Academic journal article Military Review

ANA Logistics System: Getting to Afghan Right

Academic journal article Military Review

ANA Logistics System: Getting to Afghan Right

Article excerpt

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"But when you leave, we are going back to the way we used to do it."

--Anonymous Afghan officer

IN MID-2010, I was assigned as the senior advisor for the Afghan National Army (ANA) General Staff G4 (GSG4/Chief of Logistics). During the handover period with the advisor I was replacing, the GSG4 and the previous advisor and I were discussing a new process for managing a logistics function. After going round and round with us, the GSG4 finally said, "Okay, we will do what the coalition wants, but when you leave, we are going back to the way we used to do it." In later discussions with some of his staff, they echoed similar sentiments about how they used to do things in the Afghan Army.

As I continued my advisory duties, I kept wondering if the system we were developing was really the best thing for the ANA. My previous training devoted a fair amount of time to understanding the culture as well as the mechanisms of the ANA logistics systems. But as I saw the way it really was, and not just the way it was written in their doctrine, it became clear that we were having a difficult time getting to a system that was right for the Afghan National Army. I wanted to answer the question, "How do we build an ANA logistics system?" not just the question, "What system do we build?" To generalize beyond logistics, the real question became "What process should we use to advise the ANA in creating a large, functional army?"

Understanding the Environment

Every operation order starts with a situation paragraph to explain as accurately as possible the environment the mission will be operating in. In Afghanistan, the realities are stark and somewhat discouraging. The history of Afghanistan is well known; when U.S. and Allied forces entered in 2001, after 25 years of war, Afghanistan was a land almost without hope. Even seven years later, when the surge of forces began and the NATO Training Mission Afghanistan became operational, the challenges were and are immense.

It became apparent that the army we were building was composed almost entirely of illiterate young men. Few had ever been exposed to computers, and while cell phones were quite common, other forms of modern communications (fax, email) were very limited. The officer corps of the ANA consisted of some well-trained (under the Soviet system), higher-ranking officers and a small number of junior officers who had been trained by the U.S. and the coalition. The vast majority of middle-level officers were newly appointed (many from patronage), undereducated, with little or no formal military background. Many were former mujahedeen or Northern Alliance fighters. While competent fighters, they weren't necessarily good soldiers in the modern sense, or good logisticians.

Afghanistan has always been a poor nation. The last 25 years have ensured that Afghanistan remained at the bottom of all the key indicators of prosperity and health. As such, Afghans have had to keep a mentality of scarcity and hoarding as a survival tactic. Even with the generous contributions of the coalition, they know that the good times could end at any time. This affects how they see their logistics system.

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In conjunction with the hoarding mentality, the culture of corruption and distrust runs deep through Afghan society. A common theme heard from advisors is that everyone in the ANA, except the principle they are advising, is corrupt and untrustworthy. Their actions, in our eyes, are corrupt. But in the eyes of the Afghans, all the support that we are giving them is a gift. And gifts are shared with your "tribe." So who does it really harm if you keep a little something on the side for yourself?

While I am not sure we can really characterize Afghans as lazy, they are more than happy to let us do things for them. Advisors have come to calling that "pushing the easy button," and it is one of the key things we look out for and try to avoid. …

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