March 1, 2012: As foreign troops reduce their numbers in Afghanistan over the next two years, American Special Operations Forces (commandos and Special Forces) will increase their activity because these troops will advise Afghan soldiers, and be available to carry especially tricky missions. The U.S. Army Special Forces will be particularly effective because they know the languages and cultures in Afghanistan.
The effort to train the new Afghan soldiers and police required that thousands of troops and civilians (usually former military) be brought in. These have been of limited effectiveness because of language and cultural barriers. Normally, the U.S. Army Special Forces handles training of foreign armies, and they are expert at it. Special Forces troops have the advantage of knowing the language and culture of the foreign troops they train. One lesson that was quickly learned was that, while you can teach these foreign recruits through an interpreter, it helps a lot if you get up to speed on the local culture. The Special Forces provided some of their people to help train the American trainers on that point, but over the past seven years, a body of information and “lessons learned” has been collected, and used to help train the trainers. One of the more important lesson learned was that, even if you don’t speak the language, spend as much time as possible with your trainees. That means eating with them, and living very close to their barracks. Be available at all hours, and keep a good translator handy at all times.
The cultural awareness picked up in Iraq has not always proved useful in Afghanistan. For example, in Iraq a knowledge of the history of the Iraqi army, and respect for that, proved very useful. The Iraqis were particularly proud of how they held off the Iranians during the 1980s, and making positive references to that paid off. No mention of the two wars they had with the Americans. They already knew all about that, and don’t want to hear any more. The Afghans, on the other hand, have no sense of their army having been defeated by the United States, since everyone looks on the defeat of the Taliban as a group effort by the Afghan people and Americans to chase out some religious fanatics. But at the same time, Afghans have no particular pride in any “Afghan Army.” The only military organizations Afghans admire are tribal or warlord militias that won some battles in the past (often against another Afghan tribe). Continue reading