These tragedies highlight a recurring problem that has existed since 2001 with regard to Afghanistan, which is excessive and debilitating Pentagon secrecy. As a result, the American people continue to have no warning that anything is amiss in Afghanistan (because the Pentagon tends to only release happy news of progress). When problems do come to light, as has occurred in the past week, the American people are provided with no factual analysis of the situation or its causes, and are offered no solutions. The American news media is largely satisfied with publishing the facts of the killings, followed by the speeches of outrage, sorrow and apology.
The Pentagon has potential and actual access to a wealth of crucial information, which is being suppressed. Over the past several years, it has investigated each Afghan Army shooting. The Pentagon undoubtedly now understands the motivations for most, if not all of the shootings, but these reports have not been made public. Afghan officials point to a variety of causes:
Some of the Afghan soldiers were Taliban agents;
Some of the Afghan soldiers were motivated by perceived mistreatment by U.S. troops;
Some of the Afghan soldiers were motivated by the Koran burnings;
Some of the Afghan soldiers were motivated by errant U.S. night raids;
Some of the Afghan soldiers were motivated by errant U.S. air strikes; and
Some of the Afghan soldiers may have been motivated by notions of patriotism.
The issue is that the American public is not being told the facts by the Pentagon. One assumption is that the Pentagon’s findings regarding these shootings are not pretty and may undermine the Administration’s rosy assessments of progress, which may explain why the findings have been suppressed.
If Pentagon officials truly wanted to tackle this problem and try to solve it, they would begin with comprehensive polling of Afghan National Army soldiers in order to understand the current situation. Polling questions might include the following:
1. How would you rate your American or NATO trainers in the areas of:
(A) Afghan language skills?
(B) Military skills?
(C) Patience? and
(D) Cultural understanding?
2. How would you rate your American or NATO trainers in their knowledge of:
(B) Afghan history?
3. How would you rate the overall quality of your training?
4. How would you rate the overall quality of your weapons and equipment?
5. How would you rate the overall quality of your living quarters?
6. How would you rate the overall quality of the food you are provided?
7. How would you rate the overall quality of your pay?
8. How would you rate the overall quality of your officers?
9. Do you trust your officers?
10. Are you willing to be assigned to districts where there is a Pashtoon majority?
11. Do you consider any American to be your friend?
12. Do you resent the American presence?
13. What percentage of the people in your unit resent the American presence?
14. What percentage of the people in your unit might be willing to harm Americans?
15. What percentage of the people in your unit have Taliban sympathies?
16. What percentage of the people in your unit oppose the American night raids?
17. What percentage of the people in your unit want all prisoners to be under the custody and control of the Afghan Government?
18. What percentage of the people in your unit want the Americans and NATO to leave?
Polling on these and other issues would provide the American and NATO leadership and the American people with the facts to help determine whether their efforts are succeeding or whether everyone is wasting their time.
Remember that the NATO training effort in Afghanistan has been long-neglected. It began with contractors being hired to train the security forces, but that effort largely collapsed. The contractors were replaced by National Guard personnel, but that effort was underfunded and poorly managed. That effort was then replaced by NATO trainers, but that effort also remained underfunded and of low priority. Today, the effort is American-led, but reports detail that it remained underfunded.
A review conducted 18 months ago by The Kabul Press revealed that NATO’s accelerated training program was “accelerated” by reducing training time and dropping standards so that more trainees could graduate in a shorter time-period. The Kabul Press also published a story almost two years ago which contrasted Iranian training of Taliban troops, with NATO training of Afghan National Army soldiers. The Iranians used a trainer to trainee ratio of almost one to one, while NATO has been using a ratio of one trainer for every 100 trainees. The lack of individual training is one factor that has led to Afghan Army desertion rates remaining at a staggering 25% per year.
One concern is whether the American trainers are setting a good example for their Afghan trainees. In Iraq, the U.S. Army issued Frago (Fragmentary Order) 242. It barred Coalition forces from investigating violations of the laws of war (i.e., war crimes) by Iraqi security forces. The same type of order is believed to exist for Afghanistan. Orders such as this, which sanction torture and unlawful killings, set a poor example. They also could be seen as encouraging treachery, as the belief appears to be that anything goes and that all crimes can be excused due to the “fog of war.” Another way of saying this is: Unethical conduct breeds more unethical conduct.
The Afghan War is likely to end badly for NATO and the United States. The Kabul Press has been in the forefront of criticizing that effort in the hope that reforms would be implemented that would turn this ponderous ship around so that it can avoid sinking. Nothing can be accomplished unless and until the Pentagon begins to honestly report all the facts, good and bad. That has not happened and there is little groundswell within the United States for such disclosures. What that means is that the incidents of last week will likely continue because there is no appetite within the Pentagon’s leadership to acknowledge the problems, fix the problems and protect the trainers involved.