Forces: Afghanistan


December 27,2008:  Afghanistan is in the process of expanding its army to 134,000, hopefully  by 2011. The government wants a force of 200,000, but first foreign allies must be convinced to donate enough money and trainers. The current army has just completed its training, for a force of 68,000. The national police force has been expanded to 76,000. The soldiers are trained to a higher standard than the police. In fact, there are serious problems with the cops, mainly because of a lack of good leadership. Afghanistan has never had a real national police force, and building one isn't easy. The culture of corruption, and tribalism, plus widespread illiteracy, are proving to be formidable obstacles. Those police units that are well led (and there are some of them) and have worked out good relationships with local tribal leaders (difficult, because of the many feuds, and short tempers), do a good job. Having to battle the Taliban and drug gangs puts additional strain on an already weak force.

Previously, the largest peacetime army Afghanistan ever had was in the late 1970s, when a Russian trained force of 90,000 (with over a thousand armored vehicles) was raised. This did not last, as a civil war broke out, and the Russians invaded in late 1979. A year later, most of the army had rebelled or deserted. When the Russians left in 1989, they had rebuilt the Afghan army to 45,000 troops. That force disappeared in the next five years, as the nation descended into civil war. The Taliban won that war, but never had a standing force of more than 20,000, and these were largely militia, with one brigade of fanatical, and deadly, al Qaeda fighters to keep the Afghan troops loyal.

The current army has been trained to Western standards, by NATO instructors. By Afghan standards, it's a pretty effective force. Nearly tripling its size will take several years, if the same training methods are used. The thousand or so Russian armored vehicles the Afghans had in the late 1970s, are nearly all gone to scrap, chicken coops, or roadside reminders of the Russian invasion. The Afghans are reequipping with Cold War surplus German Leopard tanks. The Afghans want a larger force to deal with the Taliban insurrection, the growing power of the drug gangs, and possible trouble with Pakistan or Iran.

Meanwhile, the U.S. has completed building a main facility for the Afghan Air Corps. At the north end of Kabul's civilian airport, a separate, $183 million, airbase has been completed (including a hospital, barracks, hangers, classrooms, conference center and workshops). There, 1,300 members of the air corps, along with 17 Mi-17 transport helicopters, three Mi-35 helicopter gunships and six AN-26 and 32 transports, will be stationed. The air corps are also some L-39 trainers and AH-1 helicopter gunships. The air force is shopping around for cheap fighters, and counter-insurgency aircraft. The Afghans are receiving a lot of Cold War surplus Russian helicopters from Eastern Europe and Russia. Over the next three years, another 32 Mi-17 helicopters will arrive, as well as 18 C-27A transports to replace the elderly An-26/32 aircraft. The Afghans are also shopping for a single engine, propeller driven, aircraft that can double as a trainer and as a light attack aircraft. There are several models out there competing for this sale.

Afghanistan has no need for a navy, as it is landlocked, and has few navigable rivers or large lakes.




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