The Mystery of Afghanistan’s Missing Military Leaders

“As Afghanistan’s rural districts, and then its cities, fell in quick succession to the Taliban, official U.S. talking points settled on a common refrain: Afghanistan’s security forces had all the people and equipment they needed to battle the Taliban, and all that was missing was leadership. President Joe Biden has been saying this since mid-July.”

“”They have modern equipment. They have organizational structure. They have the benefit of the training that we have provided them over 20 years. They have the material, the physical, the tangible advantages; it’s time now to use those advantages … as I’ve said from the beginning, we want to see the will and the political leadership, the military leadership that’s required in the field.”
The following day, the United States began evacuating its embassy in Kabul in preparation for the fall of the country’s last and most important city.”

“So where was the Afghan leadership that U.S. officials kept saying was the key to stemming the Taliban’s advance? The answer is that it didn’t exist. For years, commanders of the Afghan National Army and National Police — the elements most critical to securing the country — failed to lead, often stealing the salaries and fuel that their forces needed to be effective, and more recently failing to even provide their forces with edible food.
What’s more, the United States government has known — and publicly stated—this fact for years. In an official 2008 assessment of the war, the Pentagon stated that Afghanistan’s government “is hampered by … a lack of sufficient leadership and human capital.” Fast forward to 2020, when the DOD’s most recent assessment acknowledged that “improving the quality of leadership at all echelons remains the most challenging issue” for the country’s security forces.”

“the U.S. military’s preferred approach to advising foreign militaries centers on rapport, coaching and mentorship. While this focus on developing specific people has produced some impressive individual leaders — such as General Sami Sadat, whom former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani put in charge of the defense of Kabul before fleeing the country — it failed to reliably produce the quantity of high-quality leaders that the Afghan army and police needed to defend the country.
To do that, the United States and its partners would have had to recognize that the absence of leadership in the Afghan security forces was a symptom. The root cause was the lack of sufficient and effective institutions, especially those required for education, training, and the recruitment and management of human capital. Had we invested in these institutions, the army and police would have had the ability to accrue, develop, and retain good leaders. Unfortunately, as DOD’s own budgeting documents and internal assessments of the war revealed, efforts to develop these institutions were under-prioritized and under-resourced relative to investments in tangible items like helicopters and armored vehicles.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *