What happens to the Afghan army after the departure of the American forces? : NPR

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Afghan General Sami Sadat (left) greets U.S. General Scott Miller, leader of the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan in southern Helmand province, earlier this month. US and NATO forces are pulling out within months, raising questions about how the Afghan army will behave on its own against the Taliban. “For the past year, the Afghan forces have held their position fairly well,” Sadat said.

Courtesy of General Sami Sadat


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Courtesy of General Sami Sadat


Afghan General Sami Sadat (left) greets U.S. General Scott Miller, leader of the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan in southern Helmand province, earlier this month. US and NATO forces are pulling out within months, raising questions about how the Afghan army will behave on its own against the Taliban. “For the past year, the Afghan forces have held their position fairly well,” Sadat said.

Courtesy of General Sami Sadat

Just days ago, Afghan General Sami Sadat and his troops led a night raid against the Taliban in southern Helmand province, a flat desert dotted with mud houses and farm fields.

“I was there for eight hours, I released up to 50 prisoners, killed a group of Taliban,” he told Mary Louise Kelly of NPR from his headquarters. “We occupied the Musa Qala bazaar for seven hours and it was all an Afghan plan, the Afghan intelligence service, the Afghan air force and one of our special forces units.”

Sadat is only 35 years old and barely a teenager when British troops fought in the same area in 2006, pushing back the Taliban, digging up roadside bombs and killing many people. Musa Qala has been described as “bathed in British blood”. The US Marines came a few years later, confronting the same tough and resilient enemy before withdrawing in 2014 and ceding control to the Afghans.

The Taliban then returned. And Sadat, who trained with British soldiers in England and Marines in the United States, is now doing exactly what they have been doing for the past 15 years.

“We start our day by digging up a lot of (bombs) on the roads and then contacting (the army) with the Taliban,” he said. “The Taliban are trying to establish illegal checkpoints and charge traders and passengers as they pass.”

A recently released report by Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction John Sopko found that officers like Sadat face even more attacks from the Taliban, which rose 37% from January to the end of March, compared to at the same time last year.

That’s not all. Sopko found that insider attacks – where Afghan soldiers and police attack their own – increased 82 percent from last year, with 115 killed and 39 injured. Overall, the casualties of the Afghan security forces are “significantly higher” than last year, according to the report, although neither the Afghans nor the Americans are willing to release precise figures.

Working independently

If there is one bright spot in the report, it is the ability of the Afghan army to conduct operations without US support. Independent operations such as Sadat’s Night Raid have nearly doubled over the past year.

“Suddenly we saw American forces not at our table every morning to help us, mentor us or advise us,” Sadat said in his interview with NPR. “It was all on its own and to be honest over the past year the Afghan forces have held their ground pretty well.”

What is uncertain is whether the Afghan army will be able to cope with the departure of some 2,500 American and 7,000 NATO troops, as well as 17,000 contractors, including 6,000 Americans. . It is these contractors who maintain the Afghan vehicles and aircraft used in this night raid in Musa Qala.

U.S. officials promise to stand by the Afghan government and security forces after the pullout, continuing financial aid that includes $ 88 billion spent on security forces since 2002, of which $ 3 billion this year.

“The president has given us a new mission,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told reporters earlier this month during a meeting with NATO leaders in Brussels. “Responsibly reduce our forces and move on to a new relationship with our Afghan partners.” And we will continue to support them in these efforts. We will seek to continue funding key capabilities such as the Afghan Air Force and the Special Mission Wing, and we will seek to continue paying the salaries of the Afghan security forces. “

But Austin didn’t explain how it would turn out once all U.S. and NATO forces and contractors leave the country.

Afghan army commandos are training at Shorab military camp in Helmand province, southern Afghanistan in 2017. With the departure of US and NATO forces in the coming months, the forces Afghan women will have to face the Taliban without the support of Western countries.

Massoud Hossaini / AP


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Massoud Hossaini / AP


Afghan army commandos are training at Shorab military camp in Helmand province, southern Afghanistan in 2017. With the departure of US and NATO forces in the coming months, the forces Afghan women will have to face the Taliban without the support of Western countries.

Massoud Hossaini / AP

Critical maintenance

At present, contractors provide almost all maintenance and training for the Afghan Air Force and most of the Afghan Army ground vehicles. According to the report of the special inspector general, without the support of a contractor, “no cell can be maintained as effective in combat for more than a few months”.

Even with the help of a contractor, there are problems for the Afghan Air Force. It has 167 devices, of which 136 can be used, down 24 from the previous quarter.

So what is the American plan to help?

“We are looking at alternatives to help the Afghans and their remote maintenance efforts,” General Frank McKenzie, the top US commander for the Middle East region, recently told reporters. “I don’t want to downplay this problem or, you know, make it look easier than it will be.”

“We will certainly try to do whatever we can,” he added, “from remote locations to help the Afghans maintain the aircraft and the other platforms that – that will be essential for the combat that awaits them. “

But what if a Humvee breaks down in Helmand Province, will it go to another country? And what about airplanes?

“The plane is probably a little easier,” he says. “Aircraft maintenance is usually done in a centralized location. We might be able to work remotely and on TV to do it. We want them to be successful, this remains a very high priority, so we will look for ways. innovative ways to do that, we’re still working on them right now, but I recognize that it will be much more difficult to do once you get out of the country. “

For his part, General Sadat is optimistic about the way forward.

“We will beat the odds. We always have,” he said. “Now call me an optimist, but that’s what I am. You know that’s what I serve. That’s why I chose the worst place in Afghanistan to take command and lead.”



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