Afghanistan — Afghan Army Chief, Advisor Shape Growing Force

WASHINGTON, May 26, 2010 — As the Afghan army rapid­ly approach­es a 171,000-troop lev­el this year, the force’s top-rank­ing uni­formed leader is tack­ling grow­ing pains with help from an U.S. Army advi­sor.

For the past year, Army Col. George T. “Tom” Dono­van, a mem­ber of NATO’s train­ing effort in Afghanistan, has been work­ing close­ly with Gen. Bis­mil­lah Khan Moham­ma­di, chief of the Afghan army’s gen­er­al staff. 

Dono­van described Moham­ma­di as a “charis­mat­ic and deci­sive leader,” dur­ing a May 21 “DoD Live” blog­gers roundtable. 

Dono­van said he and the Afghan gen­er­al are work­ing togeth­er to improve the army’s orga­ni­za­tion, cit­ing per­son­nel man­age­ment as one area in need of devel­op­ment. The process for assign­ing new offi­cers to com­mand bil­lets at brigade and corps lev­els, for instance, is com­pli­cat­ed by a lega­cy of nepo­tism, Dono­van said. 

“Because of the cul­ture in Afghanistan, there are quite a lot of phone calls being made by lead­ing offi­cials on behalf of their rel­a­tives or peo­ple they know,” Dono­van explained. That kind of pres­sure, he said, also applies to pro­mo­tions, which are com­pli­cat­ed by oth­er fac­tors as well. Dono­van said a fledg­ling writ­ten eval­u­a­tion sys­tem is not yet reli­able and does­n’t reflect past achievements. 

“Many offi­cers have served in many dif­fer­ent armies over the years. They’re Mujahidin fight­ers, they’re maybe mem­bers of the old com­mu­nist army or mem­bers of the king’s army — or mem­bers of some fac­tion in between,” Dono­van said. 

Anoth­er wrin­kle is that the Afghan army is required to main­tain pro­scribed pro­por­tions of Pash­tuns, Tajiks and oth­er eth­nic group mem­bers, so pro­mo­tions must con­sid­er the eth­nic­i­ty of the out­go­ing offi­cer in assign­ing a replace­ment. “Oth­er­wise, if they change the eth­nic group, then they have to move the chief of staff or oper­a­tions offi­cer or some­thing in order to keep the eth­nic bal­ance with­in that com­mand,” Dono­van explained. 

He added that Moham­ma­di has helped to intro­duce inno­v­a­tive solu­tions. Dur­ing a recent grad­u­a­tion at the nation­al mil­i­tary acad­e­my, new­ly com­mis­sioned Afghan army lieu­tenants drew sta­tions in a lot­tery. “Inge­nious­ly, they came up with a lot­tery sys­tem that was bro­ken down by eth­nic group and region that basi­cal­ly took the abil­i­ty of any­one to med­dle with assign­ments out,” Dono­van said. 

A pri­or­i­ty now, he added, is to clar­i­fy roles, respon­si­bil­i­ties and author­i­ties with­in the mil­i­tary orga­ni­za­tion, includ­ing the role of Mohammadi’s own office. The chief of the gen­er­al staff reports to Defense Min­is­ter Gen. Abdul Rahim War­dak. Dono­van said he believes fric­tion that may exist between the two, because Moham­ma­di is Tajik and War­dak is Pash­tun, would be elim­i­nat­ed if their job roles were more clear­ly defined. 

It also is impor­tant, Dono­van said, to “pow­er down” some author­i­ty to add effi­cien­cy. “If you want­ed to move a sergeant from one squad to anoth­er squad with­in the same pla­toon,” he said, “that requires a piece of paper signed by the min­is­ter of defense.” 

Dono­van also believes intro­duc­ing civil­ians into the defense ministry’s work force at low­er to mid­dle lev­els would enable them to gain expe­ri­ence and even­tu­al­ly rise in the organization. 

Mean­while, Dono­van said, Moham­ma­di is focused on solv­ing a frus­trat­ing prob­lem relat­ed to some Afghan offi­cers who have shown a lack of accep­tance for tak­ing respon­si­bil­i­ty or initiative. 

“[He] is address­ing that now,” Dono­van said, adding that Moham­ma­di is using his vast expe­ri­ence to “teach com­man­ders how to com­mand and lead­ers how to lead.” 

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs) 

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