Posted by: Christian | May 18, 2007

Counterinsurgency and the Training of the Afghan National Army

May 19, 2007.

I just finished reading a report on the formation and ongoing training of the Afghan National Army. The author, an Italian PhD at the London School of Economics’ Crisis States Research Centre named Antonio Giustozzi, provides an excellent analysis for the first five years of the Afghan National Army.

“Looking good boys, looking good. Now if only looks could kill.”
ana line

The ANA, if you don’t know already, was formed on the quick because 1) anti-Taliban/anti-AQ militias were useless and 2) the power of the Afghan government outside of Kabul needed to be increased without foreign troops stepping on local strongmen feet. But things haven’t gone exactly to plan and Giustozzi explores that fact.

Antonio Giustozzi may not be a dedicated military scholar or COIN specialist, but he does provide an informed historical perspective, with long years of research on Afghanistan. And his ongoing research is all centered on conflict in Afghanistan. [IMO, he’s one of the most prolific academic-quality writers on Afghanistan at the moment]. Furthermore, there is a stronger likelihood of Giustozzi being objective than others who can be accused of having an agenda because of their employers. I’ve read all of Giustozzi’s work and I believe he has no agenda other than producing quality scholarly work.

Pic: One guy always forgets to shave. But for three weeks in a row?
ana bayonets

There are actually some bright spots amid much of the gloom. You’ll have to fish through the report to find them. But the overall sense I got from reading the report is that, in regards to the training of an Afghan National Army, US administration and Afghan government statements are too optimistic while critics in the media and elsewhere are too pessimistic. Imagine that.

This is the abstract:

Afghanistan’s fifth effort to form a central army started in 2002, following the fall of the Taleban regime. Mainly run by the US armed forces, the formation of the so-called ‘Afghan National Army’ run into several difficulties, ranging from initially slow recruitment, low educational level of troops and officers, high attrition rates. As the new army began to take shape, it lacked many of the characteristics which had been associated by the promoters with a ‘national’ army. It also showed a low level of commitment and a lax discipline. As of 2006, it looked more like an auxiliary force at the service of the US army and its allies than like a ‘national’ army.

Seems pretty basic. And nothing new. But it’s the details that are fascinating. Here are some select passages:

…the decision to have ethnically mixed units reproduced the same problems experienced by the pro-Soviet Afghan army in the early 1980s. If the political reliability of the army was enhanced and the creation of a sense of national identity favoured, on the other hand the motivation to fight might have been affected negatively. The experience shows that during the war against the mujahidin (1978 – 1992), ethnically or regionally homogeneous units had a more successful record. (page 62)

…a study, that was carried out under the aegis of the Coalition’s Office of Military Cooperation-Afghanistan (OMC-A), found out that low wages and problems accepting military regulations figured among the prominent reasons for deserting, a fact confirmed by anecdotal evidence. That desertions were not politically motivated is confirmed by the fact that until at least 2006 hardly any ANA soldier ever deserted to the Taleban. In the summer of 2006 it was reported that the Taleban had started offering ANA soldiers three times their pay to switch sides, but it is not clear whether this had any impact. To most soldiers it would of course have meant to abandon their family, an unlikely option. The offer, if true, was probably meant to demoralise ANA troops rather than attract any serious number of them. (page 52)

And I do loves tables and graphs….

Take a guess when the ANA had its first combat deployment here:

The Tajiks are a little over-represented I suppose.
Ethnic force

Tajiks, indeed.
ethnic officer

And now for a little “knowing chuckle” excerpt:

…AMF recruiters resorted to false promises of much higher salaries and conditions of service much better than the real ones, in order to meet the quotas assigned to each province. (page 50)

Pic: “SFC Abdullah never mentioned patrolling Lashkar Gah when I signed up at the recruiting center. They never mentioned it at MEPS either. And where’s that bonus?”
ANA hooded

Well, that’s all I got. I don’t want to stray too far from my expertise here. I’ll just say it’s obvious that you need well trained and motivated local troops as part of your force in order to successfully wage counterinsurgency warfare. [Mr. Obvious strikes again!]

On a note of interest, a military blog entry by an American officer is cited by Giustozzi. This is the first time I’ve seen a blog entry cited in an peer-reviewed academic journal.


Giustozzi, Antonio. 2007. “Auxiliary Force or National Army? Afghanistan’s ‘ANA’ and the Counter-Insurgency Effort, 2002 – 2006”, Small Wars and Insurgencies, Vol. 18, No. 1, 45–67, March 2007.


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