Gholam, an Afghan National Army soldier, stands guard next to Darul Aman Palace or abode of peace, a European-style palace 10 miles outside of the center of Kabul, on Sept. 6, 2009. UPI/Mohammad Kheirkhah | License Photo
WASHINGTON, Oct. 23 (UPI) -- On May 21, 2002, U.S. Army Gen. Tommy Franks, commander of U.S. Central Command, said to reporters, "I am pleased that our forces have begun training the Afghan National Army."
Franks also stated that training the Afghan army will "certainly be one of our more important projects in the days, weeks (and) months ahead, because the national army of Afghanistan is going to be an essential element of their long-term security."
On Sept. 21, 2006, U.S. Marine Corps Gen. James Jones, now President Barack Obama's national security adviser, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, "By far, the Afghan National Army is the most successful pillar of our reconstruction efforts to date."
According to U.S. Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal's Aug. 30 recommendations for a new strategy in Afghanistan, one of the four main pillars to accomplish the mission and defeat the insurgency is to increase the size and accelerate the growth of the Afghan National Security Force and radically enhance partnership at every level to improve effectiveness and prepare them to take the lead in security operations.
After almost eight years of effort, the Kabul Military Training Center reports that the Afghan National Army now numbers between 88,000 and 92,000 soldiers.
McChrystal admits that after eight years of recruitment and training, the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police are not sufficiently effective to take ownership of Afghanistan's security. He said, "The Afghan National Army must accelerate growth to the target strength of 134,000 by fall 2010, with the institutional flexibility to continue that growth to a new target ceiling of 240,000."
Even Franks in 2002 did not delude himself into thinking that training and integrating a force comprised of tribal and factional members into an Afghan National Army would be easy.
In her superbly written article "Meet the Afghan Army," first published by TomDispatch, Ann Jones provides personal and direct observations on this subject. She places her first fly in official Washington's ointment by noting, "Afghans do not think or act like Americans. Yet Americans in power refuse to grasp that inconvenient point."
Based on years of experience in Afghanistan, Jones said she believes there is little trust among these units composed of various tribal factions and that "these impoverished men in a country without work have joined the Afghan National Army for what they can get out of it (and keep or sell) -- and that doesn't include democracy or glory."
She notes that many recruits do not return for duty after their 10-week basic training and others "re-enlist" under a different name to get an additional 10 weeks' pay. Some may be Taliban gaining valuable insight into tactics, techniques and procedures. Furthermore, Jones raises the inconvenient question of where the 90,000-strong Afghan National Army was when 4,000 U.S. Marines went into Helmand province with only 600 Afghans in support.
Similar views are expressed by individuals inside the training program. A retired American senior non-commissioned officer and a contractor training the Afghan army wrote in an August report that the United States is spending too much time building relationships rather than building capability. We continue to shoot ourselves in the foot by discarding without consideration observations made and insights gained through working with the Afghans locally and continually miss opportunities to integrate Afghan resources and build confidence in coalition capacity.
Either by setting expectations too low or not effectively partnering, the United States and the International Security Assistance Force prime themselves for failure. According to the senior NCO we have built a welfare state within the Afghan National Army instead of a committed and competent coalition partner.
It is clear that we will not defeat the insurgency and accomplish our mission of a stable and secure Afghanistan without a viable and effective Afghan security force.
On Jan. 16, 2007, U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry, now Obama's ambassador to Afghanistan, told a press gathering in Kabul, "We can help train an army, we can help equip an army, we can help build facilities for the army, but only the Afghan people can breathe a soul into that army."
By not adequately understanding the Afghan culture and adjusting our efforts accordingly, perhaps we are unintentionally sucking the soul out of that army.
(Lawrence Sellin, Ph.D., is a colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve and a veteran of Afghanistan and Iraq.)
(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)