BLOG: Afghan troops ready to rumble?
29 Sep 11
Of the 180 battalions currently constituting the Afghan National Army (ANA), just two are capable of operating independently – and even those two require continued medical and logistics and maintenance support from Coalition forces.
This is not as bad a result as some pundits might have us believe. In addition to these two units, there are some 124 further battalions that have a capability “to operate effectively with minimal coalition support,” according to Lieutenant General William B. Caldwell, commander of NATO’s training mission in Afghanistan. Speaking to a media teleconference on 27 September, General Caldwell said “we always say we’re responsible to bring units [up] to initial operating capability, but it’s the field force that then brings them to full operational capability. And it’s that field experience; it’s that partnering out there in the field that continues to help them evolve and develop….”
Looked at from a dispassionate perspective, what the NATO Training Mission - Afghanistan (NTM-A) has achieved in less than two years since its formal inception in November 2009 is quite remarkable. To have trained the bulk of a force consisting of 170,000 men in basic infantry and supporting arm tactics and operations, while the nation is conducting active operations against a resilient and determined enemy force, is no mean feat. However, the challenge remaining to be addressed – to fully prepare this force to undertake its own national security, with minimal continuing support from Coalition forces, by December 2014 – is not one that should be underestimated.
I had the privilege of visiting Camp Eggers in late 2009 and one of the things that struck me forcibly was the fact that the Kandacs (battalion sized units of approximately 1,200-1,400 troops) trained as a unit, though split into four Toli (reinforced company-sized units) for various phases of their training. However, the main impression I came away with was that these soldiers went from no military experience to being declared ready for field operations in a very short period.
At that time, in December 2009, the training course had just been reduced from ten weeks to eight. Doubtless this had been caused by the strong desire of the Afghan government to accelerate the training process in order to reach the goal of 134,000 graduates of the training programme in a finite period. It does beg the question, however, whether such relatively brief training is truly sufficient for troops who will be embroiled in the bloody struggle for their nation’s security almost immediately after finishing their basic training. It also throws into stark perspective the fact that even with such arguably inadequate training, 126 battalions are already able to operate with varying degrees of independence.
NTM-A can declare partial victory in extremely trying circumstances. A combination of significant multinational collaboration, considerable resources, experience and domain knowledge, coupled with an evident willingness to learn on the part of the young ANA recruits means that troops arrive in theatre with at least the basic knowledge as to how to operate. And, as General Caldwell astutely points out, it is service in the field force that will enhance that knowledge and provide experience to bring the troops up to a better level of capability. ANA troops share with their predecessors in so many conflicts of the last century or more the fact that political and military necessity demands ‘on the job training’ be just as critical a part of the individual’s learning process as pre-deployment preparation.
With three years to run before the ANA takes on full responsibility for Afghanistan’s national security – in collaboration with the Afghan National Police, which is also a focus of NTM-A’s attentions – it will be instructive to see how the Mission builds on its current success to help make that security a robust and lasting construct.