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January 16, 2010

Afghanistan Briefing - 12 January 2010 - Problems in Recruitment and Retention of Afghans

This briefing is by Colonel Brian Drinkwine. Col Drinkwine commands the 4th Brigade Combat Team, otherwise known as Task Force Fury. They are part of the 82nd Airborne Division, which is commanded by Major General Curtis M. Scaparrotti, and is based in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. He spoke via satellite from Afghanistan to reporters at the Pentagon last Tuesday, January 12.

From the transcript, Task Force Fury is "responsible for the training and mentoring of the Afghan security forces in the southern and western parts of Afghanistan. Colonel Drinkwine has been commanding his unit in Afghanistan since August of last year, and he is speaking to us today from Kandahar air field in southern Afghanistan."

This and other videos can be seen at DODvClips. The Pentagon Channel also has videos and news stories, so visit it as well.

The transcript is at DefenseLink.

Following are excerpts. First, from Col Drinkwine's opening statement:

COL. DRINKWINE: ... The brigade's initial mission was to conduct security-force assistance with Afghanistan's national security forces, in cooperation with many coalition partners, in order to build Afghan capability and capacity and to defeat insurgents or criminals and bring greater security to the population and the people of Afghanistan. We assumed this mission from the departing embedded training teams, or ETTs, and quickly integrated into both regional commands West and South, and have been operating very decentralized in aid of 10 provinces.

As you know, Afghanistan's comparable to the size of the state of Texas, and my unit is spread about half of the state of Texas, which is a first for a brigade combat team.

I'll tell you, we approached our mission through embedding and partnering with numerous Army, Afghan police and border police units. It's a much less traditional mission than other U.S. brigade combat teams operating in previous deployments. Our overall purpose, as I said, is to increase the capability and capacity of our Afghan security forces by training, advising, conducting combined planning and conducting combined-action operations

Since our arrival, Task Force Fury has now grown to over 5,000 service members -- and that's Army, Air Force and Navy -- to include Department of State civilians, agricultural and developmental and reconstruction effort -- experts, and NATO coalition teammates, either inside my staff, under the control of the BCT. And we operate as a greater collective to support and execute General McChrystal's and Lieutenant General Rodriguez's strategy in Afghanistan.

On to the Q & A

Q Hi. This is Daphne Benoit, with Agence France-Presse. I have two questions for you. First of all, General Rodriguez last month was expressing some concerns about recruitment and the capacity of retaining Afghan security forces in the south, particularly, because of the violence there.

How hard do you find it to recruit and retain those soldiers and policemen there? And has the increase -- the recent increase of pay helped you in any way?

And my second question is, to what extent do contractors help you accomplish that mission in this area?

COL. DRINKWINE: Okay, two questions. And I'll work on the first, about recruitment.

Right now our assessment is a large part of the Afghan army that works in the south, and a significant portion of the police, have not come and joined the army or police from the south or the southern provinces, and this is definitely something that has been recognized and we're working on.

One of the approaches to increase the recruitment is, through the engagements that the Afghan leaders of their units, whether it's police or army, and along with a coalition in the elected or selected government officials of Afghanistan, we go out and we do -- we meet with the village elders, the mullahs, with the locals, and we talk to them....

I have yet to see droves of recruitment happen, but I know that in Helmand, where the Marines and the British are right now, they are starting to see positive effects. But it takes time. I think it's not something that you can walk in and say I'll hire a hundred Afghan males or females today. It takes time, and you have to win the trust of the locals.

And the other competing demand is, here in the south many of the military-age males or -- have duties at home with regards to agriculture. And so there's that constant tear between supporting the tribe or the family or now supporting a greater institution.

I think in the months ahead we will see greater improvement, and it's essential to winning here...

Q Follow-up on Carl's question, maybe make it a little bit more pointed. Is there a higher desertion rate in units that are assigned to the south? Do the -- do the soldiers and police, are they more likely to leave their unit and return to their home if they get assigned to some place where the fighting is heavy?

And a related question is, where, within your area of operations, has been the -- has improvement of the security forces been the most dramatic? Where are those units that are nearly operating by themselves?

COL. DRINKWINE: Right now, there has been -- you know, there's been discussion, and you've seen it at times in the south -- you have some AWOL -- AWOL rates, or absent without leave rates, that are somewhat high. And what we have found, as you track that back, I think it ties to the level of leadership in those Afghan units, the amount of partnership that we have with them, and also the ability of those soldiers to take the lead.

Q Hi, Colonel. This is Courtney Kube from NBC News. If I can ask you another question on some statistics. What's the current literacy rate among the ANA and the ANP? And then, can you update us on the Afghan National Civil Order Police? How big is that force now? And what part of the country are they primarily operating in?

COL. DRINKWINE: Okay, thanks for the question. I'm really not the best individual to kind of talk literacy rate from a statistics standpoint. I think what's more important and more pressing is that the Afghan senior leaders, either the brigade commander, the corps commander or provincial police chief level, have all realized that literacy is something that they need in their security forces and that Afghanistan needs; it's just not their security forces. So in the initial training program for both the police and the army, there are literacy classes, and that's just a start.

Q Colonel, this is Raghubir Goyal from India Globe and Asia Today. First of all, happy new year to you all. My question is that young men and women are still trained there by the al Qaeda, joining al Qaeda and terrorism or Taliban. So some Afghans are still living in fear, or they are fear of -- from the Taliban....

COL. DRINKWINE: ... the Taliban uses terror and intimidation and fear to gain its resources or to try to take control of small pockets, you know, of Afghan population or small villages.

Summarizing the problems we face, they are:

1) Lack of Afghans volunteering for the armed forces
2) Need for agricultural labor, which is seen as more important than the armed forces
3) Afghan primary loyalty is to the tribe and not the nation
4) High desertion rates
5) Poor leadership in the Afghan national army
6) Low literacy rate among Afghans makes training more difficult
7) The people are afraid of cooperating because the Taliban have intimidated them

As many commentators have said, Afghanistan is the third world country for other third world countries. Changing the place is not the dozen year project Iraq is, it's a 50 or 100 year project. Note that this does not necessarily mean a high-level of U.S. or otherwise forgeign troops will be needed that entire time, but it does mean that we've got to be in this for the long haul.

If we abandon the country the Taliban will take over. They will invite back al Qaeda and we'll be where we were before our original invasion in November of 2001.

Of course, one is excused for wondering why we're at this point after eight years. There are many reasons, of course, but in the end it's like what I wrote about Iraq in 2006; "we are where we are." If you want to blame George Bush knock yourself out, but at the end of the day none of us have a time machine. Leaving Afghanistan to spite Republicans doesn't get us anywhere.

This said, yes, there does come a point where if we just can't make progress we may have to leave. And that said, the dumbest thing we could do would be to announce a date certain. Far from "encouraging the Afghans to step up," it tells them that we're not committed to winning and so they will "hedge their bets."

One thing in particular that Col. Drinkwine said that stuck out at me. Astute readers will recognize it from the oft-cited and quoted U.S. Army / Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual 3-24 (written by a team assembled by then-Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, and published in December of 2006)

One of the things Col. Drinkwine said that stood out to me was

One of my first patrols that I participated on was with the MPs, or the military police, at Kandahar. And I observed the police in Kandahar not really make eye contact with the people that they were there to serve and protect. And very slowly over time, working closely day-in, day-out with the police in those subdistricts, we were able to coach and advise them. And they were actually able to watch us and the Canadians talk to the people, talk to the storekeepers and make contact and actually dialogue with them and ask them about security, ask them about the price of their goods.....

And where I'm seeing greater success is where the security forces realize and internalize they're there to secure the people but must have a relationship and earn the trust of the people.

Counterinsurgency is all about getting to know the populace and getting them to trust you. Counterinsurgents win when the convince the people that they will win and it is in the people's best interests for them to win. Counerinsurgent troops must be seen as caring about and protecting the people. To do this you've got to know everything there is to know about the locality you are assigned to protect. You can't do this behind the armor of a Stryker or MRAP.

We may not win, but we're giving it out best.

Posted by Tom at January 16, 2010 10:13 AM

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I'll bet the Col. gets a lot of kidding about his name. I wonder if he and Gen. LikeBeer get in arguments?

The biggest problem is as you cite: "Afghan primary loyalty is to the tribe and not the nation."

I don't know how you change that unless it is to make the Afghans see that progress in their tribe depends on progress in the nation.

Posted by: Mike's America at January 16, 2010 7:52 PM

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