U.S. Faces Myriad Challenges Training the Afghan Army

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), May 14, 2009 | Go to article overview

U.S. Faces Myriad Challenges Training the Afghan Army


Byline: Cory Schulz, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

FORWARD OPERATIONS BASE BERMEL, Afghanistan -- American troops face massive obstacles in training the Afghan national army.

The army and its American military trainers confront problems as basic as maintaining sanitation and feeding and clothing soldiers of the young force - while being engaged in active combat. In addition, cultural attitudes are a barrier to creating a professional, self-sustaining Afghan military.

For example, an embedded training team in East Paktika province near the border with Pakistan faced serious systemic issues upon its arrival in November. When we got here, there were human feces everywhere; they'd contaminated the well with E. coli and the showers were full of ice, said Master Sgt. Michael Spaulding of the 2nd Kandak, 2nd Brigade training team. You've got to get that fixed before you can even think about training them for war, he said.

Many Afghan units are in a similar situation, especially in the more remote regions of the country. It is difficult for American troops to provide the basics while training an Afghan unit to defeat anti-government insurgents.

The training of the Afghan national army began just after the opening salvos of Operation Enduring Freedom undertaken in response to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The 10th Mountain Division identified the need to train and equip a national army built in the image of the U.S. Army. Thus, Task Force Phoenix was created, and embedded training teams were formed in the spring of 2002.

Until recently, Phoenix has been manned predominately by National Guardsmen. Yet as part of the Obama administration's surge, the 4th Brigade of the 82nd Airborne is being deployed to serve as trainers. This brigade is a regular Army brigade not specifically structured for the advisory mission.

There is no doubt the Afghans are willing to fight. This is a nation of warriors that pushed back the Soviet army; it is also one of the very few nations that mounted a formidable campaign against Genghis Khan.

Afghanistan is filled with proud warriors and a rich warrior tradition. The challenge is making this a professional fighting force and teaching the warriors to serve the elected civilian leadership.

Logistical issues such as securing spare parts, winter clothing and field rations continue to hinder the progress of the Afghan national army. Many training team members say the Afghans understand how to fight yet are unable to support that fight over long periods and distances.

Cultural beliefs also hinder progress. …

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