The Sandbox

GWOT hot wash, straight from the wire

Welcome to The Sandbox, a forum for service members who have served or are currently serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, returned vets, spouses and caregivers. The Sandbox's focus is not on policy and partisanship (go to our Blowback page for that), but on the unclassified details of deployment -- the everyday, the extraordinary, the wonderful, the messed-up, the absurd. All correspondence is read, and as much as possible is posted, lightly edited. If you know someone who is deployed who might have something to say, please tell them about us. To submit a post click here.

COMMANDO |

September 03, 2010

 Name: Major Dan
Posting date: 9/3/10
Stationed in: Afghanistan
Milblog: AfghaniDan

(No, not that kind of "commando" -- you sick people, you!)

Framed AfghaniDan COMMANDO 1
Headquarters building, Commando Brigade.

Back on July 4, I arranged a site visit with the Afghan army's Commando Brigade, located a bit outside the city (there were no hot dogs or fireworks -- thankfully, in this case).  Reminding me of this visit recently was a press conference in which the Defense Ministry's spokesman extolled recent successes of the units which receive a level of training unlike any other in the ANA.  And while I won't go sans drawers if I don't have to (ugh, is he still on "commando" references?), I will go sans captions for a bit. (Okay, one caption...) These are a few from the drive out there.  Can you tell how excited this city boy was to be in the country?

Framed AfghaniDan COMMANDO 2a

Framed AfghaniDan COMMANDO 2b

Framed AfghaniDan COMMANDO 2C

Framed Afghanidan COMMANDO 2d

Who says you can't take a siesta in mid-morning?

Framed AfghaniDan COMMANDO 3a

Framed AfghaniDan COMMANDA 3b


One fast and bumpy hour-long ride, which began in Kabul traffic jams and concluded past herds of sheep and deserted villages, got us into the badlands of Logar province and the home base of the commandos.  The billboard above challenges young men to see if they've got what it takes to join the Kung-fu SEAL Ninja Marines known as Commando -- or something to that effect.

Framed AfghaniDan COMMANDO 4
Three pals from the late 70's...and a yank who was four at the time.


The commanding general is not a colonel but a brid genral, or brigadier (wait -- a brigadier general commanding a brigade...hmmm...why didn't we think of that?).  More importantly, he is said to be highly appreciated, respected, even loved by his troops.  My colleagues passed on a couple of anecdotes supporting that. What struck me the most was his lack of aloofness (his loofness, then?), rare in my albeit limited experience of palling around with Afghan general officers.

Framed AfghaniDan COMMANDO five

The guard among display-cased flags is mandatory for garrison HQs. The other guy is standing there for fun.


One of the greatest challenges we face in trying to build a meritocratic army is the entrenched model preferred by too many current senior leaders, a model that will take many years to alter.  The prevailing mindset within the military and other security forces here is that a general is lord and master, to be catered to and tiptoed around, and all others are unworthy of opinion and incapable of independent thought.  It's not confined to just the Afghan army, of course. Anyone who has spent enough time in the military has surely seen it exhibited somewhere.  When soldiers and young officers of any nationality see servitude below and excess (or worse, corruption) above, demoralization sets in quickly.  But in the race to train a lasting force, capable and dynamic leaders who earn the respect of their troops must be given the chance to take the helm.

Framed AfghaniDan COMMANDO six

This bridmal was positively excited to see a Marine on deck -- he had attended a USMC drill instructor course.

The mentality of patronage and absolute rule when in positions of authority extends further down the ranks in various forms, and can be exhibited by a dagarwal (colonel) or dagarman (lieutenant colonel) or lower, depending on the situation.  Surely the same turan (captain) or bridman (lieutenant) who is treated like dirt by his superiors on a daily basis learns just one thing -- that he should exhibit the same behavior towards his own bridmalaan (sergeants).

It's an overly hierarchical structure that the trainers of NATO are working tirelessly to break.  Afghan systems are too often centralized to the max in the old Soviet style, rendering junior leaders powerless and concentrating all decision making in the hands of the most senior.  All of this makes it all the more admirable that good soldiers and officers still sign up and still stick around, out of love for their country and a desire to shape the way its armed forces develop.

Framed AfghaniDan COMMANDO seven
"Sorry buddy - I'll run the obstacle course with you next time."


A few more scenes from the drive back out, and this brief travelogue will come to a close.  Hopefully I'll have a mission excuse to return and witness some training here. Advisory positions at the Ministry of Defense may be important for development of the services, but riding a desk all day is no substitute for training a proud new force at the action level in the field.

Framed AfghaniDan COMMANDO 8a

Framed AfghaniDan COMMANDO 8b

Framed AfghaniDan COMMANDO eight

"Dang it, AfghaniDan, you were told to beat it!"


Plug time, of sorts; for more on the commandos, see this recent story by an outstanding military journalist from NATO.

Comments

It is really nice to pictures of the place so many people talk about. It is always nice to see pictures of different areas. Especially for someone like myself who loves scenery.

This post is so interesting! I was checking online for some military surplus when I stumbled on this one and I'm so glad I did. Keep posting!

I agree with this article to a certain extent.In my opinion one term in Afghanistan should be enough.Leadership is very important and valueable.

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