When NATO military officials meet in Brussels later this month, they will be asked to contribute more resources to step up the training and expansion of Afghanistan’s security forces. In the second instalment of this two part series, I’ll examine how politically motivated recruitment and training schedules compromise the safety of coalition soldiers and threaten to undermine the justification for the war in Afghanistan; containing the threat from al-Qaeda.
Rapidly accelerating the expansion of the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police is understandably attractive to western military and political leaders sick fed up with explaining mounting war causalities to an increasingly sceptical public. But what looks good on paper has already proved tragically short-sighted in practice.
In Part I of this series, I explained how poor recruit-to-mentor ratios severely diminish the efficacy of ANA training packages. But of all the deficiencies surrounding the development of Afghanistan’s security forces, none has more far reaching consequences in my view than the failure to adequately vet recruits. The importance of due diligence on ANA and ANP recruits cannot be overstated. Without proper checks, Taliban and al-Qaeda sympathisers and other undesirables can infiltrate training programs, gain valuable intelligence and even target coalition troops directly. Tragically, this issue received long overdue scrutiny when five British soldiers were killed by a ‘rogue’ ANP trainee earlier this month.
Investigations into the shootings are ongoing but there’s little doubt in my mind that the drive to fill recruitment quotas and meet unrealistic training deadlines played a role. You only have to look at ANA training schedules to see that politics is taking precedent over military best practice when it comes to ramping up Afghanistan’s security forces. ANA recruits are given ten weeks of basic or ‘warrior’ training. NATO is quick to point out that this is the same amount given to US infantry soldiers in Fort Benning, GA, USA. The comparison is highly misleading in my opinion. Unlike the majority of US military recruits, the vast majority of Afghan security trainees are illiterate and do not speak the same language as the NATO mentors overseeing their instruction. As a seasoned commercial security trainer in hostile environments and former military instructor, I’ve seen forty minute lessons stretch into two hour marathons when a translator is thrown into the mix. NATO’s training schedules make no allowances for this; otherwise ANA warrior training would be well over ten weeks.
Politics would also appear to be trumping best practice in NATO’s ANP policies. Afghan National Police are often assigned to serve in their own communities. This is not the case with ANA soldiers who are deployed outside their home provinces far from the reach of tribal affiliations. In fact, tribal links are viewed as so insurmountable that the ANA doesn’t recruit soldiers from Taliban strongholds such as Helmund and Kandahar provinces. Yet NATO is content to recruit police from Taliban areas.
Beyond the immediate threat posed by possible Taliban infiltration of NATO mentored training programs is the disturbing question of what will happen when coalition forces do finally pull out of Afghanistan. How many dodgy Afghan recruits will transfer their NATO taught skills, not to mention a good deal of NATO weapons and equipment to the Taliban and al-Qaeda? Rather than attempt to step up training schedules, NATO would be wise to take a step back and examine the potential fallout of its current Afghan policies.