May 25, 2013
Dead Americans, Dead Goats, and Half a Million Gunmen on the Loose
Posted on Mar 8, 2012
By Ann Jones, TomDispatch
This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.
Recent weeks have brought yet another sad chance to watch badly laid plans in Afghanistan go haywire. In three separate incidents, allies, most from the Afghan National Army (ANA), allegedly murdered six Americans—two of them officers in the high-security sanctum of Kabul’s Interior Ministry. Marine General John R. Allen, commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, even briefly withdrew NATO advisors and trainers from all government ministries for their own protection.
Until that moment, the Afghan National Army was the crown jewel of the Obama administration’s strategy for drawing down forces in Afghanistan (without really leaving). Trained in their hundreds of thousands over the past 11 years by a horde of dodgy private security contractors, as well as U.S. and NATO troops, the Afghan National Army is supposed to replace coalition forces any day now and defend its own country.
This policy has been the apex of Washington’s Plan A for some time now. There is no Plan B.
But what to make of the murders in the Ministry? An AP article headlined “Acts of Afghan Betrayal Are Poisoning U.S. War Plan” detected “a trend of Afghan treachery.” This “poisoning” is, however, nothing new. Military lingo has already long defined assaults on American and NATO soldiers by members of the Afghan National Security Force (a combination of the ANA and the Afghan National Police) as “green on blue incidents.” Since the military started recording them in May 2007, 76 NATO soldiers have been killed and an undisclosed number wounded in 46 recorded “deliberate attacks.”
This is, of course, the definition of paralysis in Afghanistan, so much easier in the short term than reexamining Plan A. In other words, as the American exercise in Afghanistan rolls ever closer to the full belly-up position, Plan A remains rigidly in place, and signals that, from Secretary Panetta and General Allen on down, Americans still don’t seem to get what’s going on.
Beware an Afghan Army
Many people who know Afghanistan well, however, have warned from the beginning against this plan to train up an armed force. I’m among the naysayers, and I’ll tell you why.
First, consider what the plan proposes. The number of Afghan soldiers and police to be trained varies widely from one report to the next, but the last estimate I received directly from the Kabul Military Training Center called for 240,000 soldiers and 160,000 police (who, incidentally, are also called “soldiers” and trained in a similar manner). That brings the total proposed Afghan National Security Force (ANSF) to approximately four times the number of current coalition troops in the country.
It costs the U.S. $12 billion annually to train the army alone and the estimated cost of maintaining it beyond 2014 is $4 billion per year, of which the Afghan government says it can pay no more than 12%. Clearly, Afghanistan does not need and cannot sustain such a security force. Instead, the United States will be stuck with the bill, hoping for help from NATO allies—until the force falls apart. How then did this security force become the centerpiece of the Obama plan? And given its obvious absurdity, why is it written in stone?
Second, take just a moment to do something Washington has long been adverse to—review a little basic Afghan history as it applies to Plan A. Start with the simplest of all facts: in the country’s modern history, no Afghan national army has ever saved a government, or even tried. More often, such an army has either sat on its hands during a coup d’état or actually helped to overthrow the incumbent ruler.
Go back nearly a century to the reign of King Amanullah (1919-1929), a modernizing ruler who wrote a constitution, established a national assembly, founded girls’ schools, taxed polygamous husbands, and banned conservative mullahs from the country because they might be “bad and evil persons” spreading treacherous foreign propaganda. In 1928, he returned to Afghanistan with his Queen Suraya, who wore European dresses and no veil, from a round of visits to European rulers, bringing guns for his army (though his soldiers would be billed for them) and announced a new agenda of revolutionary reforms. He got a revolution instead, and here’s the important point: his newly weaponized army lifted not a finger to save him.
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