Friday, December 03, 2004

Why There Are More Afghan than Iraqi Sergeants

From The Strategy Page, an analysis of why the US has been more effective rebuilding the Afghan army...

The Afghans have some of the same problems as the Iraqis, namely tribalism and a weak sense of nationalism. ... But European colonizers proved in the 19th century that, with good training and good NCOs and officers, you can produce combat units from tribal warriors that can match Western ones in effectiveness. The key problem is getting effective NCOs.

Professional NCOs have been the secret to success in Western armies. However, the NCOs must be slowly developed, by selecting recruits who have leadership and management skills, and training them, on the job, over several years. It takes 3-5 years to get a suitable recruit to the point where he can handle the job of the lowest level sergeant (in charge of a squad of 10-12 troops.) Another 3-5 years gets you an NCO that can handle a platoon (which is usually led by a lieutenant, who depends on the platoon sergeant a lot.) Another five years gets you a company 1st sergeant. This NCO assists the officer commanding the company, and supervises the other twenty or so NCOs in the company.

Of course, Western nations have, in major wars, had to develop NCOs a lot more quickly.


In Afghanistan, you had a lot of men who have been fighting for over two decades. Lots of good NCO material. But the concept of the Western NCO (a professional supervisor who is respected and well paid) is largely unknown in Afghanistan. The old Afghan army was based largely on the Soviet model, which treated most NCOs as “senior privates” and left most of the supervisory duties to officers. Most of the Afghan men with combat experience, however, were not in the army, but in tribal war parties (usually squad or platoon size). Here, many of them they gained good NCO type experience at the squad and platoon sergeant level. These men have been found and given some training for squad and platoon sergeant positions. Those that are at the platoon sergeant level, and are also literate, are being used as 1st sergeants (who have to handle some paperwork).

Another advantage the Afghans have over the Iraqis is a warrior mentality. It’s easier to make the Afghans understand that for an army to work, troops must learn how to use their weapons (and take good care of them), and stand and fight. While Iraq has produced some good soldiers, most Iraqis want nothing to do with fighting. However, with good training and NCOs, just about anyone can be turned into an effective soldier. Unfortunately for Iraq, most of the good NCOs and officers were Sunni Arabs. These men are vulnerable to Saddam’s enforcers, who are still around and either killing Sunni veterans who join the new army, or threatening those considering it. Thus the Iraqis have a hard time getting experienced Sunni Arabs to serve as NCOs. So in Iraq, NCOs must be developed the hard way, by taking men with potential and having them learn on the job.


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