Afghans Without Americans: A Preview of Soldiering When the U.S. Withdraws

The curtailment of U.S.-Afghan patrols because of so-called “green on blue” killings focuses attention on how ready local troops are

  • Share
  • Read Later
John Wendle for TIME

Afghan soldiers observe how to apply a tourniquet during drills at Combat Outpost Garda, Wardak Province.

UPDATED: Sept. 19, 10 a.m.

The jumble of Afghan soldiers stood in the shade of a wall, waiting for orders to prepare for drills from their American trainers. Suddenly the thump of an explosion sent them scattering. The U.S. soldiers grabbed their rifles and a sergeant ordered everyone to a bunker. The Afghans do not listen. Most poked their head over the wall, trying to get a look at the blast. Just 300 meters away a dark brown cloud from an improvised explosive device rose over the village next to the base – Combat Outpost Garda, 30 miles from Kabul. The chatter of heavy machine guns and the clatter of rifles returning fire rolled over the base and then they went silent. More than a quarter of the times the Afghan forces have gone out in the past week, they have encountered IED threats. This time their sappers blew the explosives in place, but other times they have stumbled on them, though none of their troops have been injured or killed.

And then, the U.S. stopped patrolling with the Afghans — which is a big deal since only the American troops here have minesweeping equipment to safely detect IEDs — though Afghan forces elsewhere have the equipment and it is said that Afghan soldiers are being trained. Reacting to a series of setbacks recently, U.S. commanders here curtailed interaction between U.S. and Afghan forces and halted foot patrols – leaving the Afghans to work on their own.

(MORE: Unfriendly Fire: Can the U.S. and NATO Prevent ‘Green on Blue’ Attacks in Afghanistan?)

After protests swept through Muslim countries last week and Afghan security forces killed a number of Coalition troops in insider attacks, U.S. commanders in Afghanistan decided that halting foot patrols would decrease the risk of angering locals. At the same time, limiting interaction between the U.S. platoons and their Afghan counterparts would minimize the risk of further green on blue killings. But while the measures were temporary, they gave Afghan soldiers a glimpse of what it will be like after the U.S. leaves – and the local troops, at least in Garda, did not like the view.

First, with the American minesweepers absent, the Afghans find it harder to spot IEDs in advance — though they have found more than their U.S. mentors. So they had to find them the old fashioned way: with their feet – as one soldier said. And though the Afghan captains continued to meet with the U.S. captains, the Americans stopped training and drilling the Afghan Army in everything from shooting to binding wounds.

What was left – on both sides – was frustration. “We have to do our mission. But the big problem is that we don’t have a mine detector. It’s the big problem we have,” says Cpt. Sayed Abdullah, when he was told that a U.S. squad would not be accompanying the Afghans on a recent, early morning patrol. “It’s very difficult for us,” he told the soldier sent to deliver the bad news. “We know there are lot of IEDs along the main road, that’s why we are asking for your soldiers to go with us and to clear the roads,” he said with a sigh – and then again emphasized that his unit has no way to detect mines and IEDs.

(PHOTOS: Fighting for Afghanistan’s Future)

With the “cooling-off” period over, Afghan and U.S. soldiers can again interact (not that they do, really). U.S. forces in Garda will return to foot patrols – though, for the time being, without their Afghan partners – and to mentoring the Afghan unit here. But they will also continue to strip down their base and make it “Afghan sustainable” – the new catch phrase that entails shrinking this facility so the Afghan unit taking over can hold it without American help. One U.S. officer described the situation as “taking the training wheels off.”

(One other recent change: U.S. forces will no longer be calling in fire support without the approval of a one star general or higher, unless it is in self defense. While the order is temporary, it has no expiration date. The guidance came after NATO accidentally killed eight women in an airstrike targeting insurgents. The regulation amounts to yet another shackle on American war fighting capabilities – though this one may prove beneficial – at least to civilians.)

Now that the Afghan officers at Garda have seen what the battle spacelooks like without their American comrades-in-arms, they themselves may begin to question whether they are ready to handle security on their own once thepull out is complete in 2014. As it stands, while the unit here seems well led and decently motivated, it also seems they still want and need their training wheels.

MORE: Afghanistan Now, Photographs by Yuri Kozyrev

23 comments
Sort: Newest | Oldest
spwright1
spwright1

Sat 9/22/12

I'm looking at this from the view point of a Loyal Afghan Soldier. Damned If You Do amp; Damned If You Don't.

This Afghan sincerely wants to Protect His Family amp; Their Future.He is NOT Killing Americans

Just have a Taliban witness you speaking with a American or accepting help from Americans

then that same Taliban will Murder your Family that Night.

The Taliban move into your village amp; force themselves onto your home. BOOM !

A UAV Predator Drone has just launched a Missle Strike amp; Your Home amp; Your Family are No More.  Damned If You Do amp; Damned If You Don't   a Catch 22 that just Killed Your Entire Family.

I believe this to be the current situation for the Majority of the Afghan Soldiers.

Speak with American Afghanistan Veterans amp; they will share the same view point.

Only a very very small number of Afghan Soldiers or Police are Traitors that will Turn On the Americans.

May ALL OF OUR TROOPS COME HOME ALIVE amp; WELL amp; SOON,VERY SOON

May GOD BE WITH THEM amp; KEEP THEM SAFE !

NOT in 2014  Bring them HOME NOW

SPW in Alaska "Airborne"

Punk Monk
Punk Monk

First part of the paragraph says it all. "The U.S. soldiers grabbed their rifles and a sergeant ordered everyone to a bunker. The Afghans do not listen. Most poked their head over the wall, trying to get a look at the blast.Read more: http://world.time.com/2012/09/...

Heterotic
Heterotic

Why are we still in a country stuck in the 12the century, one that is incapable of civilized behavior?

Windwalker Rangel
Windwalker Rangel

The only time anyone in the eastern world wants us is when they need our money or our training. The eastern world really does not hate us because of our religious differences, instead they hate us just because we have everything we need and they have nothing. They can blame their government for that and themselves for not fighting for their own freedom. 

Robert Draper
Robert Draper

At some point in time, they will have to stand up on their own. They seem fit to stand against us politically and in the world forum, so now they have to stand on their own in support of their own country- with the countrymen who are trying to kill them. Wonderful Paradox.

Amarjit Singh Sehmi
Amarjit Singh Sehmi

Afghanistan forces will become forceless after American troops leave amp; revert to barbaric old historical gangs amp; getting defeated by terror groups being trained by ISI to achieve their national amp; political strategy.

zubairpks
zubairpks

Poor sikhs Hindus slaves.................. poor Khalistan

zubairpks
zubairpks

poor sikhs

AKabir
AKabir

At least not being a whore of US and China simultaneously, lie Pakistan is.

Leo Myers
Leo Myers

Our presense, our arming and training militias,  our murder and destruction of the people we are "saving" from ??? is so beyond stupid as to be incomprehensable?  Even the people we are training that presumably are at least nominally in support of the corrupt puppet government we are inflicting on the Afghans,  hate us, dispise our western christian attitudes and actions, oppose "foreign" mercenaries as invaders, probably consider us to be stupid fools treating money as the supreme God, and incomptent novices at playing war!  What insanity, what hubris, what colonial or imperial attitudes drive us to such ridiculous extremes?

schmit01
schmit01

We need to get out of Afghanistan NOW.   Nothing we have done in their behalf will remain after we have left, whether that be tomorrow or two years from now. Seeing as they so fervently wish to remain firmly rooted in the Stone Age, we should let them do so on their own dime, and with their own precious lives. This American taxpayer is sick of the debacle that has been Afghanistan since day one.  They do not deserve the lives, money and time we have wasted on them. Get out, and when the Taliban return make the rubble bounce with carpet bombing from 50,000 feet.  Repeat afterwards as necessary.

Lindsay Williams
Lindsay Williams

I recently returned from this area in Afghanistan. One civilian road contractor de-mined an IED (with his bare hands) wearing a lead vest similar to something you'd wear over your chest when getting an x-ray. But first, they took a picture of the device from 1 ft away to make sure we were able to see it. A typical day in the life of an Afghan road contractor. 

While maintaining security and learning how to be "troops" is important, there is another major piece missing for this hand-over. Logistics. No matter how well-trained the troops are when we leave, there are not adequate structures in place for small outposts like Garda to receive supplies as needed, including food, fuel, and ammo. Without a system set up to make sure the troops get what they need, they will quickly abandon the post and desert. During my tour, we couldn't even get the supplies needed out to the Afghans at Garda. If the US can't do it, how can we expect a society with completely different values and relationships to do it? How can it possibly work when a Colonel in the Afghan Army forces a construction contractor to pay him $1000 a week to even be allowed into his compound for work (paid for by US taxdollars)? So, we pay the contractor, the contractor pays the Afghan Colonel, and the Afghans get what they need? We provide fuel and oil for generators for the Afghans at Garda, only half of it makes it to the troops, and 40% of the supply that arrives is sold by the troops in town. So, the generators burn up and they don't have electricity or heat in the winter, even though the necessary supplies were bought and paid for. It's just not that simple to think we'll just hand this country back to the Afghan National Army and they'll be able to sustain these outposts and forward operating bases. The Afghans need some sort of logistics infrastructure that will work for THEM, not something that would work great in America, or else we might as well just hand the country right over to the Taliban.

I'll get off my soapbox now : )

itssoobvious
itssoobvious

Lindsay, so essentially the Afghans are not equipped to be self-reliant based on  their current politics, business practices and existing technologies and infrastructure?  That seems like something we could have never hoped to solve with an exit out strategy, sounds like we would have to set up permanent facilities and stay indefinitely to make any lasting changes.

I do wonder what has been in it for us that we have stayed as long as we have?  And personally I am glad we are getting out because it simply sounds unsustainable as has and is costing us a fortune.

Would love to hear more comments from contractors and military personnel that have been in Afghanistan recently because I bet you guys understand the real problems going on over there.

Thanks for sharing.

linzw11
linzw11

You are correct, they are not equipped to be self-reliant specifically with the logistics portion. This portion is my area of expertise, so I can't speak for the infantry and leadership training. An example of corruption: the Afghan troops finally capture a well-known and dangerous Taliban member at one of the outposts, and the Commander gets a call from a "high-up" political figure who's family lives in the area (in fact, is named after the province), saying to release his cousin from custody immediately.

One of the Afghan contractors in the area was held hostage by the company who previously held the contract. They wouldn't allow supplies to be delivered for a construction project. The culture is so much more relational than American culture, and doing business is less about the money you make and more about forming (or forcing) a relationship in some cases. While we see taking the fuel meant for generators, selling it in town, and keeping the money as a crime, the culture there views it as smart business and a way to make extra cash. Perhaps they have "outsmarted" us there, since the US provided more fuel and generator repair or replacement so they didn't have to live in the cold. They make extra cash and live in the heat, win win for them. Believe me, we put up a fight about it but if you don't keep them warm, they desert or turn, and it takes us longer to leave. If you do keep them warm, it costs the US more money and makes the Afghan troops more dependent. Catch 22. 

At this point, I'm thinking the ANA and ANP (Army and Police) will only hold the country for a short time before things are taken over. Either that, or they'll find  the way to peace since no one is occupying the country! Wouldn't that be crazy : ) In my opinion, we should leave the Special Operations troops  to finish some of their work, and pull everyone else out at once. In case anyone hasn't noticed, gradually pulling out troops leaves the remaining troops less protected, and there have been more "insider" attacks. 

As to the question of why we're still there, I'd say it's so freakin messy. We don't want to pull out right now and look like we've lost, but we don't want to stay there and keep accomplishing nothing but wasting money and American lives. I feel the US had good intentions at first, but our troops were ill-equipped for this type of conflict. This isn't total war, or "bring all your tanks and blow up enemy strongholds", this is winning hearts and minds, it's understanding and working with cultural nuances, it's learning how to develop a political and economic system that works with the various cultures of Afghanistan so they can sustain their own beliefs, feed their families, and live in relative peace. Do 19 year old Army infantry troops know and understand these issues? Does anyone receive training on this? I certainly didn't and I interacted with Afghans on a daily basis. Anyway, we were not prepared when we got there, and now so many depend on the US for survival, which is why it's hard to just get up and leave. 

I met so many great Afghans that love their country and want peace. They want safety and freedom for their families. They want to own a successful business, earn an education and work hard. I hope that Afghanistan can find peace soon, but I don't think the US is going to be the one to implement it.

Talendria
Talendria

I hope they can find peace too, but I just don't see it happening.  I really think a year after we're gone, the Taliban will control the whole country again.  Then they'll have the kind of peace that totalitarianism brings.

Ken Pace
Ken Pace

Too often we look at a situation with blinders on.  The Afghan people are not Americans and they do not see things as we do.  They are not willing to sacrifice everything for freedom.  Their entire evolution of existence has come from outside forces ruling their lives and bringing their country war.  No amount of force is going to magically wake them from this horrible reality.  They are destined to be the world's punching bag and ground-zero for a war based on religious exploits and extremists.  The American views are also considered extremist views to the common Afghan.  So, leave them be, we already sent a message to Al Queda and the militants that conspired with them to attack the U.S..  It's time to heal the wounds of a decade of war and withdraw our troops and let them decide the path of their future without our input. 

howardfein
howardfein

When we leave the Afghans will do it the old way:  when an IED goes off, they'll torture the neighbors to find the perps, and then do away with the perp's ENTIRE family.

Lisa K Larson
Lisa K Larson

It's about time we stopped patrolling with them.  Now pull ALL of our soldiers (and other Americans) OUT of Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Egypt and any other Middle Eastern country or Muslim stronghold that they are in.  Let them wage war against each other and whatever happens, happens. 

efrustrated
efrustrated

Just a no win situation for both sides, but ultimately USA/Europe can't keep throwing troops into a black hole, too many never to return. 

It will be tragic for Afghani moderates, women and children when the west withdraws, but if they haven't got a grip on their own administration and reduced the extremist influence after all this time, in a sense they don't deserve any more of our "help", however misguided it has been.

kenn213
kenn213

Funny, they don't wan't us there until they need us to do a job (like clearing mines so they don't get blown up by their own countrymen), but once that job is done it's back to "oh yeah, we don't want the Americans here."

Jeff Houck
Jeff Houck

Afghans without American is like a day with aid, weapons, training, and protests.

Barry Obozo
Barry Obozo

"Afghans without Americans".... 13th century barbarians with thin skin

Hussain Saqib
Hussain Saqib

The anti-Islam video has

finally proved to be a proverbial last straw on the back of the American camel.

Whoever is behind this video is clearly not a friend of those who want some

sort of face-saving for the US and Obama Administration in Afghan end-game. The

video has tried to prove that American intervention in Libya and Tunis was an

Obama misadventure and that pliant regimes in these countries and that in Egypt

were in America’s political interests. The video has not only triggered

violence, it has given an excuse to Afghan Taliban to intensify their attacks

on American forces in Afghanistan. Whoever made the video should be declared as

America’s Enemy Number One. Read more at: http://passivevoices.wordpress...