Monday, October 19, 2009

Dealing with the ANA

“Success seems to be connected with action. Successful people keep moving. They make mistakes, but they don’t quit.”
— Conrad Hilton
Getting what you want out of the ANA is a huge part of the job. If you can't get along with your ANA commander, and get him to do things your way, then you aren't going to get much done, because most ANA commanders can't be relied upon to show any initiative to improve and do their jobs well. We all certainly had our ups and downs in the relationships with the different ANA commanders we worked with. Sometimes some of us, including myself, didn't always do things the best way. I definitely don't have any magic formulas for how to work with them, but I did learn a few things. I'll throw this little anecdote out there.

During my last tour to Afghanistan as an embedded trainer with the Afghan National Army (ANA), I conducted training sessions on the M-16 rifle as part of the ANA’s transition from the AK-47 to the M-16. The ANA soldiers had a habit of showing up late for my training sessions. I had tried encouragement, suggestion, and profuse compliments when they were on time as ways to try to get them to show up on time and be more professional, but I had not gotten the results I had hoped for.

Since my efforts to improve the ANA by gently nudging them along were not working to my satisfaction, I decided to try a different approach. The approach I selected was to berate them for being lazy, discourteous, and unprofessional. An Afghan soldier is not unaccustomed to being treated in this manner by an officer, and would expect such a reaction from an ANA officer in a similar situation.

However, the fact of the matter is, it was really not my place as an advisor to the ANA to handle my problems with the ANA soldiers in that manner. I should have known perfectly well that the appropriate and expedient thing to do was to talk to their officer about their behavior and let him deal with it. This approach would not only help develop leadership traits in the ANA officer involved, but would also likely engender much better results. However, on another day when the soldiers again were late for my training, I decided to direct my ire at their officer, Commander B, who happened to be standing right there. While the soldiers could not understand the things I was saying (no interpreter was necessary since Commander B speaks English well), they no doubt caught the gist that I was criticizing their commander.

After the training was completed that day, I thought about the incident. I knew I had overstepped and that my new “approach” to dealing with the ANA of being critical, negative, and worse, criticizing an officer in front of his own men, was counter-productive. Subsequent events proved this to be true, as the ANA became increasingly difficult to deal with, and I lost the trust and confidence of Commander B. I apologized to Commander B and made a special effort afterward to compliment him in front of his men, but I was not able to restore our previously amiable relationship in the limited time we had left together.

In retrospect, I should have remained consistent with the way I had been conducting things…only with more patience and with my expectations in check. Our team had a lot of different personalities, and they all did things different ways; the guys (including myself) who were dictatorial toward their ANA commanders and lost patience with them eventually were unable to accomplish anything at the point where they hardly even worked together. The ETTs who were patient and encouraging with their ANA were able to slowly but surely get more and more out of their ANA. We had one ETT in particular who was always very encouraging and positive with everyone, all the time. I've never heard him say a bad word about anyone, to include the ANA. He, out of everyone I saw, was the best able to get the ANA to work more than they wanted to.


David M said...

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 10/20/2009 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

BruceR said...

Nice post, K. You should write a book. My response comments here:



K said...


Thanks, and I enjoyed reading through your site. You've got a lot on there and been doing it awhile it appears.

As for a book...I suppose anything is possible and thanks for the encouragement. Wes Gray (follower of this blog and Iraqi Army mentor and author) suggested the idea to me a couple months ago.

I still have quite a few entries to make for this blog on topics I just didn't have the time to cover while I was there, so for now I'm concentrating on getting entries written out of the notes I have in my journal and written in various notebooks and scraps of paper I have lying around.

Anand said...

One of your best posts yet K. My compliments for being so open about how you could have been better. Many GIs are too worried about covering their behind to do what you just did.

K, what are your thoughts about empowering the Bluks (platoons) and letting the new 2nd Lieutenants gain proficiency that way? Are any company commanders and deputy company commanders open to this idea?

One idea that might have helped you have more influence with the ANA would have been to die some of your hair white, and otherwise trick the ANA into thinking that you were older :LOL: The ANA seem to honor age, experience and rank.

ISAF and the advisors (OMLTs, ETTs, MTTs) need to focus on how to persuade the Afghan MoD and Joint Chiefs generals to reward most mid grade ANA officers with early retirement (hell, give them three years severance pay if you have to.) Many of the new Lieutenants need to be promoted to company commanders and deputy company commanders ASAP. 6 months afterwards, promote the new company commanders to the battalion, brigade and Corps HQs staffs. Continue to push for rapid wartime promotion. In many critical WWII battles, US brigades were lead by captains due to wartime losses. The ANA should do likewise. Obama, Gates, Petraeus and McChrystal should directly lobby the Afghan MoD, Joint Chiefs, and GIRoA for this frequently and often.

Given Afghan respect for age and rank, ISAF needs to bring some retired senior officers out of retirement and post them as mentors to ANA generals. One of the challenges in mentoring the ANA is the youth and low rank of many ISAF advisors. I also think that CSTC-A/NTM-A commander needs to be three stars to be taken more seriously by the ANA.

K said...


True the Afghans have much respect for age. A little white dye in the beard of a young ANA officer might help him on his way...and not just with his fellow ANA but also with the local people. The whole idea of age and respect was part of my excuse for growing a beard when I could get away with it.

As for empowering the our battalion we had several bases manned only by platoons that were able to operate basically autonomously, so those lieutenants were able to get some good experience. And with the constant going and coming from leave that the ANA practice, there is often not too many officers around at the same time on any FOB. So many officers get a good amount of experience; the problem is that they'll be punished if anything goes wrong, and are almost never rewarded when things go well.

If an ANA platoon commander were to lose a soldier in a firefight he'd get in trouble with the battalion commander, regardless of whether it was a well-planned op that had success against the enemy.

James Gundun said...

You paint a disturbing picture, K. Do you think this is a result of civilian disconnect from the battlefield, lack of capabilities, bureaucracy, or something else? With all the talk on expanding ANA forces, do you think time and money would be better spent properly restructuring the ANA, training existing forces, and giving them the opportunity to succeed? Essentially, would you rather have a higher quantity or quality?

Anand said...

James Gundun, what is needed is a dramatic 5 times or more expansion in NTM-A CSTC-A, OMLT, MTT, ETT staffing. The objective should be to increase the number of ANSF being trained at any given time by a factor of 10.

The length of time an average ANSF is trained should be tripled (from 8 weeks to 24 weeks.) The number of ANSF trained per year should also be tripled.

This will require increasing the number of ANSF being trained at any given time 10 fold. The number of 2nd Lietenants and mid grade NCOs being trained at any given time should increase by a factor of 20.

Flood the ANSF with embedded OMLTs, and ISAF augmented advisory SFA style units (up to the division HQs level, colocated with the higher ANSF HQs), and transfer battlespace/reconstruction/OMLTs to the ANSF. {Flooding the ANSF with advisors and mentors is the only way to transition battlespace to the ANSF quickly, while the 2nd Lietenants and NCOs are being trained up.}

Increase the assigned/authorized ratio to 200% in good ANSF battalions; enabling a rapid expansion with a limited number of good officers and NCOs.

For heavens sake, stop creating new ANA brigades. Build 6th and 7th Kandaks (4th and fifth combat manouver battalions) for every existing ANA brigade before adding new ANA. By then, the ANA will be flooded with good quality platoon, company and battalion commanding officers.

Finally, and this is most important, reward most mid grade ANA officers with early retirement and large severance packages. Replace them with freshly trained Lieutenants.

OK James Gundun and K, I am being slightly unrealistic. But any other ideas?

James Gundun said...

Anand - Is it fair to say you suggest improving existing forces before attempting to double them, such as McChrystal and senators like Carl Levin and John Kerry call for? Your strategy sounds realistic compared to their scheme to delay more forces, but President Obama needs more trainers, more officers, and more troops to embed in addition to troops strictly deployed for security. Do you disagree? My worry is that doubling the ANA will dilute the force, whereas concentrating on existing forces could give America a legitimate army to work with. I don't think we can artificially rush the ANA as fast as some people in Washington want.

Anand said...

James Gundun, the current ANA boot camp is 10 weeks. But some ANA are being rushed to the field in a lot less time than that, which is why I estimated 8 weeks as the "de facto" average.

ANP boot camp = 8 weeks. But often, it only amounts to 3 weeks. Average ANP boot camp might be 6 or 7 weeks.

MG Formica and MoD minister Wardek want to reduce these training times further; which I think is a big mistake. I would "INCREASE" the ANA and ANP boot cap, not reduce them. I would also include 3 months of basic primary school education with the boot camp.

What is needed, regardless of what Obama, McChrystal and Afghanistan's president decides, is far greater through put (train more ANSF at any given point in time.)

A decision has been taken to delay the formation of CS and CSS (maybe even GSUs), to focus on forming new combat maneuver battalions; while ISAF provides combat enablers to the ANSF over the medium term. This is how 134,000 ANA will be reached by 10-2010.

My preference to ANA growth would be to use most ANA and ANP boot camp graduates to replenish existing battalions or battalion equivalents in the case of the ANP. i.e. train them as 300% overstrenght companies, and send them to existing ANA battalions; one per battalion. Once they get to their battalions, their members split into platoons or bluks to overstrenght existing companies inside their battalion.

This is a better way to grow a cadre light army than forming new brigades. If new combat battalions need to be formed, then form 6th or 7th Kandaks to existing ANA brigades.

In summary, I agree, emphasize quality over quantity; but throw a lot more resources at ANSF generation and mentoring regardless of the mix between quality and quantity that is agreed upon.

K said...

Concur in quality over quantity. I've seen how little bad troops get done...though give them decent leaders and they could do a lot. Putting local troops directly under American soldiers and Marines worked well in the past, though I doubt we'll see that happen in Afghanistan.

Given how many ANA are on leave at any given time (a third or more), we never (with the exception of during the election) had anywhere near an entire battalion on hand. Agree that plussing up the battalions and companies makes much more sense than adding more brigades...would allow us to focus on a smaller cadre of leaders.

Undoubtedly, we need more and better people training the ANSF. What I'm asking myself is where the ANSF volunteers are going to come from. I'm not sure if recruitment is tapped out or getting more difficult but I would not be surprised if recruitment in the Pashtun areas became more difficult as this insurgency heats up.

Anand said...

K, so far, the ANA has only been able to accept a fraction of ANA Pashtun applicants.

However, if the ANA expands rapidly enough, they might start to have to accept lower quality applicants (which means longer training cycles to maintain quality.)

The ANP accepts a larger percentage of applicants. But even here, I don't think there will be a problem finding Pashtuns to staff 40% of 160,000 end strength ANP.

One problem with the ANA and ANP is that non local Pashtun can be viewed as outsiders by local Pashtuns. Certain Pashtun tribes and regions might become under represented in the ANSF with rapid expansion.