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Advisors Work to Build Afghan Forces Sustainment Systems

By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 21, 2007 – The biggest challenges Afghanistan’s security forces face are not recruiting, training or fighting, but have more to do with building the systems that will sustain the country’s forces, a senior advisor in the region said this week.

“The greatest challenge that I have observed in working with the Afghan National Security Forces is not their fighting capability, it’s not their desire to create a national army and police, (and) it's not their willingness to sacrifice. Rather, it is the creation and sustainment of a national industrial base from which to maintain the army and the police, in the form of logistics, transportation, communications and maintenance of the equipment and weapons and vehicles and aircraft,” Marine Col. Phillip E. Smith, commander of the Afghan Regional Security Advisory Command Central, said to a group of Internet journalists and “bloggers” in a Nov. 19 conference call from the region.

The concept is somewhat foreign to the forces there, who have been fighting as individuals or small, self-sustaining groups for decades, he said.

“They are very good individual soldiers. They come together occasionally for small group fights. However, they have never been able to logistically sustain themselves apart from what they can take from the people, villages and so on and so forth,” Smith said. “So from a modern army perspective, they do not have in their background or in their experience an ability to think about long-term logistics sustainment.”

In fact, some Afghan security force leaders may be hesitant to adopt a long-term concept they feel would perpetuate fighting in the region, he said.

“I think the Afghan people are tired of fighting, and perhaps become just a little bit impatient with our impatience. In other words, we are trying to push them towards a capability that they may or may not necessarily want to accept,” the colonel said.

“We have learned that to be effective advisors, we first must gain an understanding of how the Afghans think,” he continued. “They do have a system in place. They have been able to conduct warfare over the past 30 years. And we have to understand that they are not going to unlearn a lot of things in a very short period of time. It will take time to introduce them to different, improved techniques that lead them to be able to better sustain themselves.”

Long-term goals include helping the Afghan army create a combined arms capability that will help its leaders look at the battlefield as a whole and coordinate with adjacent units, working more closely together as opposed to fighting in the smaller, independent formations they are accustomed to.

“We consider them excellent individual and small unit fighters. But when it comes to providing neutral support for adjacent units, for sustaining long-term supplies and support so that units -- artillery, tank -- can maintain contact with an organization that's an enemy and provide mutual support across the battlefield, they are just not there yet,” Smith said. “We're on the way to not only (field) the equipment that will give them some of that capability, but also working with them at the tactical level.”

Smith said the key to defeating the insurgents there is to gain the trust of the Afghan people and focus on the establishing the governance and security needed to firmly implant the government.

“The nature of the fight here, from what I see as an advisor, is a simple insurgency as compared to what we all know is going on in Iraq. The objective of (fighting) any insurgency, whether it's simple or complex is always the people -- the citizens of Afghanistan, not the guy who's shooting at us, not the guy who's terrorizing. It really takes a lot of discipline to stay focused on the people of Afghanistan,” he said.

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