Academic journal article Parameters

Rebuilding Afghanistan's National Army

Academic journal article Parameters

Rebuilding Afghanistan's National Army

Article excerpt

In May 2002, American Green Berets began training the first group of Afghan soldiers for the new Afghan National Army (ANA). This complex mission will take years to accomplish, yet it is expected to contribute greatly to the return of peace and normalcy to Afghanistan. The United States, the main sponsor of the effort, sees the project as an effective alternative to the expansion of international security forces to police the war-devastated country. Further, the United States expects that the ANA will aid in the multilateral struggle against terrorist activity in the region.

This is the fourth time in 150 years of Afghanistan's turbulent history that the country is recreating the state military following its total disintegration caused by foreign invasions or civil wars. (1) The process of rebuilding has always been influenced by the prevailing political and social conditions in the country. The current attempt is not going to be an exception. The profound social transformation of Afghanistan during more than two decades of a devastating war has drastically changed the traditional political and social landscape of Afghanistan. The rebuilding of a national army will have to be intertwined with the creation of a legitimate broad-based government, economic reconstruction, and the demobilization process.

This article looks at the challenges facing the creation of a new national army in Afghanistan as well as the opportunities for responding to these challenges. It reviews the experience of the past as well as the recent war-instigated social and political transformation to identify conceptual frameworks for building a national military establishment in Afghanistan.

Tribal Fighters and Government Soldiers

Few of Afghanistan's armies have successfully monopolized the legitimate use of force. The Afghan army generally has not been the only military institution within a social system imbued with military pluralism. The country traditionally has relied on popular uprisings to fight foreign invasions and enlisted the aid of tribal levies to beef up the regular army to crush domestic rebellions. The situation reflects the evolving nature of state-society relations since the emergence of Afghanistan as a modem state at the end of the 19th century. It was then a loose conglomerate of tribes and ethnic communities over which the central government had varying degrees of control at different times.

Until the middle of the 20th century, the central government in Afghanistan was not strong enough to integrate the nation through a wide network of political and economic institutions. Society remained segmented and unmobilized. The lack of integration made the communities, particularly in tribal areas, semi-independent, mostly relying on their own resources and their own traditional institutions. This included local military forces that were mobilized during inter-tribal conflicts or foreign threats. The tribal militias also could be mustered in support of or against the central government during domestic disturbances. This nation-in-arms helped the country survive when the central government collapsed or the state army disintegrated in the face of foreign invasion.

These unique sociopolitical conditions favored the development of a national culture of guerrilla warfare. (2) This was an indigenous form of guerrilla warfare, which in strategic terms was different from the one conceptualized by Mao Zedong. The latter aims at seizing state power through organizing "liberated zones," (3) while the Afghan model is defensive in nature and tactical in scope. Khushal Khan Khattak, the renowned 17th-century Pashtun national leader and thinker clearly detailed the guerrilla tactics of the Afghan highlanders:

When you fight a smaller enemy detachment you should decisively attack with surprise. But, if the enemy receives reinforcement [or] when you encounter a stronger enemy force, avoid decisive engagement and swiftly withdraw only to hit back where the enemy is vulnerable. …

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