Afghans can’t maintain their equipment. Washpost


"The problems plaguing Hamidullah’s battalion represent what might be the biggest threat to the fledgling Afghan army: an inability to repair or replace vital equipment once it is broken. The U.S. military shouldered that responsibility for years. But just as the Afghan army started doing the bulk of the fighting, the Americans stopped repairing Afghan equipment.
The U.S. military said that turning over the job to the Afghans was an inevitable part of the transition process. But with the Afghan supply chain still undeveloped and the Defense Ministry still hobbled by corruption, army units across the country aren’t getting the gear and parts that they need."  Washpost


Is anyone surprised at this?  Maintenance and supply are two of the main things the Afghans will want the US to continue doing for them even after the zero option becomes reality.  Contracters will love to do the job and the people doing the contracted work will make a lot of money.  They may get killed but that is why they will be paid a lot of money.  It is exactly thus in Iraq, with the contracters being supervised by a three star general who pleads for more generals and colonels to be sent him for the purpose of "empire building."  The more seniors you have working for you the more likely you are to be promoted.

It is a rare thing to find a 3rd World army or air force that can do its own logistics.  Saudi Arabia never has figured out how to make this happen without massive use of its "checkbook."  pl




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37 Responses to Afghans can’t maintain their equipment. Washpost

  1. dan bradburd says:

    Many, many years ago I was with an ex-pat British contracter working with the shah’s navy who was raging in near tears because one of the Iranians he was ‘training’ had made the turbine on a hovercraft fit by giving it a nudge or two with a hammar.
    On the other hand, I also saw tribesmen, some of them illiterate, pull the head of an Izh motorcyle, replace the piston rings, and put it all back together in tip-top running condition. This in a mountain valley about 7000 feet above sea level, with no manual and nothing but a very basic tool kit.
    I suspect the question of whether or not folks can do their own maintenance–and why–has plenty of moving parts too.

  2. Fred says:

    Why is this our problem? Doesn’t this point out that Afghanistan’s neighbor face zero threat from them; and conversely, our own exit and the reasons behind it point out exactly why Afghanistan will need zero protection from those neighbors. Certainly none at the cost of American blood and treasure.

  3. kao_hsien_chih says:

    I’m curious how many air forces (not necessarily 3rd world ones) there are that can actually take care of their own logistics (and have first rate, most modern equipment). The more modern the equipment get, the more tail they need to remain functional, as I understand it, and the cost of meeting the logistic needs are why so many air forces (e.g. the Chinese and the Russians) have trouble upgrading their equipment as much as they theoretically can.

  4. turcopolier says:

    You are making my point. Even semi-modern countries like Russia and China have a difficult in maintaining modern equipment on a large scale. This simply punctuates the plain truth that the US should have sense enough to know that the Afghans could never do it. pl

  5. turcopolier says:

    This sounds like some kind of multi-culti relativistic business. It is one thing to learn to do “shade tree” repairs on something lie a Volvo wagon or a motorcycle. It is quite another to keep a force equipped with a lot of modern kit supplied and maintained. It is quite a different thing. The Turks can do it. Pakistan and India can do it, but their Western military cultural roots are deep. pl

  6. Fred says:

    That was one of the things that really struck me when I read Sir John Glubb’s book The maintenance of equipment and the skills – and leadership – required to both build and maintain an effective force. That was fifty years ago; long before all the modern electronics.

  7. turcopolier says:

    I presume that Pakistan and India do good logistics as do the Turks. Amusingly, the Iraq armed force by the end of their war with Iran were very good at it. pl

  8. turcopolier says:

    Glub told me that it was only by using British REME and other logistics guys on a tutorial basis that he got as much done as he did. even then, the scale of equipment in the Arab Legion was miniscule. pl

  9. The beaver says:

    Speaking about maintenance and equipment, are these buster bunkers the same one the US have refused to “give” to Israel:
    “The list of hardware bound for the gulf includes 6,000 GBU-39/B small diameter bombs, the “bunker busters” built by Boeing — 1,000 for Saudi Arabia and 5,000 for the Emirates, which gives some idea of who’ll spearhead the air offensive against Iran if war breaks out.”
    With regard to the Saudis, looks like they’ve campaigned hard ( with gifts) to get a seat at the UNSC to turn around an declined it ( unofficially so far) 12 hours afterwards.
    “Saudi Arabia … is refraining from taking membership of the UN Security Council until it has reformed so it can effectively and practically perform its duties and discharge its responsibilities in maintaining international security and peace,” said a Foreign Ministry statement issued on state media.

  10. FB Ali says:

    The problem with the US-created Afghan Army is much more basic; this is just one aspect of it.
    Throughout history the Afghan has been considered a fearsome warrior, as numerous invading armies (including, most recently, the Russian and US ones) have discovered to their cost. But he fought in his own way, in small guerrilla groups, and by adapting simple modern capabilities to this form of combat (the Taliban have made the IED and the ‘suicide vest’ into very effective weapons).
    The US enterprise of standing up a large Afghan army in its own image was doomed from the start. How can you do that with a largely illiterate soldiery in which the desertion rate is 30-50%? It was another example of the US’s profound ignorance of the country and its people, and the collusion of ambitious US generals with the smooth Afghan carpetbaggers who milked the ‘occupation’ for whatever they could.

  11. turcopolier says:

    FB Ali
    It has been a continuous problem for us that the US thinks that only conventional forces built in its own image are worth constructing. The eccentrics among us who think the locals should be allowed to form forces authentic to their own tradition are ruthlessly suppressed and passed over for promotion. pl

  12. The Twisted Genius says:

    Colonel Lang said, “The eccentrics among us who think the locals should be allowed to form forces authentic to their own tradition are ruthlessly suppressed and passed over for promotion.”
    Amen to that! One would think that all these years of battling low tech light forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, we would learn a thing or two. Of course, there’s no money in that.
    In a related vein, I knew a professor at the University of South Carolina, Donald Weatherbee, who lost a sweet advisory gig with General Dynamics. He advised the Royal Thai Air Force to stick with the Northrup F-5 rather than buying the F-16. He knew that advice would lead to his firing, but he could recommend the more expensive and complicated solution in good conscience. He reminded me of the John Houseman character in “The Paper Chase.”

  13. Yohan says:

    But it wasn’t always this way. The highly effective yet low-tech constabulary forces the US built in Central America in the early 20th century and elsewhere around that time seemed to work just fine for everyone except the rebels in those countries. When did we lose this tradition, especially with COIN being so in-vogue so recently?
    When did we decide that one of the poorest countries on earth would not only need, but also be able to sustain a modern, mechanized military modeled on a superpower’s? This idea seems absurd on its face, so how does it persist?

  14. Yohan says:

    Also, wouldn’t this American-style gear just serve as a highly-visible symbol of the Afghan Army’s foregin-ness and illegitimacy in the eyes of ordinary Afghans? It seems as incongruous as sending someone to a wedding wearing jorts.
    Did ARVN units suffer similar image problems from using American-style uniforms & kit during the Vietnam War?

  15. turcopolier says:

    You forgot to mention the Philippines. “The highly effective yet low-tech constabulary forces the US built in Central America in the early 20th century and elsewhere around that time seemed to work just fine for everyone except the rebels in those countries.” The eccentrics were allowed to raise these forces. pl

  16. Bandolero says:

    FB Ali, Turcopolier
    I couldn’t agree more to this. And I think, building an Afghan force authentic to their own tradition is the only way to get peace into that country.
    What I think what Afghanistan needs is a relatively small Afghan kind of force like the pasdaran of Iran, who – like them or not – are stunningly effective.
    But the problem is that NATO has not only no desire, but also no expertise in building such forces, and even less so in Afghanistan. Who in NATO might teach Afghan forces a year or two in Qoran studies, so they get more respected by the population and their enemies alike? Who in NATO might teach Afghan forces Afghan history, so that the Afghan units learn to be really proud and get some kind of deep spirit in the sense of the “red diamont” article published here some days ago. NATO forces simply doesn’t have such urgently needed capabilities, even if NATO understood that that’s the right way to go.
    If NATO really leaves Afghanistan, it will be a big challange to deal with the Afghan army created by NATO.
    Kayani famously said about the US plans to build such a 400.000 men army in Afghanistan: “Don’t do it. You will fail. Then you will leave and that half-trained army will break into militias that will be a problem…”
    I agree with him. To fix that that problem will be a major challenge for whoever will be in charge in Afghanistan after NATO left. I suppose, if elected president, Abdullah will ask the Iranian pasdaran for advice, but improving the nature of the Afghan army will be a tough task anyway.

  17. B. D. Warbucks says:

    As I recall, the Iraqis built a good logistics capacity by purchasing it from the Russians, Polish, and Chinese. The Iraqis were/are competent civil engineers and built good roads and fortifications. When their Soviet, Chinese, and Western equipment broke down,they were loaded onto “low boy” tractor trailers and hauled to maintenance depots around Baghdad. Those depots were manned by Russian, Polish, and Chinese contract mechanics, who were intimate with the equipment and could repair the problem relatively quickly. The fixed piece of gear would be reloaded onto a low boy and trucked back to the front.
    It was an efficient, albeit expensive system. It fell apart, quickly, when the contract labor force abandoned ship in September-October 1990, as things heated up during DESERT SHIELD. A sub-optimal supply, logistics, and maintenance system is one of the unheralded reasons for the Iraqi military’s defeat during the Gulf War.
    At least Saddam paid for his logistics capacity. I suspect the American taxpayers will have to foot the bill for the Afghans.

  18. kao_hsien_chih says:

    And those interventions were not at the center of US domestic politics, with the reputations of US national politicians at stake–which do not depend on the “real” success of the missions as much as what they can wring out of them for their friends, supporters, and clients. With so very few people in the States knowing about them, there was no incentive to meddle in the work of the eccentrics. Wouldn’t this be an accurate characterization of those cases?

  19. SAC Brat says:

    If you chase down examples you’ll find that US aircraft operators (Military, civilian) have problems keeping up with having reliable fleets with high dispatch rates. Poor reliability for parts, hard to obtain new parts and a maintenance staff who has difficulty troubleshooting chronic faults. That’s in the US, who have the technical information written in their language.

  20. charly says:

    I think the simple answer is that the US, or for that matter any other power, was low-tech in the early 20th century.
    ps. Navy excluded, but nobody needs navies for suppression.

  21. The Twisted Genius says:

    The eccentrics are held under a much tighter leash since the early 20th century. In 1983 the 10th Group was tasked with reorganizing and training the Lebanese army. The plan for creating combined arms brigades on the U.S. model was in concrete before we were alerted to deploy. Given that a long history of Western influence was a fact of life in the Lebanese armed forces, this was not that unusual a plan. Unfortunately, it virtually ignored the many close knit sectarian militias that were already there. The chain of command for this mission was a mess. It was an inverted pyramid with way too many chiefs in Washington, Fort Bragg and EUCOM micromanaging us indians. We also saw a real problem in the sectarian nature of the brigades. As many of you know, this time bomb did go off. Eventually we watched as forces we trained took each other on in open combat… and it was serious combat.
    Things might have been different if the teams were given more control in shaping the organization and training of the Lebanese. At that time, 10th Group was still filled with eccentrics trained to conduct UW in Europe. Perhaps those eccentrics could have used some of those early 20th century constabulary ideas if they were given a freer rein. Would we have stopped the continuing civil war? Probably not, but I firmly believe we could have made the situation much better if we were allowed to do our jobs.
    It was for good reasons that my team sergeant told me that “the first thing we need to do when we got off that goddamned DZ was to put a round through that goddamned radio.”

  22. An incisive – and frankly frightening – recent discussion of what looks uncommonly like ‘willed ignorance’ in the U.S. foreign affairs bureaucracy by Philip Giraldi may have some relevance to these issues. An extract:
    ‘Organizations like the Foreign Service and the Central Intelligence Agency have a deep institutional prejudice against their employees “going native,” rotating officers every two or three years to avoid someone’s becoming too identified with local interests and cultures. CIA has long had an endemic problem in training its officers in foreign languages up to basic proficiency levels, partly due to the not unreasonable perception that in 18 months to two years, one might well find oneself in another country confronting yet another foreign language. Senior Agency officers, who are disproportionately minimally language capable, generally excuse themselves by arguing “an op is an op is an op,” meaning that spying is not culture specific. They are wrong. Not “going native” means that the United States government relies on a recurring cycle of foreign and intelligence officers who arrive ignorant and leave just as they are starting to figure things out.’
    As Giraldi notes the old British Colonial Office generated specialists, and whatever the limitations of their understanding – which he may understate – it was adequate to sustain the ‘divide and rule’ strategies which were a basic tool of imperial management.

  23. turcopolier says:

    David Habakkuk
    Phil Giraldi is a harsh but justified critic of the Directorate of Operations at CIA. He should know the truth about them and he does not hesitate to tell the world. The belief that clandestine HUMINT is a truly “portable skill” is terribly flawed. People are NOT the same all over the world. The same kind of thought leads to “one size fits all” analytic work. We should have learned long ago that people are widely varied but obviously have not. The US Army and USMC have long had specialist programs for officers designed to create careers for soldiers that should provide the expertise that is needed for dealing with alien cultures. Unfortunately the officers produced by these programs are treated like “bastard poor relatives” and are relegated to jobs as assistants to generalist officers in the “main stream” of the service. pl

  24. Babak Makkinejad says:

    This is but another application of the Harvard Business School of Management; it matters not what you build – computer chips or potato chips – as long as you have good management – according to HBS.
    In reality, almost every successful American corporation was started by a fire-in-the-belly entrepreneur.
    The trajectory follows the Charismatic Founder(s) to the Administrator, to the Marketer, to the Accountants and finally to corporate death through bankruptcy, acquisition, or break-up.
    “an op is an op is an op,” means really that “I do not care about the specifics of this operation and do not force me to think about it.”

  25. FB Ali says:

    “The eccentrics are held under a much tighter leash since the early 20th century”.
    One who broke away from it was TE Lawrence. Sent to join the military mission in the Hejaz that was attempting to help Faisal set up a conventional military to fight the Turks, he soon realized that the desert Arabs would be much more effective fighting as they had always done.
    By providing some planning expertise, machine guns and explosives to the tribesmen he made them into a formidable fighting force that soon converted the railbound Turkish garrisons into besieged outposts in a hostile desert ‘sea’.
    The genius of Allenby was to recognize the effectiveness of Lawrence’s contribution to the war against the Turks, and not only let him continue but provide the assistance he needed. It is another matter that when Lawrence sought to convert the Arabs’ military successes into political gains, Allenby cut him off at the knees.

  26. Fred says:

    To the HBS types people are less than biological robots.

  27. The Twisted Genius says:

    Brigadier Ali,
    A few other examples were Wendell Fertig and Russell Volckmann in the Philippines. Their exploits raising and leading guerrilla forces against the Japanese are legendary. Fertig was a professor of military science at the ROTC program at the Colorado School of Mines after the war. I’d give my left nut to have been a cadet under Fertig at that time.

  28. turcopolier says:

    FB Ali
    Lawrence was not a regular soldier. Peake and Glubb in Jordan were. pl

  29. Babak Makkinejad says:

    These soldiers in the Philippines; to whom did they owe their allegiance; to their leaders, to their tribes, or to some notion of the “Philippines”?
    Do you know?

  30. ex-PFC Chuck says:

    re PL: ” The eccentrics among us who think the locals should be allowed to form forces authentic to their own tradition are ruthlessly suppressed and passed over for promotion.”
    Since the rise and entrenchment of the MICC (Military-Industrial-Congressional Complex) during and after World War II, its raison d’etre has become the maintenance and increase of the flow of funds from the American tax payers and overseas bond-buyers to the military, thence to the contractors, and thence (with a modest [relatively speaking] diversion to the campaign coffers that keep the Congress Critters incumbents] to the employees and owners of said contractors. To exhibit the eccentricity to suggest alternatives that are not only more effective but dramatically lower in cost is thus deeply threatening to the MICC.
    The notion that the raison d’etre of the Defense establishment is the defense and promotion of the national interest is so early twentieth century.

  31. kao_hsien_chih says:

    Well, that’s why I threw in the Russians as an example. They have their own tech, which, at their best, can be as good as anyone’s, but their ability to maintain a real high tech force serviceable has been limited by financial and economic resources–much more than any organization, military or civilian, in the US.

  32. turcopolier says:

    ex PFC Chuck
    How long have you been a marxist? pl

  33. The Twisted Genius says:

    I know Fertig was confronted with a number of waring groups who took advantage of the vacuum created by the Japanese invasion to fight each other for control of Mindinao. Eventually he convinced them to fight the Japanese instead of each other. I think their primary reason for fighting was hatred of the Japanese and their brutal actions rather than a vague notion of Filipino patriotism. But there were many groups and probably many reasons for fighting. Fertig’s genius was to couple his knowledge of the Filipinos gained over years of working there as a civil engineer before the invasion with his engineering problem solving skills. There’s little wonder why the Special Forces community holds him in such high esteem. MacArthur and his intel chief, Willoughby, were not very enthusiastic about him.

  34. mbrenner says:

    As to the dilemma of where to strike the balance in apportioning resources (and training)between focus on one geographical/cultural area vs focus on fungible skills, the British imperial example is indeed instructive – but does not point to a clear answer. The British were in India for 175 years and early own knew that they were there to stay. The British East India Company establishment their own school, Haileybury. in 1809 – renamed the Imperial Service College after the Mutiny and the Company’s being supplanted by the government, designed explicitly to train people for the Indian service. We, by contrast, have little idea as to where we will be engaged, for how long, with what purpose or mission. Our scope, as defined by the GWOT, is universal. Our prep ludicrously thin and inappropriate for any one place. It’s the strategic conception that is awry.

  35. ISL says:

    I would note that I have never heard of the Taliban having maintenance problems. I think that probably outlines the societal level of appropriate technology. Given the critical importance of logistics in military matters, its being ignored is a mind-boggling CF.
    In a truly forward-looking America, the structural problem(s) leading to this would be identified and addressed, perhaps at the cost of a few (political/other) careers destroyed. But that would mean accountability, which is in very short supply in our Potemkin village on the Hill – forward-looking has been redefined as never accountable.

  36. Babak Makkinejad says:

    So, by analogy, one should not expect Afghans to fight and die for “Afghan Nation” – something that does not exist.
    In further analogy with the Philippines, one would expect Afghanistan to revert back to the period immediately following the fall of Najibullah with different tribal confederations as well as ethno-linguistic groups to fight one another until the positions of the antagonists equilibrate.

  37. WILL says:

    defeat in detail? from wiki
    “More than once, the Japanese tried to destroy Fertig and his guerrilla army, committing large numbers of troops for this purpose. At these times, Fertig had his forces retreat before the Japanese until they were also dispersed, then counterattacked the Japanese with local superiority in numbers”

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