Leadership: Looking For Warrior Chiefs

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May 7,2008: NATO countries have been unable, or sometimes unwilling, to provide training teams for Afghan police and army units. As a result, the U.S. has undertaken most of the army training. This is done with 10-20 man teams of army or marine troops. Most of the army trainers are National Guard reservists. The Americans send their trainers (mainly officers and NCOs) through a three month training course, and provide the training materials used to NATO nations, for training their own teams. The major problem is getting the volunteers for these teams. It's a 15 month assignment (three months training and 12 months doing the deed). Most NATO officers and troops would rather fight than be stuck training Afghans. However, many NATO nations forbid their troops from operating in combat zones, and want to restrict their troops to peacekeeping type duties. Since the training teams actually go into combat with Afghan units, this discourages NATO nations from providing trainers.

After years of badgering by the United States, more NATO training teams are being made available, and this year, the majority of the twenty teams in Afghanistan are non-U.S. This has created another problem. Every nation providing training teams, tends to teach military techniques the trainers are most familiar with. So each Afghan unit gets taught how to do things a little differently. Turns out that this is not that much of a problem in Afghanistan, where there has never been a lot of uniformity in the army. In fact, the army currently being trained is the most professional and best trained one Afghanistan has ever had.

Still, the Afghans have their own way of carrying out military operations. Officers tend to be regarded as warrior chiefs, and often act accordingly. This is the result of thousands of years of tradition. The idea of the government just making someone an officer, and the troops automatically following him, does not go down well with Afghans. Traditionally, if someone demonstrated a talent for combat leadership, they would build a reputation, and gradually become an amir (combat leader). The foreign training teams are taught this, and quickly try to determine if the Afghan battalion and brigade commanders they are supporting have the right stuff to command, and, if they do, try to get him up to speed, and into a few successful operations. The troops love a winner, and loyalty, confidence and competence follows.

One big gripe among the trainers is that there is no central clearing house for lessons learned as trainers. There are some email groups and message boards where information is exchanged informally (at least among English speaking officers and NCOs), but nothing official. There are some independent efforts to collect all this information. What has been learned creating the Afghan Army (and National Police) can be useful for those doing the same in other undeveloped countries.

 


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