Wednesday, April 13, 2005

"Hearts and Minds" Is Not Even the Half of It

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.


El Jefe Maximo said...

Prior US experience elsewhere is not that encouraging. Probably the closest analogy to what we are trying to do with the Afghan military are the US attempts to build functioning militaries in Central America and the Caribbean in the early-mid 20th century.

We were often able to construct more or less successful, functioning military organizations (perhaps the Nicaraguan National Guard is the most famous of these organizations), but they fell victim to precisely the problem you recognize -- getting hijacked by ambitious officers like the Somozas. Military structures like this, which become more "efficient" in western terms and thus more different from their parent societies, seem often to be made to order coup production machines.

Dymphna said...

El Jefe--

The examples you present are pretty old in military time...and this is a NATO/US ops so it's more open and transparent.

Also, the new military academy the Afghanis have established holds great hope --the Strategy Page said "Great Hope.." Those men, trained in the next four years to West Point standards, will be less easily led down the primrose path of juntas and military takeovers.

Add some civilian prosperity and education to the mix and you have a different recipe than what we cooked up in Central America. Not only have we learned from our mistakes but the world has changed. Besides, Central America and Afghanistan are horses of quite different colors and breeds...

USMC vet-- West Point worked closely with their Afghan counterparts to make a curriculum to train the younger generation. In them we place our hope. In the grunts who cleared out the underbrush we place our's hard to fathom that there are guys in Iraq on their second tour there...following a first round in Afghanistan. Those are some experienced soldiers who will have much to say about the future of American military forays when they get stateside and start manning the military colleges.

I can't wait to see how it shakes out when they come home and begin to rise in the ranks (and rates) to positions of influence...

Academia is anemic; medicine is too hemmed in by bureaucracy...the smart young ones are headed to business, the military and IT.What an interesting world they will create...