Small Wars Journal


US Security Force Assistance in Africa: Human Rights, Ethics Training a Must

Wed, 02/06/2013 - 3:30am

The Malian army that took over the government in the March 2012 coup was led by a US trained officer, Captain Sanogo.  The Malian military continues to exert great influence in the political process in Mali and as they try to expel insurgents that have taken over the northern part of Mali.  The Malian army, however, is also accused of human rights abuses that took place during the purge of Sanogo opponents, as well as with enemy combatants.  Besides training the leader of the coup, the US military also trained the Malian military for years through the African Contingency Operations Training Assistance program (ACOTA), its predecessor the African Crisis Response Initiative (ACRI), and other programs.

On 24 January 2013, the US AFRICOM Commander, General Ham, acknowledged the role the US military played in training Malian forces and found the outcome worrying.  He said that the focus of US efforts was tactical training but “We didn’t spend, probably, the requisite time focusing on values, ethics and military ethos.” 

The US has trained many African militaries on the continent; notably with the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) following the UN brokered Liberian peace deal that sent Charles Taylor to exile in Nigeria in 2003.  After dismissing the former Liberian military, the US vetted and recruited a new force and drew up a comprehensive training plan in 2005 that included intensive human rights, rule of law, ethics and values training.  However, in 2007, after the first class of new Liberian soldiers graduated, US trainers cut out the bulk of these training blocks due to time and cost constraints.  US trainers promised to incorporate the training at a later date but were unable to do so. 

The only test for the AFL so far was the Fall 2012 deployment under “Operation Restore Hope” to patrol the porous borders with Cote d’Ivoire.  Desertion remains a concern as over ten percent of the AFL has quit the force.  Frequent stories of AFL soldiers committing crimes are featured in the local Monrovian news, causing concern about the ethics and values of the new Liberian troops. 

Another example of a US trained soldier gone bad is President Jammeh in the Gambia, who took power in a 1994 military coup.  This has also taken place in Haiti, Honduras, Panama, Guatemala, and Bolivia.  African leaders are rightfully afraid that US training can lead to regime change. 

The values and ethics training incorporated in ACOTA training has not prevented abuses by African militaries either.  Of the 25 current ACOTA partners, Kenyan, Ethiopian, Ugandan, and Nigerian troops have been accused of atrocities. 

Upcoming budget cuts and sequestration will put greater restraints on US military spending and our capabilities in training African forces.  If the primary intent of US training is to increase the tactical capabilities in US partners on the continent it is likely that human rights, values, and ethics training will also fall by the wayside in the rapidly approaching lean years.  US leaders need to ensure that these essential training modules are reinforced in all US funded training.

Training the Afghan National Army

Wed, 08/01/2012 - 6:00am

Success in drawing down our combat forces in Afghanistan by 2014 supposedly depends on training the Afghan National Army (ANA) to assume responsibility for the country’s security. Hence the recent shift from COIN to SFA (Security Force Assistance). Even granting that our training efforts have expanded relatively recently, we have still been at this for 10 years. Why is the ANA unable to prevail over a batch of insurgents of similar cultural and economic background wearing flip-flops and toting AK-47’s?  It is, of course, always easier to be an insurgent since they have the initiative in attacking. But still, it seems hard to believe that the ANA are so much less capable than the insurgents and so much more in need of training.

Are the Opposing Fighting Forces Inherently Different?

The various insurgent factions (we tend to lump them all under the Taliban brand, although only some are connected with the Quetta Shura Taliban) seem to be a rag tag bunch. That is, they are Afghans. They are minimally equipped, depend on the local population for food and shelter, and do not shoot much more accurately than the ANA. Yes, they have R&R and training facilities just across the border in Pakistan, but how sophisticated are these? Do they compare with the sort of training that British and U.S. forces offer? The financial and logistical support from Pakistan may maintain the conflict at a simmer, but does not explain why the ANA would be less capable as a fighting force.

The ANA Model

 One problem is the model we have been trying to instill. The ANA is modeled on a Western army, carrying lots of equipment (even our bottled water), using M-16s that are harder to maintain than AK-47s, and requiring a complex supply/logistics/air asset/medevac support capability that the Afghans have no realistic chance of sustaining. The ANA are also being trained to plan in Western terms. It was once suggested that they be trained in the six steps of Marine Corps planning and in war-gaming. These conceptual tools seem unlikely to have much cultural resonance for the Afghans. (Afghan mission planning is reputed to consist of “We’re here; the enemy are over there. Let’s go.”) The Western training model with its reliance on written materials is also not well suited for a largely non-literate society. A fourth grade reading level is required for some Kabul-based training, and very few soldiers in the south qualify to attend. Soldiers are recruited and assigned nationwide, which means a burdensome human resource function as well as a lot of homesick or AWOL soldiers. If success in countering the insurgents depends on the ANA becoming a Western-style fighting force, we are looking at committing the projected $4.1 billion per year plus technical assistance for the indefinite future—an order of magnitude more than the insurgents are collectively spending. We would be better advised to focus on developing low-budget sustainable capability for a non-literate fighting force.

Do the Two Sides Care Equally?

The more fundamental issue may be motivation. Both ANA and Taliban come from the culture that managed to drive out the British and the Russians; Afghans of any stripe will fight tenaciously even against great odds when the outcome matters to them. It is possible that the various insurgents simply care more about their mission. They may be paid a stipend, or ideologically motivated (pro-Islam or anti-foreigner), or politically opposed to the Karzai regime, or profiting from the drug trade, or simply happy with a job close to home. (It has been reported that most Taliban are fighting within 20 km of home.) The assignment of ANA soldiers often puts them some distance from home and in battles they do not want to fight. (Witness the number of desertions of ANA headed for Marjah in 2010.) While the ANA have gained respect from the population, at least relative to the police, they do not appear to be motivated by any great cause. There is anecdotal evidence of families covering their bases with one son in the ANA and another in the Taliban. While I have seen some genuine ANA enthusiasm for defending the country against Pakistan, there is little apparent support for the Afghan government. It is hard to fight and die for the Karzai regime.

Training and mentoring are not going to overcome any of these motivational factors. Soldiers and citizens need a government they can believe in. The Karzai government is widely viewed as corrupt and incompetent and has refused to implement those portions of the 2004 Constitution calling for elected mayors and elected district, city and village councils. ANA performance may be more a symptom of Afghan governmental failure than a problem in its own right.  We might see considerably better outcomes if we focused our efforts on governmental accountability. With a credible government that had the loyalty of its citizens, the ANA motivational problem might take care of itself. There might also be fewer insurgents to deal with. With local electoral accountability, those who are simply anti-Karzai, as opposed to anti-American or pro-Taliban, could compete in the political arena rather than on the battlefield.


While there should not be inherent differences in the two fighting forces, several factors work in favor of the insurgents, and ANA training seems unlikely to make much of a difference. It is even conceivable that our Western design and training programs are subtracting capability—by pushing adoption of an alien military culture and by constantly telling the Afghans that they are falling short.

We have expected the ANA to fight as we do in order to protect a government that we support and Afghan citizens do not. The U.S. Government should insist on full implementation of the Constitution and the development of accountable sub-national government. We are wasting time and resources by interpreting the ANA difficulties as merely reflecting a training problem. 

Unified Quest Army Future Game

Wed, 05/16/2012 - 9:54am

We are in the midst of a uniquely challenging time in our Army’s history, although frankly it seems like we can always say that.

We still have a significant number of troops in combat in Afghanistan and continued involvement in the Philippines, the Horn of Africa and other places around the world and ensuring their success is our main effort. North Korea and Iran remain challenges we cannot ignore. We are on the front edge of a drawdown in an era of fiscal austerity. Lastly, our national strategy is shifting to focus on the Asia-Pacific region and broadening to a construct of “prevent, shape and win.” 

At the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command, we consider these challenges and our national strategy, and determine how we might best shape the future force. One way to accomplish this is through our “Unified Quest” series of seminars, workshops and symposia.

Results from the UQ series will inform our revision of the strategic concepts found in the Army Capstone Concept and the Army Operating Concept.  Results will also help us implement Unified Land Operations Doctrine (ADP 3.0), particularly in consideration of doctrine, organization, training, materiel, leadership and education, personnel, and facilities (DOTMLPF).  

The capstone event of this year’s Unified Quest is the “Army Future Game.”  This war game will examine the role of the Army as a decisive, adaptive force across a range of military operations.  During the war game, held June 3-8 at Carlisle Barracks, two working groups will address operational scenarios set in 2020 in the PACOM and CENTCOM theaters.  Free-play “Red Teams” will employ anti-access and area denial operations within an overarching hybrid strategy to enable a rigorous examination of key proposed concepts. Additionally, a strategic working group composed of more than 60 senior leaders and subject matter experts will examine key strategy and policy issues relevant to shaping the Army of 2020 and informing the Quadrennial Defense Review.

In the Army Future Game we are going to wrestle with some critical challenges. For example, we’ve steadily improved our integration and interoperability of special operations and conventional forces over the last decade of combat.  A key issue is how this integration should evolve to best defeat future threats.  Additionally, we’d like to develop thoughts on how we accomplish this at home station, at our national combat training centers, and in regional engagement activities.

We’ll also consider how we overcome the hybrid strategy of adversaries that combine the capabilities of conventional, terrorist, criminal, proxy, and irregular organizations and forces. To do this, our scenarios will cause our “Blue Forces” to closely examine how innovations across DOTMLPF might help defeat hybrid strategies.

Overall, we’ll examine about a dozen of these kinds of issues.  This analysis will provide us strategic and operational insight and potential implications for Joint and Army concepts.  Ultimately, we’ll develop recommendations to posture both the institutional and operational Army to successfully execute their roles during the 2018-2030 timeframe. 

This event will help leaders shape our Army as the operational environment changes, and as we transition our national strategy.  We’ll see the next step of this process in July, when the Chief of Staff of the Army leads a senior-leader seminar to review the insights and recommendations of the Army Future Game.  At that point, I’ll bring you up to date with what we think we have learned.  In the meantime, if you have thoughts on integrating special operations and conventional forces, or how we might defeat hybrid strategies, then please join in the conversation.  The more voices in the discourse, the better chance we’ll have of getting this right.