Friday, January 20, 2012

Training forces who don't want you there

One of the mandates of NATO in Afghanistan is to train and develop a strong internal military force comprised of native Afghans.  For Afghanistan to be a secure nation, it must eventually rely on itself to supply military strength.  NATO forces currently work with army and police units, training them in disciplined reaction to threats, preemptive actions through patrols, combat medical treatment, and other crucial activities.  The ultimate mission is for Afghanistan to have a strong, stable military/police force to allow for the maintenance and further development of peace.  However, not everyone in Afghanistan wants a centralized military force and insurgents have caused problems for the recruitment of soldiers/police and their training.  It appears though that the latest hurdle faced by NATO forces trying to train a competent military is within the military itself.  Today, four French servicemen were killed by an Afghan National Army (ANA) member, adding to the number of what is termed "fratricide-murders" committed by Afghan National Security Force (ANSF) members.  What is causing this phenomenon?  

The infiltration of ANSF troops by insurgents in order to sow discord and attack NATO troops directly continues to be a threat.  However, a report released last May concluded that the growing number of this type of killing reflects a systemic threat, caused not so much by the actions of insurgents attempting to disrupt development of an effective army, but of personal clashes between NATO and ANSF troops.  According to the report, the root cause of these clashes is cultural in nature - Western and Afghan forces treading heavily on each others' cultural norms, leading to severe misunderstandings and disrespect.  A recent well-publicized example is the video of American troops urinating on dead Afghans.  While completely reprehensible, such an act may perhaps be understood in terms of war fatigue.  Both NATO and ANSF troops are tired.  It is hard work, building national security by partnering with people from strange lands who don't speak your language or understand your culture.  NATO troops are tired of being in Afghanistan, trying to train people who may or may not want or see the need for the training.  ANSF troops might feel that they have enough training and are ready for the foreigners to leave.  In all, a tension is growing that is resulting in dangerous ends.  

So what should be done?  More frequent rotations of troops?  More cultural training?  Quicker pace of handing over training to ANSF troops?  France has chosen the latter route, and announced it will halt all training now and be pulling its troops sooner than 2014.  Clearly this is a reactionary announcement, most likely spurred by the upcoming elections in France, in which Sarkozy will run again.  Pulling out early will only create a vacuum for other NATO troops to fill, giving France a bad reaction from other nations.  France though is no stranger to going its own way, so time will tell.  In the long run, however, the bigger issue of how to train people who don't want you there must be solved.

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