The U.S. government’s public statements that it is “accelerating” the training of the Afghan National Army (ANA) are misleading. In 2004, ANA training was legitimately accelerated when the number of recruits undergoing training was doubled. Currently, the acceleration in training is being accomplished by shortening the training from fourteen (14) weeks (six weeks of basic training, six weeks of advanced infantry training and two weeks of collective training) to a dismally short eight (8) weeks. According to David Woods, writing for the Afghanistan Journal, this accelerated training usually ends at 3 p.m. (1500 hours) each day.
1st Lieutenant Mark Larson, of the 10th Mountain Division, is a trainer for the ANA at the Consolidated Fielding Center (CFC) outside of Kabul. On May 18, 2010, in a blog appearing in the New York Times, he wrote that the plan is to train 60,000 new recruits over ten months. Lt. Larson described the program as a “more and faster approach.” He recounts the problems being encountered in the shortened training and admits that “compromises” are being made in order to graduate ANA recruits in volume. While the criteria for graduating a recruit apparently remain classified, the concept is to graduate members who pass “a minimum number of validation exercises successfully.”
It appears from the article that recruits can fail a number of tests and still graduate. In other instances, the tests may have been doctored. David Woods reports that minimal marksmanship scores are up. That would seem to be a good thing until one examines this statistic. One cause for this “improvement” is that American trainers shortened the target lengths from 300 meters to 250 meters. It is not clear whether other tests have likewise been adjusted. After reviewing the available public information, there is no way to properly assess whether the Pentagon’s new training program for the ANA is producing minimally capable soldiers, or simply producing cannon fodder. For example, the ANA’s recruit literacy levels remain under 15%. How can a professional army function if no one can read orders or manuals or write reports?
In contrast, the Sunday Times on March 21, 2010, in a report by Miles Amoore, reported that Iran’s Sepah-e Pasdaran (Army of Guardians) is conducting training of Taliban insurgents. The Pasdaran training is three months long (15 weeks) and the insurgents are trained in groups of 2-5 men. In contrast to U.S. training where the ratio of trainers to students may be 1-100, the Pasdaran ratio is as low as 1-2. The extensive amount of personal attention is part of Iran’s emphasis on quality over quantity.
The Iranian effort seems to work. While American mass production techniques have produced, on paper, an Afghan army of 134,000, that army is plagued with a desertion rate somewhere between 14%-20% per year, which is staggering. The entire Afghan army essentially deserts over a five to six year period.
In this author’s August 27, 2009, Kabul Press article, he published his military recommendations for assisting the Afghan government. All its provisions remain valid today. That article, as background, recounted how the Akkadian Empire created the world’s first professional army, which it used to conquer the Sumerians and rule much of Iraq and half of Syria in the Third Millennium B.C. The army that accomplished that mission consisted of a special riverine light-infantry force of just one brigade (5,000 men) supported by local self-defense units.
The Akkadians invented the world’s first body armor. It consisted of overlapping pieces of copper and looked like the skin of a snake so it was called scale armor or “Kursimtu” after “Kursindu” meaning snake.
The Akkadians emphasized training and technology and used both to prevail for centuries against hostile Gutian, Elamite and Hurrian hill tribes to the East and marauding Amorite desert tribes to the West. Quality almost always trumps quantity.
In conclusion, projected ANA force levels needs to be drastically scaled back and ANA training needs to be drastically lengthened. Success, in this instance, cannot be rushed.