Morale: Afghanistan And The Culture Of Survival


October 6, 2011: Afghan soldiers and police have a major morale problem, and it's more cultural than anything else. Traditionally, Afghans fight in clan or tribal groups. That means you are going into battle with people who know you, or at least know your family. Whatever you do in combat, will become known to your entire family, neighbors and so on. In other words, you will live with it for the rest of your life. This does wonders for morale and performance. But take away all those connections, and your morale and effectiveness take a big hit. This is what happens when someone joins the Afghan army or police.

In many parts of Afghanistan, the police and soldiers are recruited into units with people from the same clan or tribe. Western advisors often discourage this, because all that familiarity makes corruption easier. But it's been found that the corruption is there no matter what you do.

But even when you have company or battalion size units from the same clan or tribe, you still have the problem with how armies fight, versus the methods tribal warriors (and the Taliban) traditionally use. While the tribal warriors appear reckless and careless, they actually put a lot of emphasis on avoiding defeat, and casualties. In other words, they favor the ambush over the frontal assault. Retreating quickly and frequently is a standard procedure. While the Taliban preach the virtue of dying as a holy warrior, most Taliban gunmen seek to put off death as long as they can. Not that the Afghans are wimps when it comes to fighting, but they live in an area where the average lifespan is about half of what it is in the West. There are far more ways to die in Afghanistan, even if you are not in the army, or some militia or criminal gang. One survey found that 15 percent of people living in tribal societies die violent deaths, which is five times the rate for people in non-tribal cultures.

With so much danger around them, Afghans adapt, and fighting the same way as westerners do is not attractive. Not unless they have all the tools the Westerners   possess. Not just the body armor, but the on-call air and artillery support and high quality medical care (including prompt helicopter medevac flights.) The Afghans also want the expert and highly trained leadership, all the way from sergeants to senior generals. If they get this, they will more willingly "fight like the foreign soldiers." But in the meantime, the Afghans tend to be less aggressive and enthusiastic when fighting. One exception is when foreign troops are involved, at that point the Afghan feel compelled to be competitive.

The problem is, the Afghans will never have all of the stuff foreign troops use, not for a few decades anyway. Too many Afghans are illiterate, and there are a not enough technical skills in the population to supply all the support services Western troops have. So the Afghan troops appear, to Western forces, as hesitant and not-very-enthusiastic. The reality is that the Afghans are just trying to live longer under much more adverse circumstances than Western troops face.




Help Keep Us From Drying Up

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling.

Each month we count on your contribute. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage.
Subscribe   contribute   Close