Colonel Amardeep Singh, SM (R)*
The hullabaloo of defeat of a standing army
The entire world is surprised that a trained and well-equipped army of nearly 2,00,000 all ranks has surrendered to a mere 75,000 strong, semi-trained (by ISI and Pakistani establishment) terrorist organization, armed with RPGs and assault rifles, without putting up even a notional resistance. The world was also quick to compare the Afghan National Army (ANA) that was raised and trained by the NATO forces with standing armies of other nations. As a soldier, let me put it straight. An army without a national affiliation and aim is nothing but a bunch of mercenaries, that will change sides without any moral dilemma. ANA is a live example. All those who are comparing the ANA with the Armed Forces of other nations, are grossly off the mark for the simple reason that ANA was an army only in the name, as its soldiers did not have any willingness to fight.
A ‘B Grade’ Force
Raised in 2001 after the US invasion of the country post-9/11, ANA served no purpose other than supporting the NATO (primarily the US and British) troops in their operations against the Taliban and all other groups that opposed the US invasion. NATO wanted a trained and armed group to provide safety to its bases and lines of communication. The amount spent by NATO (primarily US) in training and equipping the ANA runs into multi-billion dollars. The soldiers came from the local population, having strong tribal, ethnic, and religious loyalties. It has become evident that 10 to 15 weeks of training could not replace the loyalties to the land and faith. Wasn’t it too much to expect? The poor discipline and rampant corruption was evident, but was rarely acknowledged. Thus, despite tall US claims of having raised a modern army, ANA remained a B Grade force at best.
The US and British trainers did not take these factors, as well as poor performance in operations, high casualty rates in all engagements, and a very high rate of desertion, into account.
An Army Without A Cause
No one, other than maybe Pakistan is interested in invading Afghanistan. Even Pakistan knows that it will have more to lose than gain if they launch any military offensive against Afghanistan. That majority of the Afghans, look down upon and even hate Pakistanis is an open secret. Thus, the ANA, other than supporting their ‘trainers and suppliers of arms and equipment’, had no real cause. Afghanistan, as a nation, has never been politically stable. The rise of the extremist form of religion, duly supported by Pakistan, has once again asserted itself by capturing power in a so-called ‘bloodless coup’.
The US had high hopes that withdrawal of its forces would be covered by the ANA, and the Taliban would not have a smooth ride into Kabul. They failed to appreciate that an army without a legitimate cause can never be trusted with any military tasks. The number of desertions in the ranks and their poor performance in the engagements while International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) was clearing the Taliban controlled areas, should have been seen as a precursor to the future events. A large chunk of the trained ANA members joined hands with the Taliban during these years.
No trained army, worth its salt, will disobey commands or voluntarily side with the adversary. Sadly, these ground realities were overlooked by the ISAF (primarily the US) and resultantly, the Taliban now has access not only to the armed manpower but also to the large inventory of the military hardware meant for ANA or abandoned by the retreating ISAF. The latest Pentagon decision to deploy 6000 plus soldiers to evacuate US personnel including its marooned combatants and civilians from Kabul and adjoining areas, is something that will be remembered by political and military analysts.
Defeat Without A Fight
The defeat of the Soviets, orchestrated by the ISI, CIA, and the Afghan Tribal Fighters, is still used for propaganda by militant Afghan groups as well as the Pakistani Intelligence Community. The retreat of ISAF/ NATO and siege of power by Taliban in less than two weeks of the withdrawal of ISAF after deployment and fighting off more than 20 years is nothing but the defeat of another superpower and victory to the Taliban and its supporters. The fact that this victory has been handed over on a platter by the coalition forces is a lesson for the entire world.
The Taliban will now use all means to gain legitimacy and use the soft power to garner as much support as possible. Though it would be almost impossible to hazard a guess on the geo-political scenario in the region in near future, yet it would be safe to assume that no country or coalition would dare touch the region any time soon. Thus, this wait has been worth a billion dollars for the Taliban, who will now get busy winning the support of the weak hearted. Pakistan and China have both given their acceptance to the change of the regime in Afghanistan, and China will try and occupy the space left by the US and its allies. (I am myself surprised if what I have said just now may also be construed as stating that it is perhaps now China’s turn to return from Afghanistan with a bloody nose – albeit differently as China is not entering the region with arms but with softer means.)
There is none at the moment, as the military options are severely limited for the time being. The ISAF withdrawal is being seen as the defeat of the US, and to put it bluntly, there is no other way of describing it. Even though the region will always have American attention as the Russian threat has been replaced by the Chinese, it would not mean much and would not put any real pressure on the Taliban. Economic blockades and sanctions look good only in theory as we have witnessed in the case of Iran, these measures are not easy to implement. Moreover, any type of economic sanctions by US or UN are bound to affect the already battered populace and therefore would be impossible to implement as these would raise human rights concerns.
Pakistan has a reason to worry because TTP is an offshoot of the original Taliban and is even deadlier. With the newfound notion of victory and weaponry, spill-over is likely to slide towards Pakistan. India also needs to be more watchful. The possible rise in infiltration attempts in Jammu & Kashmir and associated violence is all that one should plan for. The good thing is that the security forces in Kashmir valley are in a better state to tackle this, than ever before. Indian investments in Afghanistan will be at risk as the Taliban will try to re-negotiate all ongoing and future deals. The unsafe environment is bad for business, but good for propaganda by Pakistan and China combined.
In conclusion, it would be safe to put it straight – the Afghan National Army (ANA) was never there. It was a loose body of local men who always have been more loyal to their tribe and faith. Russian withdrawal from Afghanistan in the ’80s left the Kalashnikov behind, withdrawal of the ISAF has armed the Taliban through the ANA with M-16s, helicopters, drones, and Humvees. If the Taliban are not prudent enough to run their country on an inclusive basis, the next civil war in Afghanistan is going to be bloodier.
Colonel Amardeep, a 1993 Batch Infantry Officer, has served in the Indian army for 25 years. He has dealt with the subject of Information warfare, Media, and Social Media for over 10 years. He was an instructor in the Information Warfare Division at the Army war College, Mhow (MP). Col Amardeep is a poet as well, and you can see his poems here. Furthermore, he blogs at soldierwithapen.blogspot.com, www.soldierspeaks.wordpress.com
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