The Challenges of working with an embryonic Afghan National Army

Lieutenant Colonel Charlie Herbert, Commanding Officer of 1st Battalion, The Royal Regiment of Scotland (1 SCOTS) talks about advising the Afghan National Army (ANA).

1 SCOTS has now been in Helmand for 8 weeks.  The Battalion provides the core of the 3/215 Brigade Advisor Group; a bespoke organization whose role is to institutionally develop our partners in the Afghan National Army (ANA). It is an unusual role, but one we are well suited to, having lived and fought alongside the Iraqi Army during an intense period of operations in 2008.  Although formed around 1 SCOTS, the 3/215 Advisor Group is drawn from 18 different units across the Army, reflecting the diverse and specialist nature of this role.

Colonel Charlie Herbert, Commanding Officer of 1st Battallion, The Royal Regiment of Scotland

Colonel Charlie Herbert, Commanding Officer of 1st Battallion, The Royal Regiment of Scotland

At one end of the spectrum we provide two man infantry advisor teams embedded into every ANA company.  These bold and determined men live, eat, train, support, patrol and fight alongside their Afghan colleagues every day.  At the levels above this we have six man teams, headed up by a Major with every Infantry Battalion Headquarters, and a larger team embedded in the Brigade Headquarters.  I myself advise the Brigade Commander, a bear of a man with a fine fighting pedigree, but little formal military training.  Specialist personnel support the development of the ANA  artillery, engineer and reconnaissance companies, with others embedded at every level of the logistic chain.

The challenges of working with an embryonic ANA are huge.  They do not lack experience, and many of them served either with the Soviet-backed DRA Army in the 1980s or on the opposing side with the Mujahideen.  Both groups have their own different way of doing things, and their approach to planning and coordination is very different to our own.

However, there is no doubt that the ANA and their colleagues in the police offer the key to success in this campaign, and none of us are under any illusions of the importance of our role.  Weekly we seek to develop their capabilities, increase the number of troops available to patrol, and develop their sense of leadership and responsibility.  If in due course we can align the will, the capacity and the capability then I am confident that the ANA will be able to achieve the results that we seek.  An effective indigenous solution has been at the heart of almost all counter-insurgency campaigns in the last century, and I suspect that their role will prove even more decisive in Afghanistan, a nation not blessed with much tolerance for foreign outsiders.

I am particularly heartened by the manner in which my young Officers and soldiers have thrown themselves into this job over the past weeks.  All believe passionately in what they are doing, and all are going that extra mile to really make a difference in our time.  Living alongside the ANA is not for everyone.  Conditions are basic, the pace relentless and the dangers ever present, but the rewards are huge.  Afghans are remarkably hospitable, and the shared adversity develops real bonds of trust and friendship between us and our Afghan allies.  Ordinary people, doing extraordinary things, day in and day out.