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by DAVID AXE
Russia Today emailed me again to request an interview. The subject this time: drug use in the Afghan army. This Guardian video report on U.S. advisers to the Afghan National Army has revived interest in the subject. The video has cropped up on Danger Room and The Huffington Post. I’ll be on RT tomorrow.
I’m a little disappointed that so many reporters have latched onto the drug issue, as though that were one of the major impediments to building a U.S.-style Afghan military. All Afghans smoke pot — especially in winter, when roads are snowed in and nobody’s working. In Baraki Barak, marijuana grows ten feet tall in culverts and in the shade of downtown buildings. (Pictured below.) Nobody in Baraki Barak — not the local cops or government or the resident U.S. Army force — seems all that troubled by it.
It’s easy to call Afghan soldiers lazy or incompetent, especially when you’re basing your judgment on selective quotations from a pissed-off Marine Corps instructor. But that’s not really fair. The Afghan army is poorly led by officers appointed for their political connections. Many Afghan soldiers are illiterate owing to the nation’s poor education system. There’s never enough equipment because corruption at the highest levels of Afghan government siphons off the security forces’ funds. The lack of resources, plus the fundamentally local and seasonal nature of Afghan warfare, means Afghan soldiers have a deeply ingrained garrison mindset. They occupy a place, rather than maneuvering to gain advantage.
But I challenge you to find a more tough-minded soldier than an Afghan, or one more hardened to cold, hunger and pain. In Baraki Barak I spoke with one member of the Afghan security forces who has been walking around for months with several bullets lodged in his back. His army had not provided for his ongoing medical care, so he just lived with the pain.
And when members of the U.S. 71st Cavalry got ambushed in Baraki Barak in October, the Americans sat tight as Taliban rounds bounced off their million-dollar armored vehicles. But the Afghan soldiers accompanying the Americans rode in unarmored pickup trucks. Despite their extreme vulnerability, the Afghans opened fire, and fought hard until the Taliban were dead or retreated.
(Photo: David Axe)
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