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ANSF: “…they don’t respect us. When we see that they don’t have respect we get angry.”

May 21, 2012

By Tim Foxley

With everyone falling over themselves to present a united “transition all going to plan even including the 3,400 French troops unexpectedly pulling out two years early” message at the NATO summit in Chicago, there’s a couple of angles I came across regarding the capabilities of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF).  The first is set to make the blood boil of many ISAF personnel – a stream of complaints from ANA members who criticise the equipment they have been given (M-16 assault rifles, boots that fall apart) and the equipment (night vision goggles) that they feel they should have.

“The Americans have really much better equipment than us,” he said. “Our vehicles and weapons are very weak compared to theirs.”

A soldier named Abdul Karim said he’d prefer a 30-year-old Russian-made Kalashnikov to an M16. The Americans “are giving us old weapons and try to make them look new with polish and paint. We don’t want their throwaways,” he said.

There is quite a bit more on similar themes in the article.  It would be a unusual army that didn’t complain about its equipment, but it does seem a trifle lacking in gratitude.  I do remember a Pakistani ex-Army officer at an Afghanistan regional conference I attended a few years back saying something similar, along the lines of “well of course we would move the army into the FATA and take on the Pakistani Taliban, but someone (ie hint, hint the US) had better give us some combat helicopters and night vision equipment first…”.  The boots issued triggered my memory about something I read earlier this month: “Army procurement switch puts boot into Afghan dream”:

Saffi’s Milli Boot Factory, in Kabul’s sprawling industrial hinterland, was a model for Afghanistan, showcasing local manufacturing while giving jobs to hundreds of people who may otherwise have picked up insurgent guns.  But a U.S. decision to hand procurement to the Afghan government has left Saffi with something of a developed world problem – local officials opted for cheaper boots made in China and Pakistan, killing off Milli’s contracts after a year.

“The U.S. government told me when I started I would have contracts for five years, until at least 2014,” he told Reuters. “The Afghan government gave me only three months notice of cancellation and now I have $30 million worth of raw material I can’t use…

… Saffi sold his leather boots, which underwent a rigorous quality testing process in the United States, for $62 a pair, while Chinese-made boots with imitation leather cost the Afghan government $22 in a contract for up to 700,000 pairs a year.

“The Afghan government is just looking for the lowest price,” he said, surveying a room piled high with rolls of leather and raw material bought from Taiwan.

“They asked me to sell for $15 a pair, but the leather alone cost me $40. The Chinese boots use fake leather and quickly fall apart, but they are cheap.”

So it may be that that giving contracts to the Afghan procurement system may be at least part of the reason for Afghan complaints.

But the piece is also revealing for some of the (mixed) thoughts about whether the ANSF members want ISAF to stay or go.  You might want to read this and this to give a little context.

“…an Associated Press reporter and photographer travelling with Afghan army forces in Logar and Paktia provinces are hearing a mix of messages from dozens of officers and enlisted men.  The foreign forces are leaving too soon, the men say. Why then are attacks by Afghan soldiers on NATO forces increasing, killing 35 last year and 22 so far this year? Because the Afghans feel disrespected, the soldiers say. Handing out inferior equipment is disrespectful; burning Qurans, however accidental, is disrespectful; urinating on dead bodies, even Taliban, as video that emerged in January showed U.S. troops doing, is disrespectful.

The conversation with Aga, the firing range instructor, shifted from poor equipment to the disturbingly high number of so-called “green-on-blue” attacks, a U.S. military term for Afghan soldiers killing their NATO counterparts.  Aga, a squat man with piercing brown eyes, gave off a strange mix of resentment, envy and appreciation. He didn’t want the international soldiers to leave. “We still need them to bring peace,” he said.

Then he explained the issue of respect.

When foreign forces patrol with Afghan forces, “they don’t respect us. When we see that they don’t have respect we get angry. Even myself, I have seen how they behave in Afghanistan. They have sometimes been cruel. I saw in operations they have entered mosques, I have seen this myself.”

Another complaint: The foreigners don’t let civilians drive in front of their convoys even if they are rushing a sick person to treatment, referring to the heavy security measures U.S. troops impose around their vehicles.

Col. Ahmed Jan Ahmedzai said incidents like the mistaken burning of Qurans at Bagram Air Base makes recruits susceptible to Taliban overtures. New recruits are watched carefully for signs of sympathy for the Taliban, he said.

Because of the attacks, international soldiers are no longer present at firing ranges, said Col. Asif Khan Saburi, in charge of recruit training in five provinces.

“When we have shooting practice I have to look at two things: How my soldier is shooting and that he doesn’t fire at the U.S. soldiers,” he said.

The U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force in Kabul did not respond to several requests by The Associated Press for comment on the Afghan perception of a lack of respect.

In May last year, a U.S. Army team led by a behavioural scientist released a 70-page survey that revealed both Afghan and American soldiers hold disturbingly negative perceptions of the other.

According to the survey, many Afghan security personnel found U.S. troops “extremely arrogant, bullying and unwilling to listen to their advice” and sometimes lacking concern about Afghans’ safety in combat. They accused the Americans of ignoring female privacy and using denigrating names for Afghans.

U.S. troops, in turn, often accused Afghan troops and police of “pervasive illicit drug use, massive thievery, personal instability, dishonesty, no integrity,” the survey said.”

The other angle concerned the Afghan National Police (ANP).  I don’t know if Bismillah Khan, the head of the Ministry of the Interior, was having an off day, but he went very “off-message” with a withering attack on the capabilities of the ANP:

Bismillah Khan, Minister of the Interior

“Lack of discipline and a lax code of conduct among Afghan police forces has caused serious problems for the residents in Afghanistan’s northern provinces, Minister of Interior Bismillah Mohammadi said Wednesday.

Misuse of police resources and drug addiction among police officers are key concerns for the government, Mohammadi said at a meeting in northern Balkh province.

“Driving of police vehicles, improper use of police uniforms, and drug addiction are the main concerns within police,” Mohammadi said in his trip to the north of Afghanistan to review the security situation.

The transfer of the control of Afghan prisons from the Ministry of Justice to the Ministry of Interior (MOI) was another major challenge as Mohammadi said the MOI had not been ready to oversee this responsibility.

“We did not support the transfer of prisoners to the MOI,” he said. “We needed to protect the country from the insurgents who are threatening people on a daily basis.”

Head of Balkh provincial council Afzal Hadid raised his concerns at the same meeting over the existence of corruption within the police force.

“There is massive corruption within the police force,” Hadid said. “Honest officials should be appointed in critical positions to put pressure on others to prevent corruption.”

“We urged the police chief to put more pressure on them in order for the people to trust the police.”

Food for concerned thought in the context of Chicago messages of transition.  While I haven’t finished reading it yet, a paper from Barbara Stapleton for the Afghanistan Analysts Network, looks to be making a pessimistic assessment of transition from a very well-informed viewpoint (and a good set of interviewees).

“The danger is that the US-led international policy and NATO’s management of an orderly military withdrawal from Afghanistan will become more incoherent…The chances of strategic failure for NATO cannot be dismissed.  The Afghan people would pay the immediate price should there be a wider civil war…[strategic failure] would cascade throughout the region and beyond in unforeseeable ways.”

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