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With Withdrawal Ahead, Afghan Generals Debate Military Preparedness

Afghan National Army soldiers pray for their fallen colleagues.
Afghan National Army soldiers pray for their fallen colleagues.
As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan this year, the country's security forces remain in dire need of reforms and reorganization to provide internal security and defense against foreign aggression.

Former and serving Afghan military generals participating in a recent Radio Free Afghanistan call-in show, "On the Waves of Freedom," agreed that the international community, especially the United States, has helped strengthen the country’s military, but identified a long list of challenges that remain.

Javed Kohistani, a former general, observed, "Many parts of our current security forces were conceived by the international community. They cannot meet Afghan needs, and our Ministry of Defense has little authority to reform these forces." He said that structural changes are necessary to build a professional fighting force loyal to Kabul.

Kohistani criticized the current centralized military bureaucracy in Kabul, which must be staffed by professional generals whose talent and skills could be better deployed in the field.

"At present, many qualified and professional army officers are assigned to a menial job, which prevents the development and evolution of a professional national army," he said.

Kohistani also pointed out the need for a robust system to manage promotions and rotations, enforce discipline, and ensure troops’ welfare, particularly those who are killed or wounded in action.

Institutional reform must be accompanied by "a new doctrine focusing on serving the nation because it will boost morale in the ranks," Kohistani said, adding that it presupposed a strong will and clear political objective at the highest levels of leadership.

Lawmaker Jabar Qahraman, another former general, remarked that the current Afghan military is strikingly different from the Soviet-backed force he served in the 1980s.

He said the communist army bankrolled by the Kremlin was a conscript force, while the current NATO-backed army is a volunteer organization, which is very expensive for a poor country like Afghanistan to support.

In addition, "Our army was facing a popular uprising backed by the international community," he said, whereas "The current war in Afghanistan is covert, which requires our military to become a robust counterterrorist force."

Qahraman also cited the need to fight corruption inside the military and make better use of its limited resources. He pointed to the recent purchase of 29 airplanes from Italy, which cost Kabul $35o million and yet cannot fly.

General Afzal Aman, head of operations of the Afghan National Army, defended the country’s troop posture, stating, "Our army has taken over security responsibilities from international forces and now conducts all its operations independently."

He cited the need for improved intelligence and reconnaissance equipment.

One caller, who chose to remain anonymous, criticized Afghan President Hamid Karzai for being soft on the Taliban and slow to recognize the sacrifices of Afghan soldiers.

"The Taliban regularly kill our forces and innocent civilians, still the president recently released some dangerous Taliban prisoners," he said.

Every Thursday millions of Afghans in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, and Tajikistan tune in to "On the Waves of Freedom." This weekly two-hour long radio call-in show is known for its analysis and political commentary, and is a flagship program of Radio Free Afghanistan, locally known as Radio Azadi.