Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Rejecting The "Training Afghans" Meme

One of the central tenets of the Obama administration strategy, whether or not they go forward with the surge, is to accelerate the training of Afghan soldiers and policemen, so that they can fight the war against the Taliban for themselves. It's like the "Vietnamization" of Afghanistan.

Unfortunately, Time reports, things might not be going as smoothly as administration numbers suggest. The administration has recently been claiming that 94,000 Afghans trained to fight in the Afghan National Army (ANA). That number is misleading for several reasons. First, only half are "combat ready" by the U.S's own definition. Second, even those who are "combat ready" are only ready to fight alongside NATO leadership. They have certainly not proven their ability to engage the Taliban in combat on their own. Finally, the ANA currently has a desertion rate of 20%. Sometimes the desertions are dramatic and tragic, such as last month, when Taliban infiltrators at the police department killed an American soldier, but a 20% drop-out rate is pretty demoralizing, considering Afghanistan's vast unemployment problems.

We have seen this movie before, of course, most recently in Iraq, where the number of trained Iraqi soldiers was constantly inflated. The difference here is that training the soldiers presents a far greater logistical challenge. The largely illiterate Afghan population is extremely difficult to train. The military can't hand out manuals, so the training has to be oral, and that through a translator. Accelerating training will require more capable translators, somehow finding more military recruits (despite the high existing desertion rate) and accepting the added security risk that comes with shoddier training and more entry points for Taliban infiltrators. Good luck with that plan.

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