Afghanistan — British forces train the Afghans to train themselves

British train­ers in Afghanistan are adapt­ing to Afghan ways and go back to basics as they pre­pare local troops for com­bat. Report by Sharon Kean.

Afghan National Army recruits
Afghan Nation­al Army recruits at the Shorabak train­ing wing of Camp Bas­tion learn­ing how to oper­ate the radios they will use on patrols
Source: Cor­po­ral Lyn­ny Cash, Min­istry of Defence, UK
Click to enlarge

Every two weeks, groups of up to 600 Afghan Nation­al Army (ANA) recruits arrive at Camp Bas­tion. All will have com­plet­ed basic infantry train­ing at the Kab­ul Mil­i­tary Train­ing Cen­tre. In the Shorabak train­ing wing of Camp Bas­tion, British men­tors and Afghan instruc­tors add the final touch­es, prepar­ing the Afghan recruits for com­bat:

“We take them through skill-at-arms and live fir­ing, among many oth­er sub­jects,” explained Cap­tain Antho­ny Clark-Jones, a British offi­cer based in Shorabak, a small camp on the edge of the sprawl­ing Bas­tion base.

Cap­tain Clark-Jones is part of The Roy­al Scots Bor­der­ers, 1st Bat­tal­ion The Roy­al Reg­i­ment of Scot­land (1 SCOTS), Oper­a­tional Men­tor­ing and Liai­son Team.

Instruc­tion starts at a low lev­el he explained:

“Some of the sol­diers go straight to a two-week vehi­cle course, but they may nev­er have been in a vehi­cle before,” he said.

Shorabak training wing of Camp Bastion
Cap­tain Antho­ny Clark-Jones observes Afghan Nation­al Army recruits at the Shorabak train­ing wing of Camp Bas­tion
Source: Cor­po­ral Lyn­ny Cash, Min­istry of Defence, UK
Click to enlarge

Get­ting to grips with a steer­ing wheel is just one of the chal­lenges the recruits face. They are also taught bat­tle­field first aid, how to use radios and how to find impro­vised explo­sive devices (IEDs).

The high lev­el of illit­er­a­cy among Afghans can make train­ing par­tic­u­lar­ly dif­fi­cult. Read­ing and writ­ing are not a pre­req­ui­site for recruit­ment — they can­not be in a coun­try where the lev­el of edu­ca­tion is so low:

“Some of the men have lived a hand-to-mouth exis­tence until find­ing them­selves in the ANA, liv­ing a life that is more organ­ised than they ever imag­ined,” said Cap­tain Clark-Jones. “It’s a mas­sive change for them.”

Some­times recruits must be taught the most basic of skills:

“How to hold a weapon, how to stand in line, and some­times even how to wash,” he said.

Cul­tur­al and lan­guage bar­ri­ers make it hard to com­mu­ni­cate with the degree of pre­ci­sion that the sol­diers of 1 SCOTS are accus­tomed to.

Shorabak training wing of Camp Bastion
An Afghan Nation­al Army instruc­tor with recruits at the Shorabak train­ing wing of Camp Bas­tion
Source: Cor­po­ral Lyn­ny Cash, Min­istry of Defence, UK
Click to enlarge

Fur­ther­more, mil­i­tary rank can be over­rid­den by trib­al and fam­i­ly sta­tus. This can make work­ing close­ly togeth­er dif­fi­cult, but the 1 SCOTS’ train­ers sim­ply have to get used to it:

“I try to explain to the guys that the British way is just one way of doing things,” said Cap­tain Clark-Jones.

Nev­er­the­less, estab­lish­ing train­ing dis­ci­pline was an ear­ly goal for the British team. Train­ing ses­sions had been hap­haz­ard until the team devised a timetable that began at 0800hrs and went through to mid­day with a cou­ple of breaks.

Cap­tain Clark-Jones said:

“The men do their admin in the after­noons, then have time to eat and pray. It’s made a dif­fer­ence. The train­ing is now far more pro­fes­sion­al.”

British troops rarely, if ever, find them­selves address­ing class­es packed with Afghan sol­diers. Instead, they observe Afghan instruc­tors as they instruct, advis­ing when nec­es­sary:

“We make rec­om­men­da­tions, but ulti­mate­ly it’s the ANA who make the deci­sions,” said Cap­tain Clark-Jones.

Afghan National Army recruits
Afghan Nation­al Army recruits at the Shorabak train­ing wing of Camp Bas­tion learn­ing how to use a met­al detec­tor
Source: Cor­po­ral Lyn­ny Cash, Min­istry of Defence, UK
Click to enlarge

“We are along­side them rather than lead­ing them, both in class­es and when we go out on the ground.”

Dur­ing a sig­nals les­son, recruits are taught how to use the radios they will use on patrols. A British Sergeant stands at the back of the class with an inter­preter, observ­ing the ANA train­er.

Oth­er class­es are going on out­doors, in the shade of cor­ru­gat­ed iron shel­ters. Afghan sol­diers squat beside lanes drawn in the sand, watch­ing as one of their col­leagues is shown how to find poten­tial IEDs with a met­al detec­tor.

To get around the prob­lem of illit­er­a­cy, lessons are pic­ture-led and pep­pered with demon­stra­tions.

Young recruits sit qui­et­ly on wood­en beams perched on old ammu­ni­tion box­es, slouch­ing but lis­ten­ing and watch­ing atten­tive­ly as an old­er offi­cer speaks very quick­ly. Those in the front row clutch radios.

Using them to talk to each oth­er could have been a prob­lem, giv­en that 20 or more dif­fer­ent lan­guages are spo­ken in Afghanistan.

But, as their lin­gua fran­ca is Dari, the Afghans have already found their own solu­tion to what might have been a break­down in com­mu­ni­ca­tions.

Press release
Min­istry of Defence, UK

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