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The Killid Group

Quick gains bring pains for Afghan army

Written by Ahmad Zia Entezar
Saturday, 04 September 2010 13:11

Quick gains bring pains for Afghan army

21-year old Ramazan from Kunduz started his training at the army training command on August 23 this year. By the end of October he is expected to be ready to take on any kind of combat duty, as the training centre churns out trained soldiers every eight weeks. Will emphasis on quantity and speed compromise quality?

Accelerated efforts to build the Afghan National Army(ANA) with the aim of carrying out the 'security transition' from international forces may be a solution but brings its own share of problems as a look at the training of the fresh recruits reveals.

Enlistment of the recruits is the first stage of the problem. In a country where there is no census and no national identity card, soldiers have to be recruited often on the basis of good faith. The only qualifications are citizenship, minimum age of 18 years and a guarantee of loyalty and commitment.

The criteria, say some trainers, are insufficient. "We are aware that the enemies (anti-government elements) have prepared 50 people with the aim of infiltrating them into the ANA", says Major Mohammad Hamid, a trainer. Hamid believes the recruitment process requires more stringent filters to weed out possible infiltrators.

One of the reasons for the lack of stricter criteria is the shortfall in enlistment of recruits into the Afghan army. Though the rate of recruitment has improved considerably after a substantial increase in the salaries of the soldiers, the Ministry of Defence still faces problems recruiting soldiers from the more volatile provinces of the south where the fighting is intense.

While the high rate of casualties in military operations may be one of the reasons that deter recruitment, another cause that has been repeatedly evoked by President Hamid Karzai is the fact that private security companies are able to pay several times the salary paid by the Afghan army and are competing for the services of young men in those areas. With the order to disband the private companies, this trend may see a change.

Quality of soldiers and training

One cause of concern during the accelerated process of building the Afghan army is the quality of the training, which some consider too short for producing capable soldiers.  "We had an extensive training programme that included all kinds of weapons and manoeuvres include night time operations. Now these soldiers just get trained in the use of simple weapons", says General Amanullah Aman, a military expert who was an officer during the time of President Dr. Najibullah

General Aman also points to the lack of educational training. "One or two hours a day should be devoted to studying and should include geography, political, historical elements and ideological motivation to strengthen the morale of the soldiers."

Brigadier General Amanullah Karim, Commander in Chief of the National Army Training Center however says he is satisfied with the training and considers the training period sufficient.  "During the 8 weeks they get basic education, familiarization with advanced weapons systems and operations."

In that period of time the recruits move from simple to increasingly more complex tasks beginning with learning how to march to using light weapons, familiarization with heavy weapons, carrying out raids on hostile targets and detaining anti-government elements. The training process ends with the recruits swearing an oath of allegiance to defend the territorial integrity of the nation, its independence and to comply with Islamic requirements.

"A soldier who goes through this will be completely ready for battle and to engage with the anti-government forces", says General Karim.

Col. John Ferrari, the deputy commander for programmes, NATO Training Mission, Combined Security Transitions Command, also expresses satisfaction with the training and growth of the ANA which, he says, has reached 134,000 already. However he points to the problem of illiteracy as a major one that is evidenced during training.

General Karim acknowledges that there are some other problems with the new recruits and points to drug addiction as one which leads to desertions.  The rate of desertions has dropped, say experts, but continues to be a problem. "In the past, we had about 200 fugitives in a group (of perhaps 420 men) but now this number is between 40 to 50", says Major Hamid, something that trainers hope will allow them to reach the required levels of force in the stipulated time.

While the ANA is expected to reach a final strength of 240,000 by 2013 and the Afghan government has declared a complete takeover of security as its goal for 2014, the task of security transition could begin as early as the start of 2011. The ANA will begin taking over certain districts and provinces which are considered safer. The ANA and Afghan National Police are expected to reach 171,600 and 134,000 personnel respectively by October 2011, shortly after the beginning of the troop withdrawal announced by president Obama.

Ramazan, at the beginning of his training schedule, is extremely happy to be receiving the training and proud of his uniform.  He says he had always wished to be a soldier. "I am so happy that I cannot express it. I am now a healthy soldier in a strong, trained, national army of Afghanistan."


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