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Friday, December 8, 2023

What is the future of the Afghan national army?

Some of the local forces fought bravely for the U.S.-backed Afghan government – and died for it. But many also simply put down their weapons, defected to the Taliban willingly or because their families faced threats, or succumbed to the other forms of bribery and waste that American inspectors general have been publicly documenting for at least a decade. So what is the future of such an army?

After the fall of the Kabul government in mid-August, the Afghan National Army (ANA) fell like dominos all over Afghanistan. Many experts speculated that the Kabul government will hold ground with the support of ANA precisely in the manner Dr. Najibullah stayed in Kabul for three long years after Soviet defeat and withdrawal in 1989. This time however things were quite different. There was no other military force that proved to be a resistance to the Taliban as it was the only militant group present on the ground. The ANA proved to be an utter failure with their incompetence, lack of military leadership, training, and motivation to fight. The reason for ANA’s failure also comprise corruption within army ranks, favoritism, and nothing was based on merit. ANA soldiers were local thugs, gangsters, and drug addicts then actual soldiers. Promotion in the ANA was conducted in a tribal manner.

After the assassination of self-proclaimed Major-General Abdul Razzaq, his younger brother was replaced as the head of the Kandahar police chief. Knowingly that he was car’s spare parts dealer and has neither education nor any military or police training to conduct the job assigned to him. War criminals and warlords also secured high positions in the army not based on their merits but power and influence such as self-proclaimed Field Marshal Abdul Rashid Dostum. Nonetheless today the ground situation is very different. To quote US president Joe Biden the “well-equipped US-trained 300,000 Afghan soldiers” suddenly vanished in thin air. Everyone is questioning about future of Afghanistan’s army; will ANA be integrated with Taliban fighters.

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Will the Taliban form a completely new Afghan army?

According to the general perception of the Taliban. They are seen as rag-tag militia, unorganized, undisciplined, and as per the nature of guerilla fighters, there’s always a high possibility of fighters defecting and going rogue against their own. Nonetheless, as per media reports we have witnessed a somewhat “organized Taliban army”. According to senior members of the Taliban government, there are some indications that suggest that ANA will be completely dissolved and the Taliban will form their own army from scratch. Media reports from November suggest that the Taliban government has renamed all 8 military corps of ANA.

According to the acting defense minister, Yaqoob Mujahid, the Special Operations Corps in Kabul has been renamed as the Central Corps, while the 209th Shaheen Corps will now be called Al-Fatah. Similarly, the 217th Pamir Corps in Kunduz has been renamed as Omari Corps, the 205th Atal Corps in Kandahar as Al-Badr, and 215th Maiwand in Helmand as Azm.

Few days after the fall of Kabul international media started reporting the security situation in Kabul airport. Military Toyotas with the logo of Islamic Emirates of Afghanistan were seen. Professional soldiers with complete American-style uniforms were patrolling the city. This was a short glimpse of the future Afghan army. Pictures and videos coming out of Kabul completely stunned the people as these soldiers were contrary to traditional Taliban fighters, we all have seen.

Further media reports confirmed that these modern Taliban soldiers were in fact Taliban special forces which are called the “Red Unit” and “Fateh”. The Red Unit has recently gained a lot of popularity when their POV combat and training videos came out on the internet. Interestingly their way of operation and style is more Americanized despite being Taliban fighters. They wear NATO uniforms with all the combat accessories such as helmets with night-vision goggles, bulletproof vests, combat headsets, tactical sunglasses, elbow and knee pads, gloves, NATO army boots with American-made M4A1 assault rifles. From seeing the Red Unit, we can speculate what the future army of Afghanistan may look like.

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Military equipment in Afghanistan

In the hasty retreat of US and NATO forces from Afghanistan, a good amount of US/NATO weapons, ammunition, vehicles, helicopters, other military equipment’s and hardware has been abandoned in US army bases scattered all around Afghanistan especially the Bagram airbase. These weapons and military equipment were very vulnerable to Afghanistan’s security as they could’ve easily gotten in the wrong hands of the Islamic State of Khorasan Province (ISKP) and other terrorist groups.

Nonetheless, Taliban forces took immediate control of all these military bases and took control over all the military hardware. A month back, videos came out from Afghanistan showing Taliban fighters inspecting US helicopters, tanks, and armored personal carriers (APC), not so long after that in early November we saw a Taliban military parade showcasing US and Russian made APCs, Humvee armored jeeps, tanks and even flying Russian MI-17 helicopters. According to the Taliban, pilots, mechanics, and other technical specialists from the ANA would be integrated into their new force. US anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons were also seen at the parade. The thing that seems to be clear is that the future Afghan army whatever it is going to be will not lack military hardware whatsoever.

Security challenges for the Afghan government

The Taliban government in Afghanistan is a reality that the regional and international countries will have to face, more importantly, the internal security issues are a grave challenge that the Afghan government has to face and overcome. In order to do that a powerful standing army with proper combat training to counter-insurgency must be formed. There must be discipline, unity, and organization in the army. As they say “winning the war is easy but maintaining peace is the hard part”. Ironically for the last 20 years, the Taliban had been the insurgency that US and NATO tried to stop but now it is the Taliban government that is going to fight the insurgencies in Afghanistan to bring peace and order.

Although the Taliban government is flooded with weapons, ammunition, and military hardware but maintaining all of it costs a lot of fortune. Unfortunately, the Taliban government is in a huge financial crisis due to $9.5 billion USD in the Afghan central bank seized by the US. If this financial crisis continues, it will affect the overall security of Afghanistan, creating a power and security gap for other militant groups like ISKP and Uzbekistan Islamic Movement (UIM) to fill that gap and to further disintegrate the deteriorating security situation of Afghanistan.

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Border security is another great challenge for the Taliban government which can only be solved by a powerful army. Taliban government must not let any non-state actor cross border into any neighboring country. The formulation of a strong standing Afghan army with combat readiness and a firm strategic, farsighted military leadership is inevitable for the security of Afghanistan and the whole region.



The writer has a master’s degree in Mass Communication from the National University of Modern Languages, Islamabad who often writes on geopolitics, international developments, and strategic affairs with a special focus on Af-Pak affairs, Asia, and the Middle East. He currently works at the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad. He tweets: @THEGUERRILLApk. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.