Tag Archives: ANSF

In a sense, it’s what we do

ISAF has huge challenge building the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) while fighting a war, a COIN operation, navigating corruption, and a drug trade.  Complicating matters is that this is being done with a coalition of about 40 countries.  To quote an NTM-A alum:

An American Air Force Officer designs an Army unit that is trained by a British Armor Officer, validated with Canadian and Jordanian Officers, and later mentored in the field by Turkish Officers.

It could also be added that each of the people listed above change-out every six months so forget anyone knowing what the previous people were thinking!

This EDS commercial pretty much summarizes the task IJC and NTM-A have undertaken:

There are a few improvements that will make this commercial a truly authentic metaphor for NTM-A:

  1. The pilot continuously asks the workers to leave.
  2. The airline keeps requesting a different fleet of planes.
  3. The passengers extort money from the workers.
  4. The flight attendants steal tools and materials.
  5. The workers change-out every few weeks.
  6. The workers union requires the workers to come from different countries.
  7.  The designer changes the style aircraft every year in the following order:  Jet, Turboprop, Helicopter, Glider.
  8. The flight school insists on changing the aircraft from a Cessna 182T to an Airbus 380.
  9. The investors dump bags of money out the back of the plane.
  10. The only fuel available is nitrous oxide and a chase plane is constantly telling them to buy ethanol.
  11. The plane is taking anti-aircraft fire.
  12. Air Traffic Control redirects the plane every few hours to a different destination.
  13. No one knows what the final airplane will look like until 2014.
  14. The plane will be complete in 2014 whether or not it lands.
  15. In the final scene, the place crashes.

 In a sense, that’s EXACTLY what we do.

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Big Boy visits Afghanistan

Someone must have been on their last day at Camp Eggers; something is just not right about the automated announcement from the NTM-A JOC.

If you aren’t in the military, this will not be funny one way or the other.  But for anyone familiar with military installations, this is funny, especially for Afghanistan. 

If you’ve been in Afghanistan and understand the affinity for boys, this announcement takes on a whole new meaning.

Hopefully, the exercise helped prepare the Embassy because when they use their their “Big Boy Voice” there is likely to be an uptick in interest from Afghans.

Coalition vs. Culture

As navy lore goes, submariners deploy as 110 men and return as 55 couples.  But hey, they’re not gay because they are deployed, right?

Holding hands, beard rubs, chai boys, dancing boys, and Bacha Bazi.  It’s ok because it’s Afghanistan, right?

A Human Terrain Team (HTT) attached to the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Battalion in Helmand province documented even more hideous cultural norms among the friendly, peace-loving, muslims that make up much of the country in a report documenting the culturally accepted pedophilia embedded in the Pashtun culture of Afghanistan:  Pashtun Sexuality.  Attributing much of the behavior to misapplication of principles from the Koran, the breadth of deviance from western cultural norms speak to deeply-rooted beliefs that are nearly incompatible with a healthy society and are unlikely to be overcome with computers and literacy training:

[A U.S. Army medic] and her male colleagues were approached by a local gentleman seeking advice on how his wife could become pregnant.  When it was explained to him what was necessary, he reacted with disgust and asked “How could one feel desire to be with a woman, who God has made unclean, when one could be with a man, who is clean?  Surely this must be wrong.”

Fox News uncovered the HTT report in January 2010 and filed this report:  Afghan Men Struggle With Sexual Identity, Study Finds.  Save yourself the read–Afghans are not “struggling” with their sexual identity; they are completely comfortable with it.  PBS filed the documentary, The Dancing Boys of Afghanistan, in April of 2010 which exposes the sex-trade in the country where families sell there sons to wealthy men for entertainment.  In Afghanistan, such Bacha Bazi are regarded as a status symbol.

Do U.S. senior leaders read these stories?  What do they think, “Let’s teach women to fly helicopters and then the men will desire them instead of boys?”  The culture has marginalized women so much than men prefer boys over women!  What are we thinking when we try to integrate women into the ANSF (at great expense no less)?  That somehow the men will respect them and finally find them “clean?”

The opening lines of Maura Reynolds’ Los Angeles Times report in April 2003 gives the following account:

In his 29 years, Mohammed Daud has seen the faces of perhaps 200 women. A few dozen were family members. The rest were glimpses stolen when he should not have been looking and the women were caught without their face-shrouding burkas. “How can you fall in love with a girl if you can’t see her face?” he asks. 

Daud is unmarried and has sex only with men and boys. But he does not consider himself homosexual, at least not in the Western sense. “I like boys, but I like girls better,” he says. “It’s just that we can’t see the women to see if they are beautiful.  But we can see the boys, and so we can tell which of them is  beautiful.”

These stories reflect behavior embedded far more deeply than most westerners think.  It’s natural to think “They’re just like us” but spend a little time with them and you learn that they do think differently.  That said, attempts to westernize their military and modernize their country reflect just as greatly on the coalition as Afghan behavior does their culture.  The big question is not “can Afghanistan be a stable hedge against terrorism” but “can a culture so foreign to the west sustain a modern, pro-western government military?”  As an aside, is the behaviour environmentally or genetically driven?

At least in Iraq some of the men like women:  an Iraqi officer (with four wives) offered a concubine to a fellow officer in Iraq, “because it was unacceptable for a man to abstain from sex during long separations from wives” and “it was ok in Islam.” 

Where the hadiths speak of 72 virgins, the Pashtuns are not thinking of 72 women.  Blame it on their DNA.

Bureaucracy successfully implemented in Afghanistan

As inconceivable as it may be, Afghans could teach our politicians (and military) a thing or two about bureaucracy.  Imagine requiring the Secretary of Defense’s signature to purchase this truckload of supplies. 

The $2,000 of building materials required 26 signatures and was ultimately bottom-lined by the Afghan Minister of Defense.  A similar amount of supplies purchased by the U.S. government is regarded as a micro-purchase and could be signed-off by an E-5 with a government-issued credit card!

NTM-A and IJC may struggle getting the ANSF to build terrain models and use Port-o-lets and HMMWV‘s properly, but there is no problem developing multi-layered hierarchies and worthless flow-charts that inhibit real work while promoting ample opportunities for corruption.

Building an “Afghan Right” ANSF

A Washigton Post article from several months ago highlights some of the lessons learned in building infrastructure for the Afghan National Security Forces: In helping Afghanistan build up its security forces, U.S. is trimming the frills.  Then NTM-A Commanding General, LTG Caldwell, saw construction that made him cringe — but this construction was likely started 2 or 3 years ago before any lessons learned could be applied.

That raises an interesting dichotomy:  We can’t trust the ANSF with pedestal porcelain sinks and air conditioning but we can trust them with helicopters, a pilot school, up-armored humvees, a mobile strike force, and computers.  Maybe working more on the basics such as reading, weapons safety, and training them to drive would reduce the demand for flight medicsvehicle recovery techniques, and doctors.

Next time we rebuild a country, many more lessons will be available but we’ll probably reinvent the wheel anyway.

Professionals talk logistics, Part II

In what has become a recurring theme, fielding the logistics and support units (the ones that take the longest to train) after the combat troops goes against lessons learned from Vietnam and beyond.  So it doesn’t take a genius to predict that building these vital enablers for the Afghan National Army will be a challenge.

NTM-A dubbed 2011 “The Year of the Enabler”  which is reflected in the “Report on Progress Toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan April 2011.” Page 14 of the report states that the priorities for 2011 include, “the development of key enablers, such as intelligence, logistics, fire support,
airlift, and engineer units.”

When the combat troops are fielded before the support, it would only be natural that they become reliant on ad hoc methods of self-support and will inherently not trust other sources.  Page 27 of the same report states,

The ANA logistics system remains heavily reliant on coalition support. Because of this, ANA logistics capability is a major focus for 2011.  NTM-A/CSTC-A and MoD are working on a logistics strategy that addresses structure, policy, training, acquisition/procurement, supply, maintenance, distribution, and logistics automation.

With the coalition providing nearly all support, there is minimal motivation to exercise and use a new system that will undoubtedly trip and stumble during the early stages of development.

Still “working on a logistics strategy?”  Combine that with “. . . MoD continu[ing] to implement new policies and processes in personnel and logistics systems” (p. 21), establishing a self-sufficient Afghan National Army will be elusive.

The truth hurts . . .

. . . and can be very painful. 

MG Fuller, NTM-A Deputy Commander for Programs, was in Washington, D.C. for the bi-annual Program Management Review (PMR) where NTM-A provides the Office of the Secretary of Defense an update on programmatic issues related to the billions of dollars dedicated to building the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). 

The Politico’s article, “U.S. general: Afghan leaders ‘isolated from reality’“, has really stirred the hornet’s nest.  The article captures MG Fuller expressing what most everybody has been thinking if not saying  (at least the non-pollyannas in Afghanistan).  But nobody expects a General to speak so candidly–especially when it makes so many look so clueless.

Of course, depending on who you talk to, the entire military establishment is detached from reality:  Security has not improved!