will be a key benchmark of success of Afghanistan as a modern nation state, it is truly the legion of its times.

This is an introductory excerpt of an exhaustive 11,000 words Review Paper on the state of the Afghan National Army referencing over 40 different sources modestly priced at $ 30/- and can be obtained by placing an order at [email protected] or [email protected]

Rahul K. Bhonsle is a Strategic Risk and Knowledge Management Consultant and writer with specific focus on defence and security, especially in South Asia.