Attrition: Family Ties Trip Up Afghans


March 22, 2007: The Afghan army was hoping to do better than the U.S. Army when it came to retention rates. This is the percentage of troops that reenlist. The Afghan army is only getting 42 percent of first-term troops to sign up for another tour. That's about the same as the American army. The major problems for the Afghans are homesickness and better civilian jobs. Family is more important to Afghans, than it is to Americans. That's because you can't depend on the government for much in Afghanistan. Family, and extended family (tribe) is all you got. So people like to keep in touch. People also don't like strangers. Thus, when an Afghan soldier is sent to a different part of the country, not only is he away from his family, but he is among strangers. And the strangers are not always friendly. Eventually, when peace returns to the country, army units will be recruited from a province, and the units the troops will join will stay in that province. Soldiers will never be far from their families.

Competition with the civilian economy is another problem. While the Afghan army is not as picky as the American army, there are standards. The average Afghan recruit is a cut above other Afghans his age, and thus more likely to get hired for higher paying civilian jobs. There are more of those jobs to be had. The troops know it, and when it comes time to reenlist, the choice between more money, plus not getting shot at, is hard to resist.

The desertion rate is down to 15 percent, and headed for ten, which is lower than It's ever been in the Afghan army. Some problems cannot be addressed, like soldiers who don't like combat, or don't like fighting other Afghans. From an Afghan point-of-view, these attitudes are perfectly normal, even though they seem strange to Westerners.

Afghans have been able to adjust to these odd Western concepts of military discipline and intense training. Trainers find that, because Afghans are big fans of Western adventure movies, they have to work extra hard to teach their recruits that you cannot fight, and survive, by doing it as it's portrayed in films.

Even with the desertions and without higher retention, the billion dollar training program has created a 35,000 man army of professional soldiers. That's a first for Afghanistan. The troops are effective, and only a handful were found to be working for the Taliban, despite energetic Taliban efforts to infiltrate the armed forces. There are some 5,000 foreign trainers working with the Afghan army, and 2,000 new recruits are being turned into soldiers each month.

The government wants an army of at least 50,000 troops, or 75,000, if they can get enough foreign aid to pay for it. NATO has advised that the government pay the troops more, a lot more than the hundred dollars a month they get now. Higher paid troops and officers would be less corrupt, better behaved and more likely to stay in the service. The government can't afford to pay the troops more money, so the coalition has to come up with the money, for some time to come, if this approach is going to be tried. No word yet on whether this experiment will go forward.


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