ANA: Ghosts of the Red Army

>> Friday, February 12, 2010

The building blocks of the Afghan National Army:

The Afghan government is dominated by former mujahedeen guerrillas; both the minister of defense and the army chief of staff are former anti-Soviet insurgents. Most ANA generals and colonels appointed to serve just below them, however, are veterans of the Soviet-built Afghan military that hunted these insurgents through the 1980s.

Facing a dearth of professional officers, the U.S.-led coalition is bringing these former foes in from the cold, restoring their Soviet-era rank and giving them command positions. American officers say few other Afghans have the formal military training and know-how to run conventional divisions and brigades.

There's a lot here for anyone interested in military culture. It isn't really surprising that former Democratic Republic of Afghanistan officers are playing key roles in the ANA; as the article suggests, they're the only ones with any experience managing units as large and as bureaucratically complex as the forces currently being fielded. Guerrilla fighting experience does not, as a general rule, translate well into management of a semi-conventional military organization. China and Vietnam represents partial exceptions in which the transition between guerrilla and conventional military organization was managed more or less smoothly, but in both cases there was an ideologically coherent and bureaucratically sophisticated party apparatus backing the army up. In Afghanistan, this isn't really the case.

It's also not at all unusual for a "revolutionary" military organization to borrow officers from the ancien regime. The French Army of the Napoleonic Era obviously did so, as did the Red Army of the 1920s (Tukhachevsky was a former Czarist officer), and the ReichswehrBundeswehr of the 1950s. In all of these cases the officers supplied technical expertise at the expense of sometimes suspect ideology; in this case, however, I daresay that the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan is supposed to look much more like the Soviet-sponsored regime than the intervening Taliban regime. It's not all that likely that the officers in question will harbor much residual sympathy for the DRA, and although it can legitimately be asked whether they have "dirty hands," the same questions apply to former mujahadeen and warlord fighters.

The article suggests that one source of trouble has been friction between the Soviet style command that the erstwhile DRA officers were trained in and the Western structure of the ANA. I suspect that there's a role for NATO's Eastern European members to play in smoothing this out; every former member of the Warsaw Pact has been forced to deal with a crisis of military culture since 1989, which should generate some insight into the difficulties of the ANA.


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