KANDAHAR, Afghanistan | When nearly 60 tribal leaders gathered in a Taliban stronghold here recently to discuss mounting security challenges, U.S. military commanders and staff listened attentively, but there were no representatives from Afghan security forces.
“What government do we have?” asked Mohammed Nabi, a malik, or tribal leader, from the Kandahar region who acknowledged he was a Taliban sympathizer. “The only faces I see here are men from another country wearing uniforms like the Russians. We are left to fend for ourselves, protect ourselves, and there is no one here from Kabul who cares.”
President Obama’s strategy for Afghanistan relies heavily on increasing the quality and quantity of Afghanistan’s army and police. But eight years after the overthrow of the Taliban, the nearly 120,000-member Afghan National Security Forces remains a work in progress. Some U.S. troops are skeptical that the locals will ever be able to step up and defend the Afghan people by themselves.
During October, when a record 59 American troops were killed in Afghanistan, a reporter and photographer for The Washington Times visited southern Afghanistan and found no Afghan army units fighting alongside or otherwise aiding U.S. troops in the Maywand or Arghandab Valley regions. On several occasions, the Afghan army and police failed to show, forcing missions to be postponed because the Americans are required to have Afghan escorts before entering Afghan homes.
Some Afghan army personnel were observed training, however, at Kandahar airfield.
“Where are they?” asked a U.S. military official who spoke on the condition that he not be named because of the political sensitivity of the subject. “Were out here fighting, and there isnt one Afghan face in the mix fighting alongside us. All the Afghan people see is our face, and that doesnt give them much hope that their government is behind them in this fight. We need to put their face at the forefront.”
Army Spc. Brock McIntosh, an Illinois National Guard reservist who returned to the U.S. in August from a 10-month deployment in eastern Afghanistan, said that Afghan forces, even when they arrived, often “would just be following behind without actively participating” in missions.
“It’s important to have their face, the Afghan army face, in the fight,” he said. “It’s supposed to be their country, and the people need to see that. At the same time, we have a problem. I don’t think American troops will ever fully trust them or that they will ever fully trust us. That’s been a major problem.”
Occasional incidents in which Afghan soldiers or men wearing Afghan army uniforms have attacked U.S. and allied forces have not helped build that trust.
Col. Bjarne Michael Iverson, a former top aide to Central Command head Gen. David H. Petraeus, acknowledged the challenge of training the Afghans sufficiently to provide the exit strategy that Mr. Obama described in his speech Tuesday night.
“It’s going to be complex and difficult, and it’s going to take time,” said Col. Iverson, who is currently the Army fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.
While Afghans “are known as good fighters,” he said, “what they don’t have is the structures you typically find in a military, such as battalions and command-and-control systems.”View Entire Story
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