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Afghan forces: the last hope?

By Alex Thomson

Updated on 20 August 2009

The defence secretary predicts the Afghan army will take over operations within a year. But with their soldiers overworked and underpaid, is that ambition realistic?

Soldier from the Afghan National Army

You do not have to talk to anybody of any rank in Nato for very long before they turn to the ANA.

And you quickly grasp the essential point: the Afghan National Army is the only ticket out of Afghanistan.
What has changed in Afghanistan over the past couple of years or so is that the ANA officers and their men seem to know it as well. So why is it that mutual distrust and frustration continues to grow on both sides?
Channel 4 News recently sent a team out with the 101st Battalion of the Afghan army in Karpisa, a district to the north of the capital Kabul. An experienced unit they have fought all over the country in the years since being reconstituted after the Taliban were ousted in 2001.
But their patience is wearing down. You can see their point when they tell you that they earn $100 dollars a month but the Taliban pay $300.

And as a Taliban commander told our team the insurgents make sure they send along a large cash donation whenever one of their fighters is killed.

So the issue of pay is a very big deal and the longer and louder Nato chiefs say they need a large and strong Afghan army, the more the foot soldiers complain that the money is not being put where the mouth is when it comes to wages.
But that is far from the only complaint. Culturally the Afghan fighter is a very different beast indeed from the British, American, Dutch or Canadian soldier here.

For Nato the possible risk to life and limb is a major, and often constraining, consideration on combat operations. The average Afghan soldier finds this more or less incomprehensible.

They will tell you Nato's heart is not in it; that Nato has no belief; that Nato does not really want to fight. Many share the conspiracy theory of many Afghans that Nato actually do not really want to fight or win this war because they want to keep their troops in Afghanistan as long as possible.
Nato chiefs would, of course, laugh at that as would their politicians. But Afghans in and out of their army believe it widely.
Across the country you will find soldiers of all ranks in the Afghan army who simply say: "Why doesn't Nato give us the real tools to do the job and get out of our country." In many ways they do not want the foreign occupation any more than the Taliban do.
So the longer the occupation continues and continues without the Afghan army having proper armoured troop carriers; real heavy artillery; up-to-date communications networks; realistic wages - the deeper the frustrations of the Afghan army become.
Filmmaker Mehran Bozorgnia travelled north east of the Afghan capital Kabul to Karpisa province to spend time with Afghan forces on operations.

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