This was why we locked our doors at night in our section of our firebase....
PUL-E-KHUMRI, Afghanistan (AP) — German soldiers, just back from patrol, had already started shedding their heavy body armor when shots rang out Friday at their coalition base in northern Afghanistan. An Afghan soldier, a man they thought was on their side, was spraying them with bullets at close range.
"Working together carries risks," said Guttenberg, who earlier this week spent the night with German troops at the base in northeast Afghanistan. "Still, this attack may not lead to questioning the partnering (with the Afghan army) that has so far been successful because this would only serve our enemies."
Working with soldiers from Afghanistan is hard, and it was probably the hardest deployment I ever had. They have tribal loyalties, hidden agendas, a culture that sees bribery and graft as the way to get things done, and when you mix it all together, you can get a volatile mix of aggression and ingenuity that we tried to help the NCO's harness and direct at the Taliban in our area. They don't tell you this in your training to be an Embedded Trainer, in fact you spend a bunch of time listening to the same IED Class at every training event (another story for another time).
And it was made even more difficult by the fact that "he that bleeds with me today, shall be my brother" is not something that translates well into Dari or Pashto. Their loyalties are complicated and difficult for westerners to understand. They are not as educated as we are, they do not see things in a "western" way and they conceptualize everything from truth to time management in a very foreign way to us.
But in combat, my number one requirement is your loyalty. We tried to ensure that we did our best to bond with our Afghan brothers and counterparts, but , in our case, with a corrupt company commander in our weapons company (which we did succeed in getting rid of) and later on, the Taliban killing another corrupt company commander in an ambush, we were able to install, train, and ensure the promotion of some very good men (NCO's and Officers alike) that helped our weapons company (the first part of our tour, before moving on to our remote firebase in the 2nd half) be able to operate independently with Coalition Forces, plan their own operations, and begin to understand the complicated world of logistics.
But we still locked our doors at night to our compound, because we knew that in a remote place with 11 American Soldiers and 45 Afghan Soldiers that the odds were not in our favor if things went wrong.
Hands down, NCO's are the most important feature of any modern fighting force, and the problem we faced with the Afghans was the huge obstacle of the Soviet training model. I like to refer to it as the "destined to fail" model of leadership.
The Soviet model believes that Sergeants are merely highly paid privates and junior officers are who do the jobs that, in our army, are done by experienced E-6's, 7's, 8's and 9's. Without this institutional knowledge and mid-level management, armies that use the "DTF" model are easy to defeat, because once you make the officer corps combat ineffective (which is also not hard to do), they have no leaders to carry on the battle.
And with the Afghans, with many years as a Soviet satelite, had modeled their Army in the past after the DTF model, which meant that the officer corps, that in many cases had many years of work and toil within this framework, had exactly zero idea how to deal with a modern American Army who was teaching junior soldiers, who were not officers, how to be leaders. This, as you can imagine, can lead to problems.
Imagine coming into a weird stratified caste system mixed with tribal thinking and attitudes inside of a culture of graft, bribery and corruption, where you have to try to teach ethics, logistics, planning, and training and then mix it with a religion that few Americans understand with a combat operations every day cherry on top...
This is why NCO's are the most important thing in saving Afghanistan in general and the Army in particular.
NCO's enforce discipline, pass on cultural mores and values, instill the need for loyalty, accountability and responsibility, manage day to day business and above all; show junior soldiers how to act and what standards of behavior are expected of them.
Without strong NCO's, junior Afghan soldiers will continue to be co-opted into suicide missions like this most recent one (because they are always shot dead on the spot) and fooled into believing that Coalition Forces are their enemies. Without a strong NCO corps to enforce discipline and show that individual beliefs are subordinated to the accomplishment of the mission, then we will continue to see murderous acts like this committed by Taliban controlled agents
Above all, attacks like this upon Coalition Forces by those we perceive to be allies will cause us to retreat to a place that begins putting force protection much further ahead of partnership and cooperation than it probably already is.
And we do need to keep partnering with the Afghans, because much more than one battle or one operation is at stake.