Conflict & Justice

Building up the Afghan forces

President Obama says he would announce the long-awaited decision on sending more troops to Afghanistan “shortly”. Afghan President Karzai recently said the strength of Afghan security forces had to be bolstered and the role of international forces reduced. The World’s Katy Clark reports on how capable the Afghan forces are.

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    MARCO WERMAN: I’m Marco Werman and this is The World. President Obama said today he’ll announce a new US strategy for Afghanistan soon.

    BARACK OBAMA: After eight years, some of those years in which we did not have I think either the resources or the strategy to get the job done; it is my intention to finish the job.

    WERMAN: The president was speaking at a joint appearance with India’s prime minister at the White House. Mr. Obama is expected to lay out his strategy a week from today. That strategy may include additional US trainers to help prepare Afghanistan’s own forces. The World’s Katy Clark reports.

    KATY CLARK: President Obama says it’s important to recognize that the Afghan people are ultimately responsible for their own security. To that end the US and its allies have been working to develop a capable Afghan police force and Afghan national army. Results though have been mixed. The Afghan police remain largely a corrupt and ineffective force. But recent polls suggest the Afghan national army as one of the most respected institutions in Afghanistan. Doug Beattie would agree with that. He’s a former British army captain who writes about mentoring Afghan security forces in his book, An Ordinary Soldier; An Extraordinary War.

    DOUG BEATTIE: One of the noblest, bravest men who I ever served beside in a 27-year military career was an Afghan police major called Major Shawally. He fought beside me in 2006. He saved my life on a number of occasions. And I mean that in real terms. He held me down while bombs were exploding above my head or close by and said to me, look I don’t want you to fight for me. I want to fight. I want you to help.

    CLARK: Independent journalist Ann Jones came away with a much different impression after observing the Afghan army in training this past summer.

    ANN JONES: I knew a number of young men who went through the training repeatedly in order to get the money, the stipend that they were paid, and the gun and then they’d go home and come back and do it again under another name.

    CLARK: With so much resting on whether Afghan security forces can stand up to the task such a broad spectrum of opinions about Afghan’s capabilities might seem troubling but Anthony Cordesman with the Center for Strategic and International Studies says it’s not surprising. He says those on the more critical end of that spectrum are ignoring the fact that building a national army is an extremely complex undertaking.

    ANTHONY CORDESMAN: This is a force very much in development. The Afghan army has a number of quite effective elements. Most are still relatively small. They’re at the battalion level. But they are improving their headquarters and some of their joint planning and intelligence capabilities.

    CLARK: Cordesman cautions patience when it comes to expecting too much too soon from the Afghan security forces. He says it will likely take several years before they get up to speed.

    CORDESMAN: And that’s not the fault of the Afghans. It’s the fault of basically the US and its allies in taking more than half a decade to realize the insurgency was serious and then taking two more years to provide the trainers and resources to make these effective.

    CHRISTOPHER RADIN: I think in the long run we will develop and army. The question really will be will it be good enough?

    CLARK: Christopher Radin is a correspondent for the Long War Journal.

    RADIN: It will develop to a certain level but it will never be the quality or effectiveness of the United States army. But I think it will be good enough to fight the fight that it needs to fight with the opposition that it’s currently facing in the Taliban.

    CLARK: Radin comes to that conclusion based on dozens of reports he’s seen about firefights between the Afghan national army and the Taliban. He says that in the vast majority of those accounts the Afghan army won the engagement. But winning over a skeptical American public is another matter. If President Obama decides that more time and resources are what’s needed in Afghanistan he might want to highlight more of the success there in order to make the case that Afghanistan is still worth the effort. For The World this is Katy Clark.

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