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The Killid Group
Will the ANA be battle ready by 2014?Written by Killid Commentary
Sunday, 02 January 2011 09:48
The Afghan National Army (ANA) will take over sole charge of the country's security by 2014 under the Lisbon Agreement. What are the challenges it faces?
The army has to grown in numbers. Today Afghanistan has a 150,000 strong army. That is expected to increase to 235,000 in the next three years. Recruitment of officers and soldiers is not a problem since poverty is widespread and job prospects are few. An estimated 4 million people are unemployed; tens of thousands flee each year to countries in the neighbourhood to make a living despite the hardships and humiliation of living as illegal immigrants.
Afghanistan has never had a problem of finding human resources for its national Police and Army.
Will the ANA be adequately trained to take charge of security by 2014? Lt Gen James Bucknall, deputy commander of NATO and International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), has been quoted as saying that the training for the ANA over the last nearly 10 years is not "fundamental".
Now, attempts are being made to deal with the gaps in training and hardware in order to increase the ANA's capacity to take charge of the vital responsibility of assuring security throughout the country.
The United States has set aside 10 million dollars for training and "outfitting" the Afghan army.
At present the ANA has not been able to match either the capacity or capability of insurgent groups who have time and again demonstrated their superiority.
The ANA lacks aerial forces, which is essential for combat operations against heavily armed groups.
Gen. Zahir Azimi, Defense Ministry spokesman, says: "We have been outfitted with standard weapons, somewhat, but (we) face problems in the fields of armoured and reactive weapons and expect to be outfitted as soon as possible. We have a lot of complaints for lack of aerial forces; our aerial transportation is not operational. We have problems in radar and air defence fields too, and ask the international community to supply our 'mentioned' fields by 2014."
Ethnic and drug problems
In addition, the ANA faces two other fundamental problems.
First, due to war and fighting in the southern regions and Pashtun populated areas, the youth from these areas have had little interest in joining the army. As a result most Afghan soldiers and officers belong to non-Pashtun ethnicities and the ANA is not a mirror of multi-ethnic Afghanistan. Some efforts have been started to make the army more representational, but the problem remains.
Second, the ANA has a somewhat serious problem of drug addiction. Army commanders are reported to have filed complaints. According to a commissioned military officer, who requested he should not be identified, it was difficult for him to assign nighttime patrolling since at least a fifth of his troops were taking drugs.
The officer, who had previously served in Helmand province, confided that the graph of drug addiction in the ANA, particularly among soldiers in conflict-torn Helmand province, was high.
The Ministry of Defence has been worried about the problem, and some time ago it started testing for drugs all applicants interested in joining the army.
As 2010 draws to a close, the security situation in Afghanistan remains precarious. The ANA and ISAF's some 150,000 foreign troops have been in constant battle with Taliban and Al Qaeda groups who continue to dominate some parts of the country. The insurgency escalated in the north, while maintaining earlier levels in the south, west and east. Security forces, both ANA and foreign troops, were seriously challenged in Kunduz and Baghlan provinces this year.
Unless the ANA is significantly professionalised - in terms of both quality of hardware, training, salaries and living condition - it cannot hope to reach the level of preparedness required to go solo against a determined armed opposition in Afghanistan.
The international community in Afghanistan has until 2014 to create a national army that will be able to combat the insurgency and restore peace and security. At present, as Kai Eide, former UN representation in Afghanistan, said: "ANA takes 80 percent of responsibilities for fights".