Friday 20 Jul 2018 | 07:38 | SYDNEY
Friday 20 Jul 2018 | 07:38 | SYDNEY

Why Afghans fight

17 February 2010 13:19

My colleague in Afghanistan has seen Rodger's post in reply to his first piece, and offers a rejoinder below.  

A quick detail beforehand: I entirely agree with Rodger's point that it is unhelpful to 'try to view the Taliban as a homogenous group', but note that (1) that's not what my colleague said, and (2) I know that's not what he thinks. In fact, five years ago when we were both on the HQ Multinational Corps plans team in Baghdad, we both despaired at the 'Anti-Iraqi Forces' term used in planning work, and strove to encourage use of more precise names for specific adversary groups.

Thanks to Rodger Shanahan for taking an interest in my missive. I suppose each gains their views from different sources: I draw my perspective of what motivates many Afghan soldiers from nearly two years of planning, commanding and conducting combined operations between US Forces and Kandaks.

First, I will acknowledge the average Afghan is not known for his sense of volunteerism. Nevertheless, the fact that Afghan men are volunteering to serve openly — knowing full well that  the Haqqani Network and Taliban insurgents will viciously target them and their families — is an indicator that many Afghans are willing to fight against the reactionary elements of all of the disparate groupings within the loose collective grouping called 'Anti-Afghan Forces'.

Second, yes there is a high desertion rate among Afghan soldiers. There were also desertion rates among some American Revolutionary War regiments — as high as 50%. Worse, a number of mutinies occurred that nearly broke Washington's Continental Army – something that Generals Clinton, Burgoyne, and Cornwallis could not achieve on the battlefield. NATO's Combined Action Campaign — which was started here in Regional Command (East) last year — has gone to great lengths to help reform the leadership, living conditions, and pay of the Afghan soldiers.

In the end, desertion rates are not necessarily the only indicator of how an Army will fare against an insurgent or conventional opponent. And in fact, Rodger's revelation that Afghan National Army pay and conditions are comparatively poor (certainly worse than what is at times offered by the insurgents!) is an indicator that there is obviously something else motivating people to join the government’s side.

Finally, it should be noted that recent surveys taken here among the Afghan population show more support for the Army than any other institution in Afghanistan. This support could be an ominous sign of things to come (noting how the Pakistan public's high support for their military has led to a number of coups when the civilian leadership has been weak). Even so, the fact remains that throughout the Afghanistan I walk in and fly over, there are tribal elders, Mullahs and families encouraging their sons and some daughters to join the ANA. This is a trend that can only be a change for good in this devastated nation.

PS: I termed Guevara as a 'Caribbean' version of the Taliban because that is where he exercised most of his ideological campaign (see Nick Caistor's work here as a helpful synopsis for those who missed out on that particular seven years of Che's life). And while patently there are differences between the two, the similarity I chose to highlight was that both peddle oppressive regimes that are comprehensively intolerant of alternative views.

Photo by Flickr user DVIDSHUB, used under a Creative Commons license.