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Afghanistan - Army


Historically, Afghanistan has never had robust national armed forces. The treasury simply could not support the demands of such an army. In addition, the cultural factors that had prevented the previous formation of a national nontribal government had also sabotaged efforts to establish such a force. For example, soldiers were accustomed to nonhierarchical tribal organization rather than blind submission to officers. Officers, who achieved their position through tribal and interpersonal ties, never received adequate training. Furthermore, military equipment was less than adequate.

In the 1980s, the government of Babrak Karmal established a nominally national armed forces with the help of the Soviets. This Afghan army was divided into 11 infantry divisions and 3 armored divisions in late 1985. There were also 2 mountain infantry regiments, a mechanized infantry brigade, an artillery brigade, 3 artillery regiments, a commando brigade, and 3 commando regiments. The International Institute for Strategic Studies estimated in 1985 that divisions were at about quarter strength, i.e., about 2,500 men. There were several elite Afghan army units: the 24th Airborne Battalion, and the 37th, 38th, and 444th Commando Brigades. The status of the airborne brigade was unclear in late 1985, as it had mutinied in 1980. The commando units were considered politically loyal, but had endured heavy casualties. As a result, they were reorganized as co-dependent battalions.

Though the Soviet Union departed Afghanistan in 1989, the government it had helped to establish remained and the Mujahidin fighters who had resisted the Soviet occupation continued to resist the activities of this government. Immediately after the Soviet departure, the government of then President Mohammad Najibullah pulled down the façade of shared government, declared an emergency, and removed non-party ministers from the cabinet. The Soviet Union responded with a flood of military and economic supplies. Sufficient food and fuel were made available for the next two difficult winters. Much of the military equipment belonging to Soviet units evacuating Eastern Europe was shipped to Afghanistan.

Najibullah's government finally collapsed in 1992 as Mujahidin forces took control of Kabul. Army commanders and governors arranged to turn over authority to resistance commanders and local notables throughout the country. Old animosities between tribal and ethic groups resurfaced. The Mujahidin leadership attempted to take over government and military institutions, but the factionalism eventually proved to be overwhelming. Groups that had supported a united cause against the Soviet Union and the government in Kabul carved out small fiefdoms across the country and a civil war erupted. The newly declared Islamic Republic of Afghanistan again lacked the capacity to maintain an army loyal to a central government.

Even with the rise of the Taliban and the creation of their "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan" in the late 1990s, they lacked the administrative efficiency of a state. The military did not exist on a national basis. Some elements of the former Army, Air and Air Defense Forces, National Guard, Border Guard Forces, National Police Force (Sarandoi), and tribal militias existed, but were factionalized among various groups. The Taliban's "army" was a coalition of militia formations composed of assorted armed groups with varying degrees of loyalty, commitment, skill, and organizational coherence.

Following the ouster of the Taliban in 2002, the US-led coalition began efforts to form an Afghan National Army (ANA). These efforts continued under the NATO-led mission. The US Combined Security Assistance Command - Afghanistan and the NATO Training Mission Afghanistan were responsible for leading the effort to develop the Afghan National Security Forces, including the ANA.

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