The government of Afghanistan has just completed its new military headquarters building in central Kabul. It’s a $160 million project built mostly with US cash and outfitted with the latest in office furniture, IT and audiovisual gear worth another $33 million. The five-story structure will have room for 2,500 staff and contains its own barracks, sewer plant (the municipal ones are completely unreliable) and other facilities. While the shell of the marble-clad building was designed by Afghan architectural students after a nationwide competition, the working areas inside are the best that can be created with US expertise and assistance. According to the party line, this state of the art complex will let the Afghans manage the fight against the Taliban more effectively, but as someone who’s worked in Kabul I have my doubts.
The Afghan National Army is capable of fighting bravely and well, but it’s essentially a light infantry force using fairly simple weapons and tactics. Air and fire support assets are limited, and the fairly large fleet of Soviet-era armored vehicles gets little use. The ANA isn’t a sophisticated force and its war takes place mostly at the local level. Regional Kandak (battalion) commanders work mostly against the insurgency in their own area and they do it in close cooperation with the local police, militias and village chiefs. It’s arguable how much a large, sophisticated HQ will help them. True, larger operations are mounted, but even so they tend to involve division-sized units at most. I’ve seen a division being run from a tent set up between the back doors of a dozen APCs, and that was 1(UK) Armored Division – a much more complicated force than anything the ANA can put in the field.
Unfortunately, what I think will happen is that the new HQ will become just another playground for Afghanistan’s endless corruption, nepotism and ego-building. Ambitions and greedy officers will carve out little empires for themselves in its long corridors. Favored officers, the sons of generals and political leaders, will be sent there to do their time in safety rather than scrabbling around the Green Zone and taking the fight to the enemy. More senior officers, eager for the prestige an office in the HQ brings, will spend even more time on political maneuvering than they already do. And no doubt much of the furniture and IT equipment will mysteriously disappear.
Afghanistan doesn’t need a shiny new palace for staff officers to plot in. It needs more properly trained combat infantry officers and NCOs. It needs to pay its soldiers well enough to attract the best men willing to subject themselves to real military discipline and learn their trade as well as the old, Soviet-trained, Afghan Army did. The brutal fact is that the drawdown of ISAF is leaving Afghanistan with a military less capable than the one that hung on for years after 40th Army clanked its way north back into the Soviet Union in 1989. Unfortunately, a big headquarters stuffed with busy – but probably not very productive – staff is the sort of achievement that politicians can recognize, which is why the USA was willing to pay for it.
As anyone who spent time in Afghanistan knows, if victory could be achieved by building a huge headquarters we’d have defeated the insurgency years ago. We failed. Now we’ve built the Afghans the huge headquarters they’ll need if they’re going to fail, too.
Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.