Success in Afghanistan?
BLAIR WATSON
© 2010 FrontLine Defence (Vol 7, No 6)

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Today’s Afghanistan is the product of generations of epic struggles, historical ironies, and a myriad of successes and failures – military and other. For the last nine years, NATO – including Canada – has been a major part of the Afghan narrative.
 

A recent example of the many ironies rooted in Afghanistan’s turbulent history involves NATO and Russia. In August, the two former Cold War enemies negotiated a US$300-million deal for Russia to provide Mi-17 helicopters to the fledgling Afghan Air Force (AAF). Thirty years ago, during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, Moscow designed a new helicopter that could both transport troops and strafe ground targets in the “hot and high” climate of Afghanistan. The result was the Mi-17.
 
The Afghan government is reportedly delighted with the new Russian helicopters. One of the missions the Mi-17 fleet will be able to fulfill is transporting troops to guard sections of the Trans-Afghanistan Pipeline from Taliban attacks. The pipeline, which is scheduled to be operational by 2014, has the potential to be a major Afghan success story.
 
“Phenomenal” Results
For the better part of a decade, Canada has provided more than $18 billion in assistance to Afghanistan in six main areas: security, basic services, humanitarian aid, border protection, national institutions, and political reconciliation. The security component has involved: patrols and combat operations against the Taliban; training, mentoring and equipping Afghan security forces; building capacity in administration and logistical support; and assisting its justice and correctional systems. Since 2002, there have been dozens of Canadian government-sponsored projects and programs aimed at helping the Afghan people experience a better quality of life.
 
Referring to Camp Nathan Smith in Kandahar City and the Canadian-led ­Kandahar Provincial Reconstruction Team (KPRT), Bill Harris, the top U.S. diplomat in southern Afghanistan, recently said, “People will write dissertations on this particular place and an irregular warfare unit that was wildly successful. We honestly could not have grown as fast or as easily and come up to the level of effectiveness we currently perform at with any other country.” The KPRT is one of 26 PRTs in Afghanistan.
 
 
November 2010 – Master-Corporal Ron Allen monitors Afghan National Army students on the ANA Heavy equipment course as they learn how to operate heavy machinery necessary to carry out a variety of engineering tasks designed to increase the ANA’s operational capability.
 
“This is the closest thing to counter-insurgency actually being played out by the numbers that anybody has ever seen. The results have been phenomenal,” Harris observed. He further explained that what Canada has done in Afghanistan could not have been replicated by the U.S. because “our government is just too big and its tribes are just too powerful,” referring to the U.S. military, intelligence community, the State Department, and USAID, which “don’t naturally play together the way your government has learned to, here in Kandahar.”
 
KPRT Director Tim Martin, a Canadian diplomat and former director of the Stabilization and Reconstruction Task Force ­Secretariat (START) at Canada’s federal department of Foreign Affairs, recently shared his perspective: “It is true that we have developed a remarkable degree of proficiency in how to draw the best skills for this kind of problem from the federal public service and police forces from around the country, and have joined this up with the military and the coalition. We’ve discovered practical answers to how to deliver diplomacy, development and humanitarian assistance… Helping the [Afghan] government with education, water, rule of law, the police, and getting teachers and administrators into the districts – that is a very important measure of success.”
 
More Training, Please
Since 1747, there have been five major attempts to establish a lasting army in Afghanistan, including NATO’s current effort. According to the American Council on Foreign Relations, “The U.S. government has spent over $25 billion to train and equip Afghan army and police forces since 2001, with an additional $14 billion requested through 2011.”
 
Official reports indicate the Afghan National Army (ANA) is currently 134,000-strong. However, desertions, casualties, and “ghost” soldiers – with commanders pocketing real salaries – have made the official figure suspect. What is certain is that the Pentagon plans to significantly enlarge the ANA. “The new training goals would increase the size of the Afghan Army from its present 102,400 personnel to 171,600 by October 2011, according to LGen William B. Caldwell IV, the American officer who leads NATO’s training mission in Afghanistan,” reported The New York Times in January. By comparison, Canada’s Land Force Command consists of 35,500 soldiers (19,500 Regulars and 16,000 Reservists).
 
 
November 2010 – A Sarpoza Prison warden is coached on the use of a metal detector by Corporal Cory MacDonald (Stabilization A Company), and Terry Hacket (Correctional Service Canada).
 
In addition to an extra 37,600 Afghan soldiers (officially) recruited and trained over the next 11 months, the U.S. government’s plan calls for 30,000 more Afghan National Police (ANP) in the same period. There are at least 110,000 ANP members on paper, but the actual number is unknown. Drug use, ANP officers leaving to take better-paying work with security companies or the Taliban, “ghost” police and other factors, have made the human resources aspect of the ANP very problematic. Nevertheless, NATO is forging ahead with its plan to boost Afghan security forces to 305,600 personnel by October 2011. If successful, the value of the training will equal at least three decades of income per ANA or ANP member.
 
No Trainers, No Transition
Governments of NATO countries want to pull their militaries out of Afghanistan as soon as possible, however, NATO leaders have said conditions on the ground do not currently warrant a withdrawal.
 
In remarks to NATO’s Military Committee in September, LGen Caldwell, who has commanded the NATO Training Mission in Afghanistan for the last 12 months, said that “if we do not continue to resource the training mission in Afghanistan, we will definitely delay transition.” He went on to explain that “tactical gains on the ­battlefield will not be enduring without a self-sustaining Afghan Security Force. To create this force, we must professionalize the police, army, and air forces; create viable logistics and medical systems; and improve the infrastructure and the institutions that train and educate them. Above all, we must have the trainers to develop them. We cannot meet our goals without the resources to achieve them. As [the NATO] Secretary General said recently, ‘no trainers, no transition.’”
 
 
November 2010 –William McKenty, a civilian hydrogeologist working with the U.S. military, explains to Kandahar University engineering students the constitution of the ground in which a well has been dug at Camp Nathan Smith. The well is part of the Arghandab Irrigation Rehabilitation Project which is ­supported by the Kandahar Provincial Reconstruction Team.
 
Transitioning to Afghan leadership of an Afghan Security Force is “critical,” he says, and “requires Afghan soldiers and police that are capable of independent security operations and have the capacity to generate and sustain their own forces. To do this, we must support the Afghan government in the development of this capacity, while building systems to set the conditions for transitioning the lead.”
 
Canada to the Rescue?
 NATO puts the current trainer shortfall at 900 and there has been considerable international pressure on the Harper government in particular (also the Obama Administration, British government, and NATO headquarters) to send hundreds of soldiers to Afghanistan to train security forces after Canada’s combat mission ends in July 2011. The National Post recently reported that “the government is prepared to assign 700 to 750 military trainers to assist the Afghans in a non-combat role as they assume greater responsibility for fighting the Taliban. Another 200 support staff would also be assigned. The Canadians would likely be based in Kabul and remain in Afghanistan until, at the latest, 2014.”

 

LGen Caldwell commented that Canadian soldiers would be “an absolutely superb fit” because they have years of security operations and combat experience in Afghanistan. He also explained that the U.S. will have combat forces in supporting roles with “Afghan security forces in the lead” by the end of 2014 – according to the current plan.
 
Training results could dictate otherwise. For example, General Michael Boera, the senior American commander involved with their training, says Afghan AF pilots will be “battle-ready” by 2016.
 
OMLTs and POMLTs
Since August 2005, six Canadian Forces (CF) Operational Mentor and Liaison Teams – OMLTs, pronounced “omelettes” – comprised of about 200 soldiers, have been working in Afghanistan “to advise and mentor the units and headquarters of the 1st Brigade of the ANA’s 205th Corps (1/205 ANA), and provide liaison with other coalition partners.” Five battalion-type units, called “kandaks,” and a brigade headquarters – approximately 3,000 men in total – constitute 1/205 ANA. According to the Canadian Army, it is “now considered one of the most capable ANA brigades.”

The police version – POMLTs – involve CF military police and Canadian non-military police, who have trained and mentored more than 650 Afghan National Police members. Through the KPRT, Canada has provided funding for police equipment, infrastructure (outposts), and salaries as well as reform support for the Afghan ­correctional system using the expertise of Correctional Services Canada officers.
 
Captain Pete Reintjes, an Army Reservist and Ontario Provincial Police officer from London, Ontario, leads a small team of trainers/mentors in Afghanistan. He says that developing an effective relationship with Afghan security forces “needs time and cultural awareness.” His experience has convinced him that smaller teams “can build trust faster.” Concerning Afghanistan’s army, he recently observed: “The ANA have made a huge amount of progress but they’re still not self-sustainable. They have trouble pushing things forward to the troops.” An ANA commander recently disclosed: “The problem with the kandak is that they never take care of us. They don’t listen to our problems.”
 
For centuries, the fabric of Afghan society has consisted of tribes, clans, and sub-clans – and their complex relationships – interwoven with patriarchal Islamic religious and cultural threads. The idea that the “lowly” individual – soldier or civilian – matters as much as, say, a general or senior government official, is a foreign concept. Like other CF and KPRT personnel labouring in Afghanistan, Capt Reintjes and his team have their work cut out for them.
 
With patience, sustained effort, and the assistance of Canada and other nations, the Afghan people will hopefully create a secure and peaceful place for themselves in the modern world.

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Blair Watson is a contributing editor.
© FrontLine Defence 2010

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