The Afghan National Army (ANA) is growing from scratch to glory. The ANA has reached its previous goal of 134,000 troops in July 2010. The current goal is to have 171,600 by October 2011. As of March 2011, there were 160,000 troops on its rolls, 4,000 ahead of the March goal.
Earlier this year, there was discussion of increasing the size of the army beyond the current 171,600-troop goal, but this plan has not yet been officially adopted. The proposal suggests increasing the size of the force to between 195,000 and 208,000 by October 2012.
Reaching the higher number would depend on meeting recruiting, retention, and attrition goals, which is not certain. Most of the additional troops would be used to expand the ANA’s support structure. Some additional combat units would be added to fill out the existing organizational structure.
As part of its continuing drive towards self-sufficiency, the Afghan National Army created the Ground Force Command (GFC) headquarters. GFC commands the six ANA corps plus the 111st Capitol division.
The GFC is modeled on the International Security Assistance Force’s Joint Command and is commanded by Lieutenant General Murad Ali Murad. The GFC is scheduled to reach initial operational capability by March 2012 and full operational capability by August 2012.
In May 2010, Regional Command-South (RC-S) was split into two regions. The newly created Regional Command-South West (RC-SW) and its 215th Corps took over the provinces of Helmand and Nimroz, and portions of Farah. The RC-S and its 205th Corps retained Zabul, Kandahar, Uruzgan, and Daikundi provinces.
ANA spl brigade
The ANA has established a new Special Operations Forces organization. The newly established Afghan Special Operations Command (ANASOC) is setting up a division headquarters at Camp Moorehead in Wardak province. It will command two different types of units, the existing ANA Commandos and a newly formed unit, the ANA Special Forces (ANASF).
The ANA Commandos are the ANASOC’s ‘direct action’ force. The existing nine Commando battalions will eventually be organized into two Commando brigades. However, the current 1st Commando brigade headquarters was dissolved in order to provide a cadre to staff the new ANASOC division headquarters.
A new 1st Commando Brigade headquarters staff is being trained and will be operational soon. The 2nd Commando Brigade headquarters is planned to be operational by September 2011.
The ANASOC will also command the 1st Special Forces Brigade. Modeled on the US Special Forces, the brigade’s missions will include ‘internal defence’ and ‘SOF reconnaissance’ as well as ‘direct action.’
The brigade headquarters is planned to be operational by September 2012. The brigade will consist of four battalions. Each battalion will have 18 A-Teams, for a total of 72 A-Teams. The A-Teams are designed along US SOF lines.
Each 15-member team is led by a captain, with a first lieutenant executive officer and a team sergeant. In addition, there are two each of medical sergeants, weapons sergeants, engineer sergeants, and communications sergeants, two intelligence sergeants, an information dissemination sergeant, and a civil-military operations specialist.
ANASF internal mission
The ANASF has been created to provide a special operations force capable of countering enemy efforts at the lowest level, the Afghan tribe and village. The ANASF brigade will accomplish this through the Village Stability Operations (VSO) program.
The VSO program is designed to help individual villages defend themselves against encroaching insurgency. Villages organize their own defense units, the Afghan Local Police. An ANASF brigade A-Team is assigned to each VSO village.
The team’s role is to support the village leadership to organize the overall project and mediate local disputes. They also train and advise the ALP.
Until now, US Special Operations Forces A-Teams have been running the VSO. However, the goal is to have ANASF replace the US SOF in this role. It is expected that the ANASF will be able to bring a better understanding of local cultural, economic, and political issues.
ANASF A-Team training
The first two classes of ANASF candidates were recruited exclusively from the Commando battalions. This necessitated a pause in the creation of new Commando battalions in order to free up resources to create the ANASF.
The Commandos will be capped at nine battalions, with the formation of the 10th, 11th and 12th battalions postponed.) Because the ANASF candidates were already trained in direct action, the US trainers focused on the skills required for internal defense and SOF reconnaissance.
This allowed the length of the first two classes to be reduced to 10 weeks. Future classes, recruited from across the ANA, will be larger, consisting of about 300 soldiers compared to 80 in each of the first two classes, and will take 15 weeks.
The first class started training in March 2010 and completed it in May; they were then grouped into four A-teams, one of which will be held back to form an Afghan cadre to help train the next class.
At this point the teams were considered ‘mission-capable’, but were not considered ‘Special Forces qualified’ until they completed 26 weeks of on-the- job training during which each ANA A-team was partnered with a US SOF A-team.
The first A-Team was deployed to Khakrez district, northwest of Kandahar City, in May 2010. By March 2011, a total of 14 A-teams had completed training. All 72 A-Teams are expected to be fielded by 2014.
In 2010, the overall ANA priority was to grow an infantry-centric force that could immediately participate in counterinsurgency operations. Most of the effort was directed toward fielding additional infantry units.
The priority for 2011 has been to continue to grow the force but also to begin building the support functions necessary for self-sufficiency. This includes leadership, specialized technical expertise, and literacy training.
There is currently a significant shortage of both officers and NCOs within the ANA. In November 2010 there were 18,191 officers where 22,646 are required; and there were only 37,336 NCOs where 49,044 are required.
To address the officer shortage, training capacity has been increased. Two additional Officer Candidate School companies opened in December 2010, and two more are opened this year.
The additional capacity is expected to reduce, but not entirely eliminate, the shortage by October 2012. For NCOs, training capacity is also being increased. The Regional Training Center in Darulaman has been converted from Basic Training to NCO training. Additionally, NCOs are being trained in the United Arab Emirates. The shortfall is expected to be eliminated by October 2012.
Specialized technical skills
In 2010, the ANA began setting up training institutions to teach the specialized skills needed to make it self-sufficient. Twelve ‘Branch Schools’ are being set up.
• Human Resources
• Military Police
• Religious and Cultural affairs
Eleven of these 12 branch schools have reached initial operating capability (IOC). The last school (Military Police) reached IOC in June 2011. None, however, has reached full capacity due to limitation in facilities and ISAF trainers.
Logistics support development includes the establishment of Army Support Command. This will control six new Regional Support Commands (RLSCs), one for each of ANA’s six corps.
These units will provide medical, equipment maintenance, and logistics distribution capability. In addition, a National Depot Operation and National Vehicle Maintenance Facility has also come up.
About 86 per cent of ANA enlisted recruits are illiterate. This constitutes a significant obstacle in the development of a competent army. An illiterate soldier cannot read a map, a training manual, or the serial number of his rifle.
Furthermore, specialized fields such as medicine, logistics, and communications cannot be taught to an illiterate person.
The problem is being addressed by the establishment of an extensive literacy training program. Starting in March 2010, mandatory basic literacy training was instituted for all ANSF enlisted personnel, both ANA and ANP.
The goal is to train every member of the ANSF to at least a third-grade level. The curriculum is the equivalent of 312 hours of training. (Note: This program applies to en-listed and NCOs, since over 90 per cent of officers are literate.)
For the ANA, literacy training begins in Basic Training. Each recruit is brought in two weeks early and taught basic reading and writing so he can at least write his name and read the serial number on his weapon.
Literacy training continues through Basic Training, adding up to a total of 64 hours. Additional training occurs during seven weeks of unit training. When the recruits go to the field, or for troops already in the field, the program provides for continued training on the order of one to two hours per day over seven to eight months.
For a soldier selected for specialty training in a Branch School, additional training is provided up to the sixth-grade level. By March 2011 there were 60,000 ANA soldiers and ANP police receiving literacy training.
(The author, an Associate Editor of The Long War Journal, works on issues involving Afghanistan)