ANALYSIS | The ‘mini-me’ Afghan army was always doomed
The US shouldn’t have used its military model to train Afghanis. It should have built a version of the Taliban’s force
In 2006, as a US Navy vice-admiral, I was in Iraq travelling with US secretary of defence Don Rumsfeld. At a town hall with US troops, he famously answered a question about the US Army’s lack of armoured vehicles by saying: “You go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time.” It was an honest, but tone-deaf comment, and it was rattling through my mind at the weekend watching the stunning collapse of the Afghan security forces in the face of a Taliban onslaught.
After my Pentagon service, I ended up as the supreme allied commander of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. One of the key missions over four years, from 2009 to 2013, was to build an Afghan national army that could take over fighting from the 150,000 US and International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) troops at the centre of the fight with the Taliban. When we pulled out the final few thousand troops over the past several weeks, Afghanistan went to war with the “army we had” and it collapsed miserably.
Despite plenty of resources and talent, and more than a decade of serious effort, the training mission clearly failed. Why? What is there to learn from this debacle?..