Fledgling Afghan Army Is Threatened by Afghanistan Traditions. (News Alert!)

Article excerpt

The backbone of Afghanistan's security apparatus, U.S. Ambassador John D. Negroponte told the U.N. Security Council on July 19, "must ultimately be the Afghan national army. The development of a comprehensive plan for the demobilization of regional militias and the absorption of some of those soldiers into a national army is a critical step."

It also appears to be a very difficult one. Well-placed sources tell news alert! that U.S. efforts to help create a multiethnic, apolitical and battle-ready Afghan National Army (ANA) are stalled and in serious disarray. These sources add that for weeks the ANA has been the topic of frantic, high-level, interagency meetings in Washington, with the long-term goal of creating a 60,000-strong force in increasing jeopardy.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, a Department of Defense insider reports, is "furious" at the delays and demanding quick and thoughtful action to shore up the assistance effort. The training program is seen as key to an orderly withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan and a guarantee against a return to power of Taliban-supported groups hiding in Pakistan.

Recent news reports from Kabul have focused on continuing tension between Afghan President Hamid Karzai, an ethnic Pashtun, and Minister of Defense Mohammed Fahim, who as head of the Tajik-dominated Northern Alliance also controls the country's Soviet-inspired intelligence network. Knowledgeable observers say that the Karzai-Fahim rivalry threatens to wreck efforts to form a viable central government. The ANA training program--which is to create up to 18 battalions of infantry soldiers--is seen as an essential cornerstone for the success of that government.

"Security is everything," says a military officer intimately involved in the planning operation headed by the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM). "The longer we're there, the more likely our presence will become politicized, and the sooner American soldiers will become targets once again."

According to reports, Afghan recruiters for the ANA oversold the benefits of signing up. Many recruits became disillusioned with the low pay--$30 a month during training, $50 a month once in service. Others joined believing that they were becoming part of regional militia forces--whose continuing existence is a major headache for the Karzai government--but refused to serve after learning they could be posted far from their homes. "I have heard there have been some misunderstandings with individuals being recruited," says Navy Cmdr. …