Sentinels of Afghan Democracy: The Afghan National Army

By Chan, Samuel | Military Review, January/February 2009 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Sentinels of Afghan Democracy: The Afghan National Army

Chan, Samuel, Military Review

We can help train an army, we can help equip an army, we can help build facilities for the army, but only the Afghan people can breathe a soul into that army.1

-Lieutenant General Karl Eikenberry, U.S. Army

SINCE THE LAUNCH of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) in 2001 and the subsequent fall of the Taliban, the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan has made great strides towards democracy: a written constitution, a popularly elected president, a representative parliament, a supreme court, and numerous nation-building institutions. However, many parts of the country remain restive, especially the southern and eastern provinces bordering Pakistan. Even as the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) tackles a determined and resurgent Taliban, the long-term stability of Afghanistan rests on the shoulders of its security apparatus-an integral component of which is the Afghan National Army (ANA) - in light of constant Taliban reminders that "the Americans may have all the wristwatches, but we have all the time."2

The numerous articles and reports written on the Afghan army tend to focus on specific aspects of the organization and paint partial, skewed, sometimes negative or sometimes overly optimistic pictures of it. Even though former NATO Supreme Commander, General James L. Jones, testified that "the Afghan National Army is the most successful pillar of our reconstruction efforts to date," it is clear that a tremendous amount of work remains to be done.3 This article offers a holistic picture of the army's progress since its formation in November 2002. It looks at the history of national armies of the Afghan state and the Afghan army's parameters (beginning and desired end state), provides a snapshot of the current Afghan "military balance," and offers insight into the Afghan army's training and operational performance.

The Past

The Afghan National Army is not Afghanistan's first national army; one existed at the birth of the Afghan nation state in 1919. Unfortunately, its history has closely mirrored the volatile fortunes of the state. From independence to 1933, emirs and kings feared that an efficient army would attract "ambitious contenders for power to subvert sections of Afghanistan for their own political purposes" and deliberately neglected the national army. Consequently, it devolved into "little more than a collection of small infantry units and, owing to the costs of horses and the upkeep, a declining number of cavalry units."4 The artillery pieces and ammunition were stored in Kabul as a precaution against misbehavior in tribal areas.

The neglect of the national army was to change after World War II. Afghanistan had acted as a buffer state between British East India and the Soviet Union, but British withdrawal from South Asia disturbed the geopolitical equilibrium. Afghan rulers modernized the armed forces in order to possess a credible deterrent force against the Soviet Union, to suppress tribal revolts, and to strengthen the central government's authority.5 The first hint of a modern national army came in 1937, when Afghanistan invited Turkey to reorganize Afghanistan's 60,000-strong conscript army. The Turks formed a command structure of divisions and brigades, augmenting each echelon headquarters with supporting staff The officer corps was regularized to ensure professional leadership, and a military academy established to institutionalize the training and education of officers. A small air force also began to take shape.6

Turkey was soon followed by Germany and the United States, with the latter training Afghan army officers from 1956 to 1978.7 The Soviets first equipped the Afghans in 1956, and trained them in the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia after 1961.8 By the early 1970s, ten times as many Afghan officers had been trained in the Soviet Union as in the United States.9 Until the eve of the Soviet occupation in 1979, the Soviets provided more than $1 billion in military aid in tandem with $1.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Sentinels of Afghan Democracy: The Afghan National Army


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?