Strategy Page has an insightful essay into the current flux in Afghanistan’s regular Army. A mix of Soviet leftovers, former warlords, deserters, and anti-Taliban resistance fighters is being trained by NATO personnel to more closely resemble a traditional Western military.
They have their work cut out for them. The hit-and-run, capriciously revengeful tribal warfare these men were raised to rubs up against the ethos and rigorous standards of the Western warrior. Twenty-first century combat training seems “endless and exhausting.” All those glory, gory war movies failed to show the sheer boredom of endless repetition necessary to produce a skilled infantryman.
What the recruits admire, though, are the American Special Forces and it is this image that keeps them from dropping out. The Soviet soldiers these men fought against often fled when attacked; the Americans fought back fiercely and that example has served to change their thinking about ‘modern’ armies and the definition of courage.
The NATO/US personnel doing the training are hampered by the lack of NCOs (non-commissioned officers). Under the more familiar Soviet system, sergeants had little authority. Looking for mature specimens among those who have volunteered, trainers are attacking the problem piecemeal, rewarding initiative and assigning responsibility. Some men work out well, some don’t.
The officer problem is thornier. Mid-level and senior officers come from either the warlord population or Russian-trained veterans in the Afghan military. Both find the idea of treating their men as well-trained, intelligent and capable troops “exotic” at best. Those who have been willing to try the new ways are pleasantly surprised.
The author notes a shift in perspective in the civilian population. The latter are used to bandit-soldiers who operate in rape-and-pillage mode. As the army morphs into a professional cadre, their disciplined behavior has been welcomed by average citizens. He wonders, though, if these new professional soldiers will be high-jacked by ambitious officers in attempts of government takeovers.
Given the investment by NATO and the US, not to mention the sweat equity of the Afghan soldier, this may be less likely with each passing year. Old ways die hard, but the taste of life lived under the rule of law may be an irresistible force.
Who knows, perhaps the need for warlords will fade away, taking the life of banditry with it.