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The New Faces Of The Afghan Army

The most recent issue of The American Interest has a profile of the Afghan National Army by Alim Remtulla, one of the only Western journalists to spend any length of time in the Afghan Army without NATO supervision. The article, over a year in the making, is here; excerpts are below.

A clutch of soldiers is gathered around one bunk. At its center is the company’s resident entrepreneur, 28-year-old Dawa Khan, a former police officer who, after a friendly-fire incident with coalition forces, decided he would be safer in the army. Tucked under his bed in a lockbox is a collection of mobile phones, calling cards and cigarettes. Dawa Khan has the company commander’s blessing to visit Kandahar’s markets (in civilian clothes, of course) and return with supplies. For his time and effort, he takes a small cut. Dawa Khan’s distinctive facial hair has earned the budding capitalist the nickname Lenin. The irony is lost on everyone.

Remtulla goes on to interview the Afghan Army’s past and present commanders including Lieutenant Colonel Mohammad Hasan Baluch, commander of the 3rd battalion and an old associate of the legendary Northern Alliance commander Ahmed Shah Massoud; General Sher Mohammad Zazai, trained in Leningrad and known for ushering “foreign security contractors out of his office by the sole of his boot”; and the (forcibly) retired General Amir Mohammad Ahmadi, another former communist turned mujahid.

Perhaps the article’s greatest asset is the way it analyzes the divisions and different allegiances that permeate the Afghan Army’s leadership. General Ahmadi, for instance, was pushed into early retirement because of the simmering distrust between the current Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak (an ethnic Pashtun with whom Ahmadi enjoyed a close relationship) and the recently departed Army Chief of Staff General Bismillah Khan Mohammadi, an ethnic Tajik. Afghanistan’s tribal and ethnic divisions create complicated power struggles at the highest levels of the Army and government, and what is simply simmering tension now could easily fracture into violence, as has happened so often in Afghan history.

Remtulla’s article is fine war journalism: lengthy interaction with one group of ordinary soldiers combined with access to the higher echelons of Army leadership and sprinkled with insightful analysis on the state of the Afghan Army as a whole, which will soon be responsible for maintaining peace in a fractured and wounded country. Our hopes are high; our expectations more modest.

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  • Kris

    “Our hopes are high; our expectations more modest.”

    “A modest little person, with much to be modest about.” — Winston Churchill about Clement Attlee.

  • Bruno Behrend

    Any ray of hope is a good thing. My son just started his 2nd tour in Afghanistan, and not particularly optimistic on their army.

    Don’t get him started on their police.

    • Walter Russell Mead

      @Bruno Behrend: Thoughts and prayers of the Via Meadia team are with your son, his colleagues and their loved ones.

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