Afghan National Army update, May 2011


The Afghan National Army’s area of operations. Click map to view.

This article addresses the current status of the Afghan National Army (ANA). The updated Order of Battle is here and the unit location map is here. Future articles will address ANA issues and plans.

Growing the ANA

The Afghan army reached its previous goal of 134,000 troops in July 2010. The current goal is to have 171,600 by October 2011. As of March 2011, there were 160,000 troops on its rolls, 4,000 ahead of the March goal.

Earlier this year, there was discussion of increasing the size of the army beyond the current 171,600-troop goal, but this plan has not yet been officially adopted. The proposal suggests increasing the size of the force to between 195,000 and 208,000 by October 2012. Reaching the higher number would depend on meeting recruiting, retention, and attrition goals, which is not certain. Most of the additional troops would be used to expand the ANA’s support structure [see “Specialized technical skills,” below]. Some additional combat units would be added to fill out the existing organizational structure.

ANA Organization

As part of its continuing drive toward self-sufficiency, the Afghan National Army created the Ground Force Command (GFC) headquarters. GFC commands the six ANA corps plus the 111st Capitol division. The GFC is modeled on the International Security Assistance Force’s Joint Command and is commanded by Lieutenant General Murad Ali Murad. The GFC is scheduled to reach initial operational capability by March 2012 and full operational capability by August 2012.

In May 2010, Regional Command -South (RC-S) was split into two regions. The newly created Regional Command-South West (RC-SW) and its 215th Corps took over the provinces of Helmand and Nimroz, and portions of Farah. RC-S and its 205th Corps retained Zabul, Kandahar, Uruzgan, and Daikundi provinces.

ANA Special Operations Command (ANASOC) brigade


Structure of the Afghan National Army Special Forces Command (ANASOC). Click image to view.

The ANA has established a new Special Operations Forces organization. The newly established Afghan Special Operations Command (ANASOC) is setting up a division headquarters at Camp Moorehead in Wardak province. It will command two different types of units, the existing ANA Commandos and a newly formed unit, the ANA Special Forces (ANASF).

The ANA Commandos are the ANASOC’s “direct action” force. The existing nine Commando battalions will eventually be organized into two Commando brigades. However, the current 1st Commando brigade headquarters was dissolved in order to provide a cadre to staff the new ANASOC division headquarters. A new 1st Commando Brigade headquarters staff is being trained and will be operational soon. The 2nd Commando Brigade headquarters is planned to be operational by September 2011.

The ANASOC will also command the 1st Special Forces Brigade. Modeled on the US Special Forces, the brigade’s missions will include “internal defense” and “SOF reconnaissance” as well as “direct action.” The brigade headquarters is planned to be operational by September 2012. The brigade will consist of four battalions, the first one being fielded by June 2011. Each battalion will have 18 A-Teams, for a total of 72 A-Teams. The A-Teams are designed along US SOF lines. Each 15-member team is led by a captain, with a first lieutenant executive officer and a team sergeant. In addition, there are two each of medical sergeants, weapons sergeants, engineer sergeants, and communications sergeants; two intelligence sergeants; an information dissemination sergeant; and a civil-military operations specialist.

ANASF internal defense mission

The ANASF has been created to provide a special operations force capable of countering enemy efforts at the lowest level, the Afghan tribe and village. The ANASF brigade will accomplish this through the Village Stability Operations (VSO) program.

The VSO program is designed to help individual villages defend themselves against encroaching insurgency. Villages organize their own defense units, the Afghan Local Police. An ANASF brigade A-Team is assigned to each VSO village. The team’s role is to support the village leadership to organize the overall project and mediate local disputes. They also train and advise the ALP. Up until now, US Special Operations Forces A-Teams have been running the VSO; however, the goal is to have ANASF replace the US SOF in this role. It is expected that the ANASF will be able to bring a better understanding of local cultural, economic, and political issues.

ANASF A-Team training

The first two classes of ANASF candidates were recruited exclusively from the Commando battalions. (Note: This necessitated a pause in the creation of new Commando battalions in order to free up resources to create the ANASF. The Commandos will be capped at nine battalions, with the formation of the 10th, 11th and 12th battalions postponed.) Because the ANASF candidates were already trained in direct action, the US trainers focused on the skills required for internal defense and SOF reconnaissance. This allowed the length of the first two classes to be reduced to 10 weeks. Future classes, recruited from across the ANA, will be larger, consisting of about 300 soldiers compared to 80 in each of the first two classes, and will take 15 weeks.

The first class started training in March 2010 and completed it in May; they were then grouped into four A-teams, one of which will be held back to form an Afghan cadre to help train the next class. At this point the teams were considered” mission-capable”, but were not considered “Special Forces qualified” until they completed 26 weeks of “on-the- job training” during which each ANA A-team was partnered with a US SOF A-team.

The first A-Team was deployed to Khakrez district, northwest of Kandahar City, in May 2010. By March 2011, a total of 14 A-teams had completed training. All 72 A-Teams are expected to be fielded by 2014.

ANA development priorities

In 2010, the overall ANA priority was to grow an infantry-centric force that could immediately participate in counterinsurgency operations. Most of the effort was directed toward fielding additional infantry units.

The priority for 2011 has been to continue to grow the force but also to begin building the support functions necessary for self-sufficiency. This includes leadership, specialized technical expertise, and literacy training.

Leadership training

There is currently a significant shortage of both officers and NCOs within the ANA. In November 2010 there were 18,191 officers where 22,646 are required; and there were only 37,336 NCOs where 49,044 are required. To address the officer shortage, training capacity has been increased. Two additional Officer Candidate School companies opened in December 2010, and two more are to have opened by April 2011. The additional capacity is expected to reduce, but not entirely eliminate, the shortage by October 2012. For NCOs, training capacity is also being increased. The Regional Training Center in Darulaman has been converted from Basic Training to NCO training. Additionally, NCOs are being trained in the United Arab Emirates.The shortfall is expected to be eliminated by October 2012.

Specialized technical skills

In 2010, the ANA began setting up training institutions to teach the specialized skills needed to make it self-sufficient. Twelve “Branch Schools” are being set up:

  • Artillery
  • Human Resources
  • Signals
  • Infantry
  • Engineering
  • Legal
  • Military Police
  • Logistics
  • Religious and Cultural affairs
  • Intelligence
  • Finance

Eleven of these 12 branch schools have reached initial operating capability (IOC). The last school (Military Police) will reach IOC by June 2011. None, however, have reached full capacity due to limitation in facilites and ISAF trainers.

Logistics support development includes the establishment of Army Support Command. This will control six new Regional Support Commands (RLSCs), one for each of ANA’s six corps. These units will provide medical, equipment maintenance, and logistics distribution capability. In addition, a National Depot Operation and National Vehicle Maintenance Facility will also be stood up in 2011.

Literacy training

About 86% of ANA enlisted recruits are illiterate. This constitutes a significant obstacle in the development of a competent army. An illiterate soldier cannot read a map, a training manual, or the serial number of his rifle. Furthermore, specialized fields such as medicine, logistics, and communications cannot be taught to an illiterate person.

The problem is being addressed by the establishment of an extensive literacy training program. Starting in March 2010, mandatory basic literacy and numeracy training was instituted for all ANSF enlisted personnel, both ANA and ANP. The goal is to train every member of the ANSF to at least a third-grade level. The curriculum is the equivalent of 312 hours of training. (Note: This program applies to enlisted and NCOs, since over 90% of officers are literate.)

For the ANA, literacy training begins in Basic Training. Each recruit is brought in two weeks early and taught basic reading and writing so he can at least write his name and read the serial number on his weapon. Literacy training continues through Basic Training, adding up to a total of 64 hours. Additional training occurs during seven weeks of unit training. When the recruits go to the field, or for troops already in the field, the program provides for continued training on the order of one to two hours per day over seven to eight months. For a soldier selected for specialty training in a Branch School, additional training is provided up to the sixth-grade level. By March 2011 there were 60,000 ANA soldiers and ANP police receiving literacy training.



  • Vienna,09-05-2011
    I am sure Afghan boys learn quickly not only to read and write
    but also in planned disciplined fight.The same opportunity of
    joining the Afghan National Army should be offered to girls also, who are no less qualified.The army should be their university that could give them self respect and confidence. They should
    be considered wealth of the emerging modern Afghanistan.
    A good beginning, congratulations. I will never forget the uprightness of the Afghan people that I have met.
    -Kulamarva Balakrishna

  • Luke says:

    The South Vietnamese Army redux.

  • Jim Altice says:

    Regarding the ARVN redux analogy. I lived in Afghanistan in better times. Afghanistan has never been colonized, except perhaps by the khans or moghuls. They drove off the world’s two strongest imperial forces in the past two centuries. Harnessing that sort of fierce self-determination will create an Afghanistan that can defend itself and restore stability within its borders. The same was never true of South Vietnam.

  • ArneFufkin says:

    @Luke: The South Vietnamese Army redux.
    A more apt statement would be “Iraqi Security Force redux”. Which has worked out pretty well.

  • Soccer says:

    An “emerging modern Afghanistan”?
    HA! Don’t make me fall over laughing!

  • JN says:

    This is pretty great. I hope that it is successful and I hope that these Afghan men take this newfound knowledge back to their homes. By educating the men, it is possible that a spillover effect may occur in which they also help teach their families to become literate. All in all, this could have a profound effect on all Afghan society, not just the Armed Forces.
    Restore their confidence in themselves and the world. Give them an opportunity to succeed in life. This will do a great deal towards reducing extremism and militancy.

  • Infidel4LIFE says:

    I have read ANA commandos as being very capable. Only so many are really qaulified, but its a good start. It takes time. Iam worried about the ANA. How many are really capable? Are they still smoking hashish? They fight, pull back, time to lite up. I hope this works. We need to end this soon.

  • Johno says:

    There are some disturbing similarities between the ARVN and the ANA but there are some profound differences.
    The officer corps of the ARVN were by and large Francophile educated urban catholic’s in command of Buddhist peasant conscripts. I doubt if there is a single catholic officer in the entire ANA.
    By 1970 the Viet Cong & the NVA could absorb 200,000 dead every year and still continue the war. The Taliban would struggle to maintain 1% of that casualty rate.
    Two million volunteer ‘auxiliary’ cadre maintained the logistic tail of the VC/NVA. The Taliban would struggle to field a thousand and they are all paid to transport supplies.
    The NVA were equipped with the entire ‘Cold War’ arsenal excluding nuclear weapons. The 30 foot SA2 could bring down a B-52 at 40000 ft. Ask John McCain what its like at tree-top level. The Taliban have the RPG-7.
    The most disturbing similarity is despite a feeble enemy the ANA would probably only last a few months if the West withdrew.

  • Render says:

    The Afghan’s did NOT drive off the British Empire.
    They defeated the British Empire briefly in their first war (1839-1842) but still lost. They lost again, badly, in the second war (1878-1881), and remained a de-facto province of British India until independence was granted , by the British Empire in 1919.

  • Soccer says:

    There is no tangible evidence that the ANA commandos are as capable as you claim. Despite dvidshub and tabloid news articles putting them over (because that’s what we like in the west – army guy soldiers!) the very fact is that on the battlefield, they are not that much of a match for the Taliban.
    Afghan commandos have clashed with the Taliban in Kunar and Nuristan provinces multiple times, and they usually lose the firefight and whatever territory they get. Even with US reinforcements and air-power, they still can not seem to even match the Taliban in battle. Bill, first hand, can personally verify this.
    This is also the case all around the country. I notice the only time the Afghan commandos are successful, is when they partner with American special forces, and let the Americans take the lead. Other than that, they are not that much of a competent fighting force.
    But they do have cool hats and sunglasses, though.

  • MAJ (R) RON PEERY says:

    I served as an ETT in Afghanistan in 2006. When I left at the end of my tour, we recommended mandataory literacy training for the ANA troops. Glad somebody finally decided to make it happen.
    I never had any question about the ANA’s willingness to fight. They were eager to engage the enemy. Much more so than training in a classroom. Fire discipline was a difficult concept for them, and some few never managed to qualifty on their assigned weapon, but you see that in the US Army as well. On the whole, I liked the ANA troops and never had any concern about where their loyalties were. They are capable of being great soldiers, and those of you who denigrate them do so, in my opinion, out of ignorance.

  • Mr T says:

    Since the Taliban, founded and funded by Pakistan, has determined that they will never give up, they will continually try to “take back” the country they once had as an Islamic caliphate practicing the horrible fundamental Islam they so desire. I think they will try to mirror the success they had in taking the country after the Soviets left.
    This means they will continue to fight the jihad overtly and covertly. The ANA must build an Army that can withstand this onslaught for many years to come. They will need the trained manpower as well as equipment including Air Power.
    My question is how will they fund this need? Afghanistan is a country with few natural resources other than the drug trade. They are illiterate as a country and therefore will not be very productive from an economic standpoint.
    In order for Afghanistan to protect itself, they will need a lot of education starting from almost scratch. They will need to train and equip a pretty good sized Army. They will need to educate their citizens so they can take on more productive work. Engineers and scientists and teachers, and builders and planners etc.
    Who will provide all this when security will be an issue? Who will pay for it? How many generations will it take?
    I would guess at least 20 more years to educate the populace where they can utilize and sell their skills. Who in the world will support them for the next 20 years? The US? Saudi Arabia? Pakistan? China? The UN?

  • Johno says:

    The simple reality is the ANA is the only game in town. ISAF could probably maintain several thousand SF troops indefinitely in Afghanistan but that is it.
    Without a capable ANA no number of ISAF troops -special or otherwise will carry the day. It is that simple. Either we get the ANA to police their country or we & they will be defeated.
    Like the Major Perry said the stock is up to the task but are we not shaping the battlespace to fit their considerable capabilities.
    The recent operation in Abbottabad epitomizes what we are doing wrong.
    Billions of dollars worth of hardware was utilized to identify the target. Enormous operational & political risk was taken on. Hundreds of millions of stealth this & encryption that & suppressed this and situation room that – was invested. The target – a simple house defended by three sleeping men and 20 women & children.
    A dozen or so local policeman could have done exactly the same. They probably would have killed most of the women and children but the strategic result would have been the same.
    It is the same with the ANA. We need to divorce our efforts from the carrier battle group in the Arabian Sea and the drone mindset. This approach makes a great deal of sense to the Rand Corporation, Raytheon, General Dynamics, Boeing, Grumman etc. (just like it did in Vietnam) but holds back & even retards the considerable fighting capabilities of the ANA.

  • tc says:

    I dont know why some people keep repeating the story that Afganistan has never been conquered. Thats is totally false. Afganistan and/or Pashtunistan was conquered partially by the British who kept it as part of India. Part of that Pashtunistan or Afganistan land that was invaded, conquered and kept as part of the British empire is corrently part of Pakistan today called the FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas), in essence still conquered now by the Pakistanis which are dominated by the Punjabis. So in all reality the British did conquered part of ancient Afganistan and annexed to colonial India and drew the Durrani line to divide Afganistan.

  • Karim says:

    I am an ANA officer currently a student in the USA (NWC NDU) I feel the pain of those Amirecan and other ISAF Nations as well as my country’s poeple they have lost thier loved ones in war in Afghanistan. help to build AFNSF espiccaly ANA
    will help to put an end to this long lasting tragedy. I would like to thank all of those who are helping us in this field. for those they have quiestionsed the capabilities of ANA in thier comments on the above article i would respectfuly suggest to please read the bellow article.


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