Small Wars Journal

A Tale of Two Afghan Armies

Tue, 11/03/2015 - 1:33am

A Tale of Two Afghan Armies

Lemar Alexander Farhad

Author’s Note: The United States began retraining the Afghan National Army (ANA) in 2003; it inherited a skeleton army, if you could even call it an army. The ANA, or what had remained of it, was completely destroyed by the civil war of 1992-1994, and the subsequent years of Taliban rule 1996-2001.  There were no equipment, uniforms, functioning bases, doctrine, officers and NCOs, or vestiges of any system that remained. Thus, the U.S. military built the Afghan national army from the ground up. The ANA is a thirteen-year old institution with the kind of lingering problems that should be expected for one that young. The communist Afghan Army was established with traditions and a structure that dated back to the 1800s. It also inherited a healthy society, and a government with functioning institutions.

Nevertheless, there is value in comparatively analyzing the performance of the former Afghan Communist Army with today’s Afghan National Army, using two decisive incidents. The Battles of Jalalabad 1989, and Kunduz 2015, though very different, still illustrate the comparative capabilities of the two Afghan armies. I intend this article to be purely technical and descriptive, not a praise of or accolade for the Afghan communists.


The fall and the subsequent sack of Kunduz on 27 September 2015, exposed to the world a trio of poorly trained, unsoldierly, and inept Afghan National Army (ANA), Afghan National Police (ANP), and Afghan Local Police (ALP). Moreover, it highlighted an army that, despite billions of dollars of investment by Washington, is haplessly underperforming. In contrast, the Army of the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan (DRA) under the leadership of President Najibullah proved itself to be a fighting force worthy of its name. That army, which enjoyed the patronage and technical support of the Soviet Union –though inferior and antiquated at the time– defeated a mujahidin battle group (what has now mostly become the Taliban) supported by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), and other foreign entities in the Battle of Jalalabad in the waning days of the communist regime. How was the Afghan Army, under the tutelage of the Soviet Union, able to defeat a massive mujahidin battle group? Why was the DRA’s communist Afghan army successful in the battle of Jalalabad (1989) and the Afghan National Army of today unsuccessful in defending Kunduz (2015)?

The purpose of this article is to start a discussion on how the ANA is performing; what their shortcomings are, and the reasons behind them. Moreover, by using history to evaluate the Afghan army as an institution to better understand what had worked prior to the creation of the ANA, one can better analyze and make recommendations regarding how to improve the performance of the ANA.

A unifying ideology with nationalistic overtones, a strong charismatic leader, a professional officer corps, a conscription-based military service, overwhelming fire-power, and the idea of a common enemy led to the DRA government’s decisive victory in Jalalabad (1989). By contrast, a majority of today’s ANA units consist of soldiers who have enrolled for economic reasons. It is plagued with an officer corps that is mostly comprised of illiterate former militia members, and suffers from ethnic imbalance. Based on this writer’s extensive in-country observations, the majority of the ANA, ANP, ALP units are not fighting for a core set of common beliefs and goals; they lack in patriotism and commitment to the very notion of a unitary, democratic, and multi-ethnic Afghanistan. Excluded from this observation are the Afghan Commando’s  (Afghan Special Forces) who have proven their worth as a national fighting force.

The Battle of Jalalabad (March-June 1989)

“You want to know why it’s dumb to attack Jalalabad? Because it’s dumb to lose ten thousand lives ... And if we do take it, what’s going to happen? The Russians will bomb the s**t out of us, that’s what.”

-Abdul Haq, Mujahidin Commander.[i]

The battle of Jalalabad was the first attempt by the mujahidin to fight in a conventional battle, in unit formation with the goal of seizing and holding territory. The operation was formulated in Pakistan by the Pakistani ISI.[ii] The Pakistani plan called for the “Peshawar Seven,” which included groups loyal to commanders Gulbudin Hektmatyar, Burhanudin Rabbanni, Ahmad Shah Massoud, Mohammed Nabi Mohammedi, Younis Khalis, Abdul Rasoul Sayyaf, and Pir Gailani to capture Jalalabad (161km east of Kabul,) and use it as a staging ground to launch military operations into Kabul.[iii] The Peshawar Seven assembled approximately 5,000-7,000 fighters in preparation for the siege of Jalalabad. The DRA’s 11th Division had been tasked with securing Jalalabad’s defenses. With 11th Division and reinforcements, it is estimated that the DRA Army had a total of 15,000 personnel.[iv]  The mujahidin and the Pakistani ISI suffered a humiliating defeat in the battle of Jalalabad with an estimated 3,000 dead and many more wounded.[v]  The mujahidin were decisively defeated due to a lack of unified command, inexperience in large scale offensive operations, and an overreliance on the ISI.   

President Najibullah

President Najibullah ascended through the ranks of the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) in the 1980s.  He was a trained medical doctor, recruited by the KGB to run the Afghan Intelligence Agency (KHAD).[vi] Robert Kaplan cites former Afghan Prime Minister, Sultan Ali Keshtmand, as saying that Najibullah was “a strong and penetrating weapon of the Revolution.”[vii] Moreover, Kaplan describes Najibullah as a “talented political survivor.”[viii]

To date, Najibullah and the idea of what he represented—an Afghan nationalist who fought Pakistani interference in Afghan affairs—remains in certain fantasies as that of a venerable leader, a respectable strongman. Najibullah developed a cult of personality and a substantial loyal following.  Najibullah’s cult of personality has long outlived his death, as explained in the Al- Jazeera article, “Executed Afghan president stages 'comeback'.”

Najibullah has made a comeback of sorts as an Internet sensation and common man’s fantasy. The harsh reality of his murderous reign seems to be largely forgotten. In the Battle of Jalalabad (1989), Najibullah,  a dictator who during his reign was fiercely disliked and feared due to his brutality and Soviet connection, fielded a dedicated and determined fighting force that repelled a combined mujahidin battle group and their Pakistani patrons. Therefore, facets of his leadership and state policies should be examined.

In his waning days, President Najibullah proved to be more of nationalist than a communist.

Developing the Concept of a Common Enemy

Fundamental to Najibullah’s success was the concept of the common enemy which was adopted by his regime and military commanders. Najibullah was an accomplished orator whose anti-Pakistan speeches rallied the various Afghan ethnic groups around him, and helped bolster a sense of national unity. Najibullah, through state media, warned the Afghan nation about the Pakistani-backed mujahidin. He employed anti-Afghan statements made by Pakistan’s leaders as fodder for his central theme. Videos of  Najibullah’s anti-Pakistani and anti-Islamist speeches are widely available on YouTube. The following quotes are small examples of Pakistan’s central anti-Afghan state theme:

  • “The water in Afghanistan must boil at the right temperature.” Former President of Pakistan, President Zia-ul-Haq, 1979.
  • “Kabul must burn.” Lieutenant-General Akhtar Abdul Rahman Khan, Former Director of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence, 1987.
  • "You cannot deny us the drive into Kabul in victory to pray at the Kabul mosque." Hamid Gul, Former Director of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence, 1989.

Najibullah used acerbic comments made by Pakistani officials in his information operations campaign, which rallied the Afghans under the umbrella of Afghan nationalism. Najibullah’s message resonated with his army, and they came to believe that the mujahedeen were nothing more than Pakistani proxies bent on destroying the Afghan state. Thus, members who were not fully indoctrinated in communism, or Afghan nationalism, at a minimum were convinced by the Afghan state that the real enemy was foreign. Though the DRA was plagued with desertions, those who decided to remain in place became committed, state-trained, indoctrinated soldiers. The thought of losing to a Pakistani proxy force delivered the much necessary motivation and espirit de corps that the Afghan soldiers needed to stick to the mission when the bullets were flying.

The Afghan communist army prevailed over the mujahidin in the battle of Jalalabad, 1989.

Enemies, Brothers, and Political Opposition

In direct contrast to Najibullah’s theme regarding the mujahidin, former Afghan President Hamid Karzai referred to the Taliban as “brothers” and stated, “We call on our Taliban brothers to come home and embrace their land.”  The current Afghan President, Ashraf Ghani, called the Taliban his “political opponents.” Unlike Najibullah, both Karzai and Ghani have not demonized the Taliban. Thus there is no “common enemy,” only “brothers” and “political opposition.”  Despite the Taliban’s violence, and murderous attacks that has resulted in the deaths of thousands of Afghan, American, and coalition lives, both of these Afghan leaders have used soft, accommodating language to describe the Taliban. As leaders of the nation, they should have known that language matters. Proper articulation of the conditions is vital to improving the morale of the citizenry and of the soldiers who face armed insurgents day after day. When the message coming from the country’s top leadership is vague and confusing, soldiers in the field are prone to developing a serious case of self- doubt when faced with the prospect of fighting their kin and political opponents, all for meager pay. Conceivably, the 6,000 – 7,000 soldiers who failed to hold their ground in Kunduz experienced this type of tribulation.

DRA Army vs. ANA

When the two armies’ are compared in terms of performance, one will realize that the difference can be explained in terms of the “motivational belief system” of the troops, professionalism of the officer corps and the military leadership, as well as the national political leadership. The communist Afghan army possessed a body of core beliefs which included sanctity of national borders, independence and inviolability of the national sovereignty.  Of note is the little studied fact that affected the psyche of the soldiers of the old Afghan army. The official term for the military service was the Arabic word mukallafiyat, meaning obligation. Military service was a national obligation, not a choice; not done for pay. By being obligated to a two-year service, the soldiers became a part of the governance apparatus. Former Afghan army officers, whom I talked to while deployed to Afghanistan, recalled their former national service as, “a duty filled with honor and dignity.” Moreover, as professor and author Stephanie Cronin contends,

… for past nationalistic regimes, in Afghanistan and throughout the region, conscription had been a key strategy for incubation of national cohesion, identity, and loyalty. For countries where primary loyalties were still to the tribe or kin and where government was remote, the experience of service in a national institution, especially one where “modern” attitudes were paramount, was crucial in promoting new ways of comprehending the relationship between the state and the individual.[ix]

Prior to 2001, Afghanistan had a long tradition of a professional officer corps. According to Cronin, “From as early as the 1920s, a majority of Afghan officers had identified themselves with a program of modernization articulated first by King Amanullah, then Muhammad Daud and finally by the DRA. Until 1992 the Afghan officer corps largely retained its loyalty to the army as a symbol of the Afghan state.”[x] The traditions and professionalism of the former Afghan officer corps is largely responsible for this. However, the new ANA is largely made up of former Northern Alliance militias, and new recruits with no ties to the former professional army, except for a small minority of senior officers who rejoined the ANA over the past 13 years. Moreover, as Cronin argues, there is a marked hostility between uneducated former militia/mujahidin and the more professional, but not politically-connected, Soviet trained officers.[xi] Today, it is asserted that many of the competent Afghan government officials are products of Afghan Communism and DRA institutions. Minister of Interior Nur ul-Haq Ulumi and National Security Advisor Hanif Atmar serve as examples of such officials.

To date, except for specialized Afghan commando units, the United States and the Afghan government have been fighting an uphill battle to build a professional, loyal, and patriotic Afghan army that believes in the purported democratic goals of the new Afghan state, and their own national-level leadership. When the situation turns dire, most ANA and ANP soldiers reason that the couple of hundred dollars pay is not worth their lives, and hence they walk away.

The officer corps of the old Afghan army underwent a 3-year full-time training and indoctrination program at a military college and further advanced training in the USSR, Turkey, and India. As Cronin contends, the former Afghan military slowly became professionalized from 1920s-1980s through the Afghan military academy, which produced an “educated and trained officer corps.”[xii]

Today’s ANA was created from new template without much regard to past Afghan Army traditions. Creating a professional institution takes time and patience. The Soviets invested in the Afghan officer corps from 1955 until 1992.[xiii] The U.S. model of immediate results and short courses has proved bereft. It took the U.S., and coalition twelve years to stand up the Afghan Military Academy,  “The Sandhurst in the sand,” which trains 270 officers per 42-week training cycle. The focus has clearly not been on institutions and human capital. Moreover, as Cronin argues, “potential officers lacked the skills and literacy levels common among their predecessors…in 2009 an estimated 50 percent of officers were still illiterate…and divided by ethnic, political, and personal rivalries.”[xiv] Training for today’s ANA is concentrated on tactics and basic soldiering. Indoctrination in concepts of statehood and nationalism are lacking.

The current ANA motto is “God, Country, Duty.” However, in common parlance the word for country, watan, refers to one’s village or area, not the greater nation state. The word “Afghanistan” is missing. I am not arguing that one word would magically turn the ANA into a formidable fighting force. However, as proven by the sack of Kunduz by the Taliban on 27 September 2015, the 6,000-7,000 strong ANSF  charged to defend the city proved neither loyal to “God, Country, or Duty”; the specialized Afghan commandos who came to Kunduz’s rescue excepted.

It’s not all doom and gloom for the ANA. The specialized Afghan Commandos have proven to be an effective fighting force.


In the battle of Jalalabad, the Afghan communist army proved its mettle as a national fighting force. The DRA Army was molded by a common belief and motivated by patriotic and ideological pull. On the contrary, today’s ANA, though fielded with much better equipment than the DRA army, lacks a unifying ideology and common purpose. Feasibly, instead of spending more money on equipment, the Afghan government should look at attracting, training and retaining an ethnically diverse, college educated officer corps. Moreover, they should indoctrinate them in a common, nationalistic Afghan narrative that is cross-ethnic. Najibullah’s regime labeled the enemy as foreign proxies and as anti-state. The Afghan administrations since 2001 have been unsuccessful in developing the concept of a common enemy of the state. Furthermore, the merits of conscription for ethnically challenged societies have been well documented, and should be considered as a means to bring college-level talent to the ANA. Perhaps the ANA should be reevaluated from a structural perspective, rather than a training and equipping one. To use an old Southern proverb, “it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog that matters.”

End Notes

[i] Robert Kaplan, “Soldiers of God,” (Vintage Books, New York: 1990), 166.

[ii] Anne Stenersen, “Mujahidin vs. Communists: Revisiting the battles of Jalalabad and Khost”, Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO), February 2012. 1

[iii] Anne Stenersen, “Mujahidin vs. Communists: Revisiting the battles of Jalalabad and Khost”, Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO), February 2012, 2.

[iv] Anne Stenersen, “Mujahidin vs. Communists: Revisiting the battles of Jalalabad and Khost”, Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO), February 2012, 2.

[v] Anne Stenersen, “Mujahidin vs. Communists: Revisiting the battles of Jalalabad and Khost”, Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO), February 2012. 6; Mohammad Yousaf and Mark Adkin, “The Bear Trap,” (Casemate; 1St Edition edition 2001).

[vi] Robert Kaplan, “Soldiers of God,” (Vintage Books, New York: 1990), 160-161.

[vii] Robert Kaplan, “Soldiers of God,” (Vintage Books, New York: 1990), 161; The revolution mentioned refers to the Afghan communist revolution of 1977.

[viii] Robert Kaplan, “Soldiers of God,” (Vintage Books, New York: 1990), 161.

[ix] Stephanie Cronin, “Armies and State Building in the Modern Middle East,” (I.B. Tauris: 2014), 118

[x] Cronin, “Armies and State Building,” 108.

[xi] Cronin, “Armies and State Building,” 120

[xii] Cronin, “Armies and State Building,” 120.

[xiii] Peter Tomsen, “The Wars of Afghanistan: Messianic Terrorism, Tribal Conflicts, And The Failures of Great Powers,” (Public Affairs, New York: 2011), 90.

[xiv] Cronin, “Armies and State Building,” 120.


About the Author(s)

Lieutenant Colonel Lemar Farhad is an Army Foreign Area Officer with multiple deployments to the Balkans, Iraq, and Afghanistan. He is currently serving as Partner Engagement specialist at the Directorate of Intelligence, U.S. Central Command. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice from the California State University of Fullerton, a graduate certificate from the National Defense University of Malaysia, and a master’s degree in National Security Affairs from the Naval Postgraduate School. The views expressed are his own and do not represent U.S. Central Command, the United States Army, or the Department of Defense.



Sun, 11/15/2015 - 6:24pm

It's interesting how an interpretation of history can offer up such differing POVs.

By the time of the, Battle of Jalalabad came along the Fruitcake had begun to penetrate the decimated ranks of the Muj in significant numbers. With that development came the hysteria and stupidity that is an indelible feature of their Operational Art. For reasons that escape me this characteristic is often described by observers (as opposed to active participants) as a hallmark defining fanaticism, determination and all manner of tough-guy attributes; when in fact it is an indicator of the exact opposite. By the time of the lead-up to Jalalabad the Fruitcake’s wide-eyed pantos made it impossible for infidels to move about in the battle eco-system without detection.

After the sham of the ISI support for the Muj had been exposed the ISI were completely ape-shit about infidels moving about within the Muj ranks. As such most of my information is second-hand passed on by those going in and those who managed to escape the cauldron.

To describe the order of battle as shambolic does not even begin to describe the circus. Folks describe Ia Drang, Mogadishu, Hamburger Hill, Omaha Beach, Iwo Jima etc. as chaotic. The LoD for Jalalabad was not like that. They had no heavy support weapons, no comms, no maps, no chain of command and no logistical tail. IMHO it is a complete travesty to describe it as a military operation.

I spoke with a survivor and he had no boots, no webbing, a clapped out SKS and a pocket full of loose 7.62 X 39mm BEFORE he got to the fight. He actually reached the apron at Jalalabad Airfield before the shock-wave from a Scud knocked him out. He described the whole assault as a complete farce. Everyone appeared certain that the complete lack of military order was nothing to be concerned about as it had been agreed the pro Gov forces would surrender the city without a fight.

As it happened the Muj got the whole nine yards and then some - MBTs, MLRS, MiG23, 27, Su 25s, Mi24 and Scuds straight down the neck. The ‘flock of seagulls’ approach on flat, barren kill-zones in broad daylight was the order of the day. Most of the experienced Muj commanders refused to participate. Many of these experienced commanders had suffered unprecedented losses in the previous two years. What we would now call a 'surge' was ordered/granted by Gorbachev and the Politburo in the winter of '86-87 that enabled the GRU Spetsnaz to really hammer the Muj.

Like I said I wasn't there but those I witnessed going in a-whooping and a-holling and returning in complete shock does not indicate to me that the attackers provided any sort of test for a military force that this article suggests. 10 years to prepare their defences and the complete conventional might of the Soviet Army in support, made the Battle for Jalalabad a turkey shoot rather than a meaningful feat of arms.

30 years of hindsight suggests to me the fiasco at Jalalabad epitomized the Pak military's desire to wipe the Muj out. The ensuing squabbling blame-game amongst the "air-conditioned Muj'" Peshawar Seven was the harbinger of the following Civil War. After the Civil War destroyed what little the Soviet's had left intact the slate was cleared for the Pak's UW Army to fill the vacuum. Hindsight is a wonderful thing but you have to admire how 30 years later the Pak Army are still boxing smart and fighting their corner will admirable aplomb.

“In the waning days Najibullah proved to be more of a nationalist than a communist.”

Najibullah a nationalist! - I'm sorry I have to flatly disagree with that one. If he was he certainly kept that secret light under a bushel. As far as all the Muj were concerned he was probably the only person more loathed than General Dostrum. The author recalls Najibullah’s nationalistic motherhoods at the end but IMHO these were very much tears of self-pity in an ocean of blood - much of it Najibullah’s doing.

The ‘Bull’ had the blood of thousands of innocent people on his hands and his Khad tortured all captured Muj to death - many of my friends included. Stalin's chief henchman Beria attempted a similar ploy when General Zhukov came a-knocking on his door. I imagine if anyone had attempted to persuade the old warhorse that Beria's murderous reign was inspired by patriotism for mother--Russia that individual would have ended up on his knees alongside Beria in Lubyanka's basement.

"The fall and the subsequent sack of Kunduz on 27 September 2015, exposed to the world a trio of poorly trained, unsoldierly, and inept Afghan National Army (ANA), Afghan National Police (ANP), and Afghan Local Police (ALP)."

I did look up the meaning of 'sacked' in Webster. I'm not familiar with what Kunduz looked like 3 months ago and what it looks like now but when a city is described as 'fallen' or 'sacked, images of Aleppo, Hue, Stalingrad, Berlin, Dresden etc. come to mind. I would hazard a guess that doesn't describe downtown Kunduz today.

IIMHO recent events in Kunduz provide a good example how best to counter UW rather than an indicator of all that is wrong with the West's approach to CUW. Having the natives take the lead and do all the heavy lifting, the killing and the dying is the way to move forward. A few long-antenna infidels importing fires has many obvious benefits but IMHO a critical aspect is it gives the natives an opportunity to earn respect - both from you and for themselves.

Sending a Marine MEU crashing over Kunduz obviously earns the native fighter’s respect and admiration but can render their own self-image in tatters. In simple terms the natives get to show their courage and you get to show how much of a smart-ass you are with your telephone and laptop.

Such a relationship encourages LOEs to be tasked among equals rather than as master and servant. Facilitating the opportunity for someone to demonstrate their worth on a battlefield creates a powerful bond that can endure almost anything and can stay with you a lifetime - especially with Afghans. This bond is what Mission Command strives to embed in a fighting force.

Like I said at the top - it's disturbing how folks with the same intentions can perceive completely different lessons - even opposites - from the the same events.

We all have one,


Madhu (not verified)

Sun, 11/08/2015 - 11:57am

In reply to by Madhu (not verified)

The comment about how 'we' don't know how to build armies anymore after the colonial period overlooks the weaknesses of colonial armies and the other examples of national armies built after colonial armies.

Another sign of neglect of the CBI theater in American military thought, and another blind spot in COIN theory that focuses on legitimacy. Col. Gentile tried to say years ago in Foreign Policy Magazine that COIN theory should look beyond legitimacy and look at outsiders countering insurgency in various ways so as to provide options. This article to me looks outside the box of legitimacy in a way because it focuses on concepts of nationalism which are generally not understood as part of development led COIN; we give you stuff, you then buy our leadership.

Madhu (not verified)

Sun, 11/08/2015 - 11:16am

Thoughtful article in its examination of the narratives that have governed American understanding of the region and how we have approached the situations as both advocates of national unity and groups within Afghanistan (sometimes Northern Alliance, sometimes Taliban as our intellectual proxy for the entire Pashtun population).

I was looking around Chas Freeman's website because for some reason his effusive praise of the Saudi monarchy always fascinates me and I found this:

<blockquote>Since 2001, Washington has quixotically attempted to exclude both militant Islam and the Pashtun plurality from a significant role in governing Afghanistan, while making it safe for homegrown narcocrats.</blockquote> from, on our confusion in the Mideast (one of the Sarasota speeches).

I found it strange because while it is true in one way, it's complete nonsense in another. Our system has done nothing but look at the campaign entirely through the lens of a localized insurgency with the Taliban as the proxy of the Pashtun population and the key to decreasing violence when we are dealing with a complicated brew of various internal factions backed by various external factions.

At any rate, an astute paper in describing the American psychology as much as anything else. Newspaper reports and television transcripts from the months immediately after Sept. 11, 2001 are filled with various influence agents setting the narrative of our empowering the Northern Alliance. While that is true, it's also true that in the middle of the military campaign we pulled back in various scenarios because we were worried about Pashtun representation so that destroying the Taliban wasn't necessarily everyone's object in DC.

Madhu (not verified)

Sun, 11/08/2015 - 11:48am

In reply to by EH6794

I thought it was interesting too.

Much of the American policy discussion about Afghanistan has centered around the importance of tribes and I wonder how this contributed to the findings discussed in this paper? The focus on Afghanistan as ungovernable is very different that the way in which Ukraine or Syria as ungovernable is viewed by many in the West, depending on our view point we look at globalized and regionalized civil wars in different ways.

It reminds me in a way of the work done by various historians on the British Indian Army during WWII and how the old colonial "martial caste" idea gave way to an army against a common enemy, an army that then became a national army. At least one aspect of Partition was the way in which people viewed the durability of the Indian Army as a national entity that was breaking down as soldiers worried about local ethnic violence. An old argument about whether Partition was a mistake or the only way to save further disorder and how the Army's stability factored into the thinking of leaders.

Lemar Farhad

Wed, 11/04/2015 - 12:18pm

In reply to by EH6794

@EH794 the concept of western patriotism differs in Afghanistan as for many Afghans the concept of patriotism is nested their tribal and ethnic links. It is for this reason that the concept of nationalism becomes paramount. Under Najibullah this concept was growing as tool for the state. Since then, it has yet to be revived. Therefore, the Afghan "National" Army has yet to become "National".

Great article, Lemar. It seems as though some of the performance problems the ANA face today is a lack of national patriotism, and that patriotism has been replaced by some type of tribal pride, which lacks cohesion on the battle field?

J Harlan

Tue, 11/03/2015 - 2:21pm

The west doesn't seem to be able to build indigenous forces as it could during the colonial era. I think the reason revolves around our lack of patience and the nature of the modern army.

1) We expect (almost delusionally)that foreign recruits can master skills and develop the self discipline our recruits do after much shorter courses with much of the material delivered through mediocre (at best) translators. In most cases the translators are unfamiliar with military terminology in their own language. We should expect basic training to take longer in Afghanistan than it does it does in the US not shorter.

2) The officers and NCOs we assign to train the indigenous forces lack language skills. Their tours are too short and they teach, mentor or advise but don't command. The reality is that the organizational culture of the modern all volunteer middle class military works against building local forces. I don't have an answer. The number of people who would sign up for a year at DLI and then three in Kunar probably isn't great. On top military career planning isn't flexible enough maintain the sort of rotation systems security contractors use- i.e two months in, three weeks out for years on end.

Move Forward

Tue, 11/03/2015 - 3:53pm

In reply to by Lemar Farhad

Thanks to you and others for the links. They appear to confirm the 7,000 ANSF number at Kunduz without really breaking that figure down into ANA, ANP, ALP, and other militias. That difference remains a critical factor.

Also, I read your ii through v endnote article that confirmed that both the government and insurgents had conventional armor at the 1989 Jalalabad battle, however, government forces had most of the fires and air support. The endnote article also speaks of a fragmented mujahedeen that lacked unity of effort. Jalalabad also was a many-month campaign that could be supplied by government forces due to the importance and defense of the MSR (and Massoud’s cooperation in letting supplies pass) leading from nearby Kabul to Pakistan through Jalalabad.

Your aforementioned endnote article also contrasted the insurgent unity of command, difference in terrain, ability to resupply, and difference in duration of the 1991 Khost <i>insurgent win</i> vs. the 1989 Jalalabad <i>insurgent loss</i>. Could be wrong but suspect that the Khost battle more closely resembled Kunduz than Jalalabad. Kunduz is more isolated than Jalalabad and initial resupply/reinforcement of Kunduz was a problem (as described in my earlier response NYT article quote) just as it was for government forces at Khost. When those reinforcements did arrive, Kunduz was retaken rapidly.

Your point about a draft potentially improving matters could be both correct and problematic for a number of reasons. Pashtuns likely would avoid the draft to avoid night letters and threats against their families in Pashtun areas. Pashtun troops likely would tell the Taliban what was going on and “Green on Blue” internal to the ANSF would be a problem. Desertion and phantom troops are already a problem and most likely would be worse still with a draft.

However, the Vietnam “Postscript” article published just prior to your own also described the advantages of the ARVN draft late in the war so perhaps you and Mike Hauben have a point. The Vietnam article also illustrated that despite the belief that Vietnamese were Vietnamese regardless of where they came from in the North, Center, and South, that actually was not the case and it caused issues. That is why the need for a multi-ethnic ANSF now is essential, but also is easier said-than-done. In my lone optimistic opinion/perspective/yelling (IMLOOPY), if we had split up both Afghanistan and Iraq after conquering both, we could have trained separate security forces most likely achieving greater security force motivation, success, and language/culture esprit de corps.

Mike Hauben’s Vietnam “Postscript” article concludes with this quote that likely applies to OEF, OIF, and OIR, as well:

<blockquote>More to the point, most of these failings were an outgrowth of the (unfortunately correct) foreknowledge that the US political/military commitment to the survival of their nation was ephemeral. To a people with a colonial history, who had--it may be argued--therefore inherited a “colonial mentality,” it was simply unthinkable that national survival could endure except under the protective wing of the powerful, foreign ally. It was obvious, after all, that the US had decided that the successful example of virtually unconditional US commitment to another Asian nation we had defended against communist onslaught, the South Korean alliance, was a model we would not apply here.</blockquote>

Lemar Farhad

Tue, 11/03/2015 - 2:53pm

@Moveforward. The ANA/ANSF units numbered 6-7K in and around kunduz has been documented by several media outlets. Here is one --…

But more importantly, this article is meant for us to take an analytical look at the ANAs "motivational belief system" and as I have written,analyze their performance from a structural perspective. I believe we have paid little attention to what motivates and what "can" motivate the ANA, and we have probably put too much faith in purely arming them. What has concerned me about the ANA is their lack of "will to fight", at least in most occasions. Based on my research, the DRA units who suck around, fought with vigor during the 80s and early 90s. The question is why? And this is what my article is really about, it is not about the tactical intricacies of each of battle ( Kunduz and Jalalabad).


Tue, 11/03/2015 - 2:04pm

In reply to by J Harlan

I concur with this assessment. BLUF in the early days of KMTC and, in can be summed up as "too little, too late," and "lets reinvent the wheel." We created an Army based on our image, not theirs.

Lemar Farhad

Tue, 11/03/2015 - 12:12pm

In reply to by J Harlan

Very well said @ J Harlan. Concur.

J Harlan

Tue, 11/03/2015 - 11:40am

In 2003 the effort to build the ANA was hampered by a number of decisions. In order of severity:

1) The political choice of largely ignoring the 600 odd Soviet trained officers who gathered each day at MOD HQ waiting for tasks. Many of these officers were graduates of higher Soviet academies.

2) The use of USSF to build the ANA. This, not surprisingly, lead to concentration on the rifle company to the exclusion of all else. Even then the French and Turkish efforts at building ANA battalions was far more professional. Training mechanics, communicators, logisticians etc was an after thought.

3) The adoption of unique organization charts invented by a British staff officer (now CGS of the British Army)attached to 18 Abn Corps HQ. Rather than use Soviet organizations for which manuals existed in all NATO languages, Dari and Pashtu and which the available officers were familiar with an entirely new organization was created for which there was no documentation.

4) The concentration on creating Senior NCOs. The Afghan had never had a NCO corps. In their experience one was a leader or not and leaders were (with the exception of staff officers) commanders. The "sergeant major" made no sense to them but considerable time was wasted in finding a "first sergeant" among the recruits and having him march the company up and down the main street at KMTC instead of more useful skills like map reading or radio communication.


Tue, 11/03/2015 - 11:33am

In reply to by Move Forward

@MoveForward The 6-7K ANA/ANSF that did not defend Kunduz has been widely documented by the media. Here are some links:… and….

The Author cites that this is not a direct comparison, rather a critical look at the performance of the two armies, by looking at their motivations, and assessing their structure. I think the two battles (Kunduz and Jbad) give the reader a good framework to ask some very hard questions.

The author also states, "Overwhelming fire-power" in the 3rd paragraph as one the reasons the DRA was victorious in the the battle of JBAD over the Mujahideen.

Move Forward

Tue, 11/03/2015 - 9:20am

Not sure I buy some of the arguments and conclusions of this article. It caused me to research the 2015 Battle of Kunduz and the 1989 Battle of Jalalabad in the late stages of the earlier conflict. There were profound differences as found in these links and quotes:


<blockquote>Ethnic minorities predominate in Afghanistan's northern region, which are far from the Pashtun heartland in the south that the Taliban hail from and have come to rely on during their insurgency. There the Taliban temporarily became more inclusive to gain the necessary support from the local population, for a time discarding some of its more draconian methods to avoid alienating potential allies. The Taliban also sent many of their Tajik and Uzbek members and allies to the Kunduz region to infiltrate the dominant local Tajik and Uzbek populations. The Taliban's softer approach toward local populations proved fleeting: When they captured Kunduz, Taliban militants readopted harsh measures to subjugate the population. But the jihadist group's flexible policies ahead of the attack enabled them to attract more and more recruits, steadily expanding their presence and strength in the north until they could take the strategic city.</blockquote>

While most Taliban are Pashtun, apparently there were sufficient Tajik and Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan members to infiltrate areas near Kunduz. This was a two-year effort according to the article and it exploited weaknesses in perception of a corrupt security force militia. The author cites 6,000-7,000 ANA fighters but I could find no citation for that figure in the link he included nor any indication that most of those were regular forces vs. lesser trained militias as described in this next quote from the article. Continuing in the Stratfor analyis:

<blockquote>In many ways, however, the local Afghan government in the region has been its own worst enemy. Similar to Mosul before its fall to the Islamic State in June 2014, the Kunduz provincial government is widely accused of systematic corruption. The central Afghan government's dependence on an assortment of local militias, private armies, and warlords exacerbated corruption and the local ill will that came with it. With the Afghan National Security Forces already stretched thin across the country and with the militia's greater familiarity with the local terrain, it made some sense to rely on these paramilitary forces. However, the militias, locally known as the "arkabis," proved excessively corrupt and inefficient, aggravating rather than improving the security situation through numerous instances of kidnapping, rape, extortion, beatings and assassinations. It all proved self-defeating. Just as in the mid-1990s, after the collapse of the Soviet-backed government, the Taliban appealed to Afghans seeking a cure for the pervasive corruption and rapaciousness of the warlords that had taken over the country, in Kunduz the militant group offered locals a welcome alternative to abusive militia control, despite ethnic differences and historical animosity.</blockquote>

The link below about Kunduz reinforces the Stratfor conclusion about corruption and problems in the militia ranks. There may have been an economy-of-force strategy for Kunduz with its smaller proportional Pashtun population vs. other areas in South, East, and Northeast Afghanistan where Pashtuns and therefore Taliban enjoy greater sanctuary and local sources for fighters:…

Note this quote under the link to New York Times article that discusses how regular forces are stretched thin fighting the Taliban in other areas leaving militias to carry the load in many locations:…

<blockquote>During the Taliban’s recent takeover of Kunduz, the insurgents managed to force irregular militia fighters to give up the Bala Hisar, the main fort in the city, and leave their weapons and ammunition behind.

“We fought the Taliban from the Bala Hisar for two days, and in these two days we called up senior officials and said, ‘Send us support and reinforcements,’ ” said a militia officer, Commander Hafeez, who had 35 of his men in the fort. “But they didn’t. So one of our commanders reached out to someone in the Taliban he knew and told him, ‘Take all our weapons but don’t kill us.’ ”

The men handed their weapons to the son of a local Taliban commander. In exchange, Commander Hafeez said, the insurgents transported his men out of Kunduz and allowed them to flee to a neighboring province.</blockquote>

In contrast, it sounds like the Battle of Jalalabad involved regular Afghan forces with far more support. The link mentions 400 Scud missiles launched from around Kabul, which although inaccurate, still would have effect against up to 10,000 mujahedeen fighters that were facing <strong>15,000 regular Afghan forces</strong>. One might suspect a far greater number of tanks and other assets were available to the Afghan regular forces. The link also mentions minefields around the regular force FOB which is something that current forces avoids altogether.

1989 Battle of Jalalabad:…