How “ghost soldiers” could frustrate Trump’s plans for Afghanistan

By Jessica Purkiss | ( The Bureau of Investigative Journalism) | – –

Frank “Gus” Biggio arrived in Nawa, a district in Afghanistan’s embattled Helmand province, in the summer of 2009. Then, he recalled, it was “a violent, lawless, ungoverned place”, like an “apocalyptic scene out of a movie”.

The battle to secure the district was tough – four Marines were killed during Biggio’s deployment as a Marine Reservist, including his friend, Bill Cahir. “We had worked hard, I had lost my team chief, a good friend,” he said.

But by the time his battalion had left seven months later, Biggio says the Taliban were gone and normal life seemed to be resuming for its residents. Nawa quickly became one of the most celebrated successes in the US counterinsurgency campaign.

In the following years, Biggio watched as district after district fell to the Taliban. He hoped fervently that Nawa would buck the trend. But as the Taliban’s advance strengthened, with the US troop withdrawal in 2014, its downfall seemed on the cards. In October 2016, Taliban fighters overran Nawa.

Why it happened has been the subject of a Bureau investigation. We have uncovered systemic corruption that demonstrates that the Afghan forces holding the front line were significantly undermanned, their numbers falsely inflated with so-called “ghost soldiers” or security force personnel that existed only on paper.

The Taliban were finally dislodged in July 2017 after a major offensive by Afghan forces, backed by US air strikes, but Nawa remains vulnerable.

“I would like to see places like Nawa thriving economically and politically today”, says Biggio sadly. “Asking whether the sacrifice was worth it or not would be easier to answer then.”

Memorial for Bill Cahir who died in Nawa

By Sgt William Greeson via Frank "Gus" Biggio

The rise and fall of Nawa is, however, not a standalone case. Across Afghanistan, the Taliban has profited from the endemic corruption and mismanagement that plagues the Afghan forces. President Donald Trump has signalled that yet more troops will be sent to Afghanistan to prop up places like Nawa. But without addressing these issues, any gains made by sending additional US troops will likely be fragile.

“This was the Achilles heel of the 2009-2011 surge and continues to undermine efforts for a successful outcome,” says Christopher Kolenda, former US military commander in Afghanistan turned analyst.

“140,000 international troops could not solve that problem. 3,500 more American troops now cannot do so, either. Only the Afghan government can solve it, and they have yet to demonstrate the willingness to do so,” Kolenda adds.

A panoramic view of a market in Nawa

A panoramic view of a market in Nawa

Via Frank "Gus" Biggio

Fading hopes for Nawa

When the US Marines took over from the British in 2009, Nawa was in a bad way. Heavy fighting and a sustained Taliban presence had left the once-bustling district centre an empty wasteland.

Within a few months of the Marine mission, however, American troops could walk around the centre without body armour. Many shops had reopened and the open-air Friday bazaar resumed trading.

Soon experts from the State Department and the US government’s aid agency were turning up in the district with plans for long-term reconstruction and development projects. Money was being pumped into Nawa, in part to lure low-level insurgents away from the Taliban.

Commander Matt Baker talking to his Marines

Via Matt Baker

The turnaround in Nawa caught the attention of General David H Petraeus, the then top US and NATO commander in Afghanistan. He featured Nawa in a PowerPoint presentation to senior members of President Obama’s national security team participating in evaluating the war at the time. It was proof the counter-insurgency strategy was working and he wanted them to know about it. As another Marine put it, “Nawa city was an example of what could be.”

For Marines serving in Nawa, this was a source of pride. “We worked hard on being Nawa’s Marine battalion,” says Matt Baker, the commander of the 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, back in 2009. He recalls an incident where rumours had surfaced Marines had desecrated a Qur’an in the neighbouring district. Fearing tensions would reach Nawa, he arranged a meeting with the elders. However, he said, they already knew and had assured their neighbours that “their” Marines would not do such a thing. “It was a wonderful compliment,” says Baker.

Shura, or tribal meeting, in Nawa

Corporal James Purschwitz, via Frank "Gus" Biggio

The gains, however, were fragile. Crime reportedly rose after the Taliban left. “The Marines feel safe, but the ordinary people in Nawa do not,” Khawanin, the headmaster of the main school in the district, told the Washington Post in 2010. Security deteriorated further when the US troop presence began to gradually decrease.

In 2015, Haji Abdul Manaf, the district governor, the lynchpin of stability in Nawa, was gunned down on his way to Kandahar.

“His death was the beginning of the end for Nawa”, says Biggio.

Governor Abdul Manaf cutting a ribbon to mark the official opening of a new clinic in Nawa

US Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Cesar N. Contreras

When the Taliban offensive started in earnest in late 2016, it was brief. Insurgents had been inching closer and Helmand’s districts were falling like dominoes.

It is hard to say what would have happened to Nawa if it had had proper defences. But it had been left with a large gap. According to local council members and a source within the Afghan administration, the district had only half the roughly 700 policemen it was supposed to have.

“Nawa was deliberately left to be overrun by the Taliban”, said one furious Nawa elder.

Another critic of what happened in Nawa, Atuallah Afghan, a member of Helmand’s Provincial Council, explained the problem to the Bureau. The Afghan government allocates a set number of police to defend each area. The number of police allocated to each district in Helmand is held in the police headquarters in Lashkar Gah, Atuallah said. Nawa was supposed to have 700 officers.

All districts receive central government budget to cover salaries of front-line forces. In many areas in Afghanistan, some of this budget disappears and the actual number of officers tasked with holding back the Taliban is much lower than the number actually allotted. This issue, known as ghost soldiers, was particularly extreme in Nawa.

Atuallah and others concerned about the problem last year would ring up local officials to ask them how many men they had at their nearby checkpoints. In this way they were able to estimate the number of police actually deployed in Nawa; they put the figure at around 300 men. The salaries of the other 400 were ending up somewhere else.

Three other well-placed sources also told the Bureau that Nawa only had between 300-400 police officers on the eve of its fall. Atuallah said he complained about the ghost soldier problem in Helmand to government officials before the Taliban push on Nawa began. “No one did anything about it”, he said.

This is hardly surprising, given how deep-seated the problem of corruption is. Local elders described a network of connections to the Bureau, which they explained protected those siphoning off the salaries at the time.

These kind of problems are not unique to Nawa – ghost soldiers are a problem throughout Afghanistan. This is in part facilitated by the high rate of casualties in the the Afghan security forces – they were being killed at a rate of 130 a week at the beginning of 2017. Often the names of the dead, as well as defectors, are not taken off lists of personnel, allowing for their pay cheques to continue to be remitted.

An image of an Afghan soldier in Helmand province, Afghanistan

via Shutterstock

However, in Helmand, which has an unfortunate combination of high US military spending and powerful tribal networks, the problem of corruption has been particularly acute historically.

Abdul Jabar Qahraman was appointed operational commander for all of Helmand in January 2016, and resigned in spring 2017. He described to the Bureau what the ghost soldier phenomenon looked like on the ground. In one district, he said, there were ten checkpoints, and 25 people had been allocated to each one, meaning there should have been 250 men in total. When he paid a visit, he only saw 96 men. “Out of them 54 had AK47s and the rest were unarmed.” Most of the others, he said, were unfit to work.

He told the Bureau that he went to the very top with the problem, speaking to the Afghan President, Ashraf Ghani. “I put this on the President’s table and told him if there are 50 opponents attacking this checkpoint, how can you defend it?” Qahraman said, explaining his frustration with the general mismanagement. “You know why I resigned from my post in Helmand? I couldn’t stand it anymore.”

In a statement last year, Helmand’s then police chief confirmed Qahraman’s estimate of the scale of the problem. He offered up some startling figures – around half of the 26,000 personnel assigned to the province did not exist physically. Their salaries, he said, were ending up in personal accounts.

There have been efforts to tackle the issue in a wide-reaching manner. President Ashraf Ghani established an anti-corruption court to hold those once believed to be above the law to account. In Helmand, the US military put in over $100m last year to rebuild the Afghan army’s 215th Corps, bogged down by mismanagement and corruption.

These initiatives have seen some success, especially in Helmand. But the roadblocks they have encountered illustrate the depth of the problem they are tackling. The general appointed to rebuild and reform the 215th Corps was himself arrested in March 2017, accused of misusing food money meant to supply his soldiers, among other things. A previous police chief of Helmand, who had also been appointed as a reformer, was reported at the same time to be under investigation after allegedly being fired for selling the positions of district chiefs of police in the province.

Complex payment processing systems involving biometrics are being rolled out in an effort to tackle the issue of ghost personnel. However, even the people implementing them admit they will not eradicate the problem.

Patrol Base Jaker in Nawa, where the 3rd Marine regiment was stationed

Camp Base Jaker, where Biggio and Baker were stationed

Via Frank "Gus" Biggio

Keeping Nawa out of Taliban hands

Nine months after it fell, Afghan security forces launched a massive offensive, Operation Maiwand Four, to win Nawa back. They were supported by coalition drones, air strikes from F-16s and attacks by Apache AH-64 helicopter gunships. After two days, they had recaptured the district centre.

Insurgents then launched a counter-attack, meaning that a large-scale military operation was necessary to secure the district.

But how long Nawa will stay out of Taliban hands is an open question. Even if the operation is successful, some worry the ongoing corruption, and in particular the stubborn problem of ghost forces will leave Nawa vulnerable yet again. “The cause of most of our problems in Nawa is this issue and we fear that because of this issue once again our district might fall into Taliban hands,” a district tribal council member told the Bureau.

However, the former Marine Commander, Matt Baker, is frustrated at what he sees as a tendency to see corruption in simplistic terms, arguing that in a country like Afghanistan, the opportunity to make money is part of what can incentivise people to commit to the military.

And, Baker adds, the reasons behind it are not always negative. He points to instances where commanders used money collected in this way for their troops, including to provide some funds or gifts to wounded soldiers.

Perhaps, he said, if a better system of incentives was put in place, things might have turned out differently.

“It might be true that Nawa was lost years and years ago because no-one fixed the system which incentivises people to do this,” he muses.

Biggio now works for a law firm in the United Arab Emirates, but still follows the news on Afghanistan. Speaking from his home in Dubai, he says that he accepts the necessity of US troops going back in to Nawa. However, he stresses that there must be an end-point.

He says: “I don’t want us to be there forever.”

Jessica Purkiss is a reporter covering US strikes in Afghanistan, Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia. She previously worked for Middle East Monitor.

Via The Bureau of Investigative Journalism

14 Responses

  1. It always seems when I hear the generals speak that I am listening to children playing at war: “if only the enemy would act how we want them to then we would win!” Petraeus and all the other little boys that followed him sounded the same: “our intentions were pure so why did things go so bad.” The hard fact is: we are is the position of propping up corrupt governments that have no local support. The children running the pentagon should learn that.

    It is heartrending to listen to earnest but naive ordinary soldiers tell their stories. They are 20 year old’s thrown into a situation that they don’t understand and they give it their all. With very few changes, it is the story of Vietnam.

    Obama’s biggest foreign policy failure was his failure to end the wars and get out.

  2. All we are doing in Afghanistan is three things.
    1. Putting numerous US service members at high risk of death and or injury.
    2. Wasting numerous equipment, and draining our resources.
    3. Main reason for being there is to fatten the coffers of politicians via lobbyists to gain government contracts for more needed military supplies.
    This is greed nothing less or more at the cost of American Servicemen. We are in a country that does not really want us there and their own greed via corruption clearly shows this.
    When I hear a Congress member claim they support the troops, I understand that they support the money that they make off of our troops.

  3. The primary reason for Ghost soldiers for many years was because the ANSF don’t have decent death benefits for the families of soldiers. Plus the MoI and MoD have been trying to understate actual ANSF KIAs because they fear it will hurt morale and make them look bad to Parliament and the Afghan public. As a result, I heard from multiple people in Afghanistan that “ghost soldiers” was a mechanism to support the families of soldiers who had died in combat.

    Matt Baker is right that what is loosely called “corruption” isn’t all bad. It is the way things have run for thousands of years (under Afghanistan, when Afghanistan was a British protectorate, under the Persian Empire, under the Moghul Empire (India), under the Mongol empire). Corruption is a way to help vulnerable people.

    To address the ghost soldier problem, MoI and MoD need to be honest about their KIAs. I don’t think they are correct that reporting actual KIAs will hurt morale. Quite the opposite. I think the Afghan people will rally behind the ANSF if they believe the ANSF are being straight with them.

    Secondly MoI and MoD need generous death benefits for soldiers and policemen who martyr themselves for Afghanistan; paid for by the international community (since Afghans can’t afford it.)

    Thirdly the international community need to commit to go long with Afghanistan, until victory is achieved. So that the GIRoA and ANSF can plan for long term predictable capacity building (which hasn’t happened in Afghanistan since the 1980s). If GIRoA gets such a clear commitment of support, then I believe President Ghani will tackle MoI the way he has already tacked MoD (MoD is a lot less corrupt and a lot more professional than MoI). President Ghani will have to attack powerful patronage networks and pay a significant political price. But I think he would do this if he gets a strong international commitment.

    Finally the ANSF need 100 K training seats, over half focused on Officers and NCOs. Iraqi Security Forces needed that many in 2007 to win their war. So do the Afghans.

    In 2009, Gen McChrystal and Gen Petraeus proposed sharply increasing the number of training seats for the ANSF. However, in 2010 President Obama overruled them and sharply reduced the planned number of ANSF training seats to just over 30,000 training seats.

    ANSF training seats sharply increase ANSF capacity and quality over several years; but don’t increase ANSF capacity and quality over the short term. This is one reason ANSF capacity building has been opposed by the international community since 2001. The other main reasons the international community has opposed a strong ANSF since 2001 are:
    1) It would cross Pakistani, Saudi and Taliban red lines, leading to military retaliation by them; and them pulling out of the peace process
    2) Fear the Afghans would launch cross border attacks into Pakistan over the objections of the international community

    I think that at long last the international community should commit to a strong ANSF over the long run, and 100 K ANSF training seats. At $25,000 per training seat, this would cost $2.5 billion a year for the ANA Training and Doctrine Command and the ANP Training Command. Over time this would alter the regional balance of power and lead to Pakistani and Taliban flexibility in the peace process. We should all acknowledge that this might take over a decade to succeed.

    With respect to the above comment: “we are is the position of propping up corrupt governments that have no local support.” China, Indonesia, Turkey and India have “corrupt governments” too, but are broadly supported by their people. Their “corrupt governments” have been very successful at reducing poverty and rapid economic development.

    The Afghan National Army is far more popular, respected and legitimate among Afghans than the Taliban is. This has been the case in every Afghan public opinion polls since 2002.

    “We are in a country that does not really want us there and their own greed via corruption clearly shows this.” The large majority of Afghans want the international community to support the ANSF. Their fear and conspiracy theory is that the international community opposes a strong ANSF (and perhaps secretly backs the Taliban). This is the primary cause of Afghan resentment against the international community (including as expressed by Karzai). A clear long term international commitment to a strong ANSF would significantly improve Afghan perceptions of the international community.

    Almost all the fighting and dying in this war is being done by Afghans to save their own country. Afghans don’t want or expect foreign combat troops. They only want the world to help Afghans defend themselves. The world praised Israelis for this attitude. But somehow too many people around the world insult Afghans for having a similar attitude.

    • Lots of suggestions. One question: what do you think are the chances of this actually happening? Be honest!

      OK, we got that out of the way lets move on.

      When you say “international” this and “international” that you are illustrating the problem quite precisely. You see the problem as international but the solution will not be international the solution will be Afghan. They will make their own future.

      What is the only indigenous movement able to govern, one that does not need international support? You guessed it! You don’t like them, I don’t like them, but then we are not Afghan. We don’t get to “vote” in that election.

      “The world praised Israelis for this attitude”??? Sorry, that has been out of date for some time now. The world sees Israel more clearly now.

      • Most Afghans do not consider the Taliban to be “indigenous”. The Taliban are deeply unpopular with over 80% of the Afghan population and are widely seen as proxies of GHQ (General Headquarters) Deep State. Most Afghans don’t even bother with these euphemisms anymore and just call the Taliban and their allies proxies of the Pakistani Army. Pakistan is enemy number 1 for the vast majority of Afghans. Without massive support from the Pakistani Army and Gulf, the Taliban would be driven out of most of Afghanistan.

        You use the word “vote”. That is the problem. The Taliban refuse to allow elections because the Taliban believe they will lose badly at the federal level, which is true. This said, I also think the Afghan government should allow provincial elections, which they have not done to date. At the provincial level moderated reconciled Taliban have a chance in some provinces.

        Afghans find it funny that the world rarely mentions or cares that the Taliban fighters are paid much more than the ANA soldiers are paid. The world rarely asks where the money comes from, because the answers would be inconvenient.

        For the war to end in Afghanistan several things need to happen in the following order:
        1) the global civil war between muslims and islamists needs to ebb
        2) the Pakistani civil war needs to ebb
        3) the de facto war between Afghanistan and Pakistan needs to end
        4) Afghans need to fix Afghan internal politics

        Of course Afghans need to fix Afghan problems and Afghan National Army soldiers need to stop making anti Pakistani statements in public and on social media; but even if they do these things, the war would continue since most of the causes for the war are not internal to Afghanistan.

        The world praises the IDF for their fighting spirit and military effectiveness, and does not insult the IDF by mentioning the large amount of international aid Israel has received since 1948 (including a lot of aid from the USSR, East Germany and Yugoslavia in 1948). Afghanistan has never received anything like the 1973 airlift, without which Israel would have ceased to exist. Yet the world insults Afghans for accepting international aid. When the ANA shows fighting spirit the world insults Afghans by jeering them for losing tens of thousands of soldiers and policemen in combat (far more than the IDF has lost since 1948). The world also condemns the Afghan National Army for antagonizing Pakistan and the Taliban and “hurting” the peace process. The world acknowledged the large role played by foreign countries in attacking Israel but does not acknowledge the large numbers of foreign troops (including as command and control, advisors, combat enablers) attacking Afghans. The world condemns the Afghan Government for taking a nationalist hard line in negotiations with Pakistan and the Taliban.

        “My comment”, if you want to you can lobby your country to not help Afghans. But remember that the Afghans have asked for your help and you are denying Afghanistan’s request. An Afghan Loya Jirga unanimously requested international help. You don’t get to blame the Afghans for why you don’t want to help Afghans.

        “what do you think are the chances of this actually happening? Be honest!” It has a significant chance of happening. The US has come closer to supporting a strong ANSF in recent weeks than ever before. Plus the US no longer objects to India helping Afghanistan. There is a good chance that President Trump might allow or actually ask Russia and China to help the ANSF a lot more (a first since 2001). Most Afghans would also like Iranian help; but the US has yet to signal support for this.

        Resolute Force has indicated a major focus on the ANSF training commands, increasing the number of specialty training seats since Trump’s speach. I hope India, China, Russia, Turkey, Europe, Japan, Australia etc. similarly commit to increasing the number of ANSF training seats.

        For the first time since 2001, China is becoming more even handed between Afghanistan and Pakistan and considering significant help for the ANSF.

        President Trump might yet persuade his friend President Putin to bet on the strong GIRoA/ANSF horse against the weaker ISIS/Taliban/AQ/Pakistan horse.

        Without a stronger ANSF, how can President Trump “win”. We all know President Trump loves to “win.” There is a a greater chance now for a stronger ANSF than anytime since 2001.

        • The Taliban are deeply unpopular with most non-Pushtuns. A lot of Pushtuns, 44% of the population, have a sneaking admiration for them and under some situations prefer them to corrupt officials from Tajik Kabul. Kabul has little authority in Qandahar, Helmand, etc. and almost no troop in the ANA are from there.

  4. My best estimate is that Pashtuns are about 36% of Afghanistan’s population.

    About 9% of Afghanistan’s population is neither Pashtun, Tajik, Hazara or Uzbek. For example Nuristanis (who only began converting from Hinduism in 1895; of course many Salafis still don’t think they and many other types of Afghans muslims are “real” muslims). Many Afghans insist the percentage of “other” is even higher than 9%. This 9% is the most under represented group within the GIRoA civil service and ANA. Pashtuns are slightly over represented within the ANA.

    Many non Pasthtun Afghans insist to me that many of the Pashtun Afghans who claim to hate the Taliban and support the ANA are virtue signaling and not saying what they truly believe. I have also heard from many Afghans that the war in Afghanistan is really an ethnic sectarian war against non Pashtun Afghans. I don’t agree with either opinion. However unless the GIRoA and ANSF can reduce terrorism, this paranoia might increase.

    A majority of Afghan Pashtuns are fiercely anti Taliban. They call the Taliban Punjabia (by which they mean the Taliban are allied with Punjabis). If anecdotal reports are to believed, a majority of Pakistani Pashtuns might also be anti Taliban for similar reasons.

    Heck, many of the local Afghan Taliban are also anti Punjabia Taliban (those parts of the Taliban closest to the Pakistani Army . . . such as the Haqqanis), and emphasize their independence from the Quetta Shura Taliban. The QST is believed by most Afghans to be heavily influenced or controlled by the Pakistani Army ISI Directorate. This is a major reason the ANA, NDS and Ghani have come to the conclusion that signing a peace treaty with the QST will not end the war but rather be more analogous to bringing HiG Hekmatyur into the political process.

    For the moment the ANSF have a security lockdown on Kandahar province. For whatever reason Kabul cares about Kandahar province and has kept two wheeled quick reaction force ANA brigades based in Kandahar. These two brigades are in the process of joining the ANA Special Forces. In practice, however, they seem to function more like a praetorian guard quick reaction force since the Taliban and Pakistan seem reluctant to engage them directly and Kabul isn’t willing to use them in COIN operations far from Kandahar.

    Raziq and his boys run everything in Kandahar. Raziq went with his boys to counter the recent Taliban offensive in Uruzgan. The Taliban has not seriously contested Kandahar for years, preferring to focus on other theaters.

    The Taliban have conducted a near continuous corps level offensive in Helmand for years. This only ended a few months ago. In recent weeks the ANA and ANASF have been on the offensive and the Taliban are responding. I can’t confirm this; but suspect that both the ANSF and Taliban are taking heavy casualties in Helmand in recent weeks.

    The MoD and MoI refuse to publish KIA or WIA in Helmand; but I have heard estimates that half of ANA KIA and a third or more ANP KIA have been in Helmand in recent years. If we assume that total ANSF KIA have been about 9,000/annum in recent years (official statistics under report ANSF KIA for multiple reasons) and WIA have been 1.6 times KIA, this tells you the extent of ANSF casualties in Helmand.

    Anecdotally the ANSF have lost many of their best officers and NCOs in Helmand . . . a huge loss to the Afghan nation. Which is a major reason 2015th Corps and Helmand ANP deteriorated. Kabul didn’t send enough of their new quality officer and NCO graduates to replenish them (each part of Afghanistan and each ANA Corps fights for the best recent officer/NCO graduates from academies). President Obama pulled out 215th Corps level advisers and provincial ANP advisers from Helmand in 2014. They were only sent back recently.

    I have noticed that many anti Taliban Pashtuns who join the ANA live in Kabul, the North, the West, Nangarhar, Kunar, Nuristan (its debatable whether they are actually Pashtuns), Khost, Paktia, Paktika. A lot of Kandahari Pashtuns join the ANP. A common factor in areas that contribute Pashtun recruits to the ANA appears to be that the war is perceived as a war against Punjabis in Loya Paktia, Nangarhar, Kunar, Nuristan, Badakshan. In Nangarhar, Nuristan, Kunar . . . ISIS and international Jihadis are a bigger threat than Afghan Taliban. Loya Paktia is seen as a Pakistani Afghan proxy war. Not as many Pashtuns join the ANA from the South; places where local Taliban play a larger role.

    I would estimate that as of today the 215th ANA Corps (4 brigades) has about 15,000 or more soldiers in Helmand. MoD and Resolute Force are silent about the number of ANASF in Helmand as of right now.

    PS. The last official statistics regarding ANSF KIA were released to the Afghan parliament in 2014. In that year total official KIA were about 8500, which itself was an understatement of actual ANSF KIAs. Since then the MoI and MoD have refused to provide these statistics to parliament. SiGAR has published rough estimates since then that significantly understate actual ANSF KIAs.

    • You seem to have a lot of in-depth knowledge of the players in Afghanistan. I will assume that you have lived there for many years and speak all of the languages. Quite impressive! OK?

      How many of the US soldiers on the ground have your depth of knowledge? How many speak the languages? Take a guess and hold on to those facts.

      You require the US military to implement a winning strategy taking into account all the players they have to deal with and do so with a subtle hand. They have to convince by persuasion or force that the American way is best. Is that possible?

      Given the above, what are the chances that we can win? No weasel words, a straight answer. That lives the only strategy left: get out.

  5. “My comment” . . . I don’t speak all the languages.

    Here is the thing, many American (and Canadian, Australian, South Korean, Japanese, European, Turkish, New Zealand, Indian, Russian etc.) civilians, interpreters, military advisors and expatriot Afghans have served with GIRoA, Afghan NGOs or the ANSF and have quite a bit of cultural knowledge and many Afghan relationships.

    What I think these countries should do is call up their best advisors and trainers from retirement and send them to Afghanistan. Unlike in 2001, now the ANSF and GIRoA have many officers and NCOs with good english. The advisors need to ask the ANSF and GIRoA civilians what they need and determine how they can help the ANSF and GIRoA with what they need.

    Many retired foreigners enjoyed their time in Afghanistan and like Afghans and would return if asked by their countries. Not many would be needed. A modest number of foreigners over a long period of time are needed.

    What do the ANSF need?:
    1) Trainers to teach at officer/NCO academies
    2) Specialty trainers to teach at ANSF specialty schools (Tactical Air Controllers, artillery indirect fire, maintenance of many kinds, pilots, information technology software and database, hacking, accounting, intelligence/Surveillance/Recon, Command and Control HQs, signals etc.)
    3) embedded advisors at the brigade and battalion level (which haven’t been in Afghanistan for over 3 years)
    4) temporary combat enablers to help the Afghans
    5) Long term predictable procurement to surge the organic capability of the ANSF

    International combat troops haven’t been in Afghanistan for many years and are not needed. It isn’t the job of foreigners to win the war; that is the job of Afghans. Internationals need to help the Afghans the way Pakistanis are helping the Taliban.

    The ANSF don’t fight the American way and nor do they need to. The “American way” has not been nor should it be used in Afghanistan. Trust the Afghans.

    I think you greatly exaggerate and misunderstand the role of Resolute Force in Afghanistan.

    Can you explain why you don’t think the Afghans can’t win, provided foreigners actually seriously try to help them? I know the Pakistanis are powerful; but they are not all powerful.

    You benefit from greater Afghan capacity and Afghan victory. I think you don’t understand why you benefit from Afghan success and therefore want to cut off international aid to Afghanistan. You don’t understand that Afghans are fighting for the benefit of all humans.

    • Ken Burns has produced a wonderful if painful documentary called “Vietnam”. I am watching it now. You should watch it. You will recognize all of the same thrashing around in Washington as we see today. The same good intentions. The same good and bad advice. We were supposed to have learned a lesson there but it seems that we have forgotten.

      The thing about all of your arguments is that if we were talking in 2002 and I were not a child of the Vietnam War I might be persuaded. You sound so logical. Watch the documentary; they sounded so logical then as well.

      Anyway we have lost. We lost when we did not leave Afghanistan after 2 months. We lost when we went into Iraq. I think that we both agree that we will not be getting out anytime soon. A tragedy for all sides!

      • South Vietnam and Afghanistan are very different. I have read over 20 books on Vietnam, many by Vietnamese; and seen the Ken Burns documentary. Do you consider Pakistan to be North Vietnam and Afghanistan to be South Vietnam? I don’t think the analogy is very good. For one thing neither North Vietnam nor South Vietnam had ever been countries before. The way Indochina was partitioned into 4 countries (at the insistence of China) was arbitrary and bizarre. Do you consider all of North Vietnam, South Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos to have been some version of greater Afghanistan? Plus the North Vietnamese Army, good as they were, pales in comparison to the quality and capacity of the Pakistani Army. North Vietnam never had a large nuclear arsenal or a powerful global lobby.

        What do you mean by “we”? Do you mean the UN? Do you mean the global powers who support the Northern Alliance? Do you mean NATO?

        Afghanistan has been ruled by foreign powers or part of foreign alliance confederacies for most of the last 5 thousand years. Afghanistan only won her independence in 1747 when Eastern Iran partitioned and split. (At that time Afghanistan included Pakistan, Northern India, parts of Iran, former USSR). The British took India and Pakistan away from Afghanistan and shrank Afghanistan into a tiny rump state.

        As a poor country with powerful hostile neighbors, Afghanistan cannot defend herself without international aid. Afghanistan received massive international aid from the world before 1979. Afghanistan was the second largest recipient of US foreign aid before 1979; after only South Vietnam. Afghanistan also received massive aid from the USSR, Iran, India, China, Europe, Japan, everyone. Afghanistan had a larger army in the 1970s than she does today, paid for by international aid. When that aid stopped, Afghanistan convulsed into civil war that continues until this day. Pakistanis used Afghans to destroy Afghanistan; who Pakistanis regard as their historic enemy. 40 years of war is hard to end overnight.

        Do you believe that the 40 year war will continue forever and that therefore international foreign aid to Afghanistan should be cut off? [Although you know that many countries will remain deeply involved in Afghanistan no matter how much you lobby.]

        Or do you favor making Afghanistan a Pakistani protectorate to end the 40 year war, and then giving aid to develop Afghanistan? Afghanistan was ruled by Pakistan via proxy 1994-2001.

        If you favor the second, then remember that Afghans will fight the Pakistanis and Taliban forever. No matter what America does, powerful countries (such as Russia, Iran, India, Turkey, China, Japan, Europe, Australia, Canada) will still help the anti Taliban Afghans fight and survive.

        Would it be correct to say that what you are really calling for is a forever war where the US sides with Pakistan and the Taliban against the Afghans and Afghanistan’s allies? I don’t think you would like this outcome at all.

        If you really want to please Afghans, you would end all aid to Pakistan and impose international sanctions on Pakistan. But I think that would hurt Afghanistan in the long run too. Deep Afghan emotions and animosity towards Pakistan clouds Afghan judgement regarding Afghan interests.

        You speak about “lost”. I don’t understand what you mean by “lost”. A successful strong Afghanistan is a victory for the entire world. A weak Afghanistan is a disaster for the entire world, including you. You will always “lose” until Afghanistan is strong and successful. If Afghanistan falls, Pakistani based Jihadis who are now busy attacking Afghans will attack Iran, Russia, India, China, Stans, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, US, Latin America, Africa, Arab world, Indonesia. Is this really what you want? How many muslims do Jihadis have to kill before you realize that this is your war? 5 million? 15 million? Do you really believe that you can stay out of the Islamic civil war? Good luck with that.

        There is only one species, one world. We all share common values and similar long term interests. This is why we should collaborate together to advance our shared values and interests.

  6. “Curt Kastens 2017.10.12 05:39
    Would it maybe easier if the Pashtuns and Tajiks simply agree to a divorce?”

    That would be a complete disaster. Over 35% of all Afghans are neither Pashtun nor Tajik. Plus Pashtun and Tajik live side by side in blended mixed communities.

    Moreover the Taliban won’t allow a Pashtun state. Pakistan doesn’t want a Pashtun state in Afghanistan; because such a state would ally with Pakistani Pashtuns against the Pakistani Army.

    The Taliban have ambitions in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Pakistan and Kashmir India. The idea that they would ever stop fighting Kabul, Northern Afghanistan and Western Afghanistan is madness.

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