Attrition: Afghans Who Walk Away

Archives

November22, 2006: Last year, the Afghan army had a desertion rate of 25 percent (a quarter of the troops would walk a way in a year.) Some investigating took place, and it was found that the most common reason for quitting was the availability of higher paying (and safer) jobs in the booming civilian economy. Troops were only getting $70 a month, and there were plenty of jobs for laborers, at the same pay. So pay was raised to $100 a month, and some officers were assigned to keep an eye on the civilian job market, and give warning when another pay raise was needed. In Afghanistan, desertion is considered a right, not an offense.

The lesser reasons for deserting were also addressed. These included housing and food. Now 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 reasons cannot be addressed, like soldier who didn't like combat, or did not 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 desertion, the training program that has created the current 35,000 man army, has been a success. 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. A major test for the Afghan army will come this Winter, when Afghan troops will continue to seek out the Taliban, at a time of year when Afghan warriors traditionally stay indoors. But the foreign troops have convinced the Afghans that, if the Western troops can run around in the Winter, seeking out the enemy, then the Afghans can do it as well. There have been limited Afghan army Winter operations in the past, but this year, it's the big time. American helicopters make a big difference, moving troops and supplies over snowed in roads and passes.