In 2004, I was in Afghanistan working on a story on efforts to demobilize warlord militia and try to reintegrate mujahedin fighters into Afghan society as something other than warriors for hire. I was at a UN compound outside Kabul as a few hundred mujahedin (mostly from the Northern Alliance) exchanged weapons for money, food and promises of vocational training (turning war hardened mujahedin into tailors or carpet makers seemed a bit far fetched).
The thing that most struck me as I talked to those mujahedin was how tough they were; you could see it in their faces and the confidence in the way they talked about their chosen profession. Some of them had been fighting, first the Soviets and then each other, since they were twelve or thirteen. Fighting was all they knew.
I’ve always wondered why there hasn’t been more of an effort to tap into that pool of battle hardened warriors to battle the various Taliban insurgent groups. After all, the best weapon against a guerrilla fighter is another guerrilla (see origins of Army Special Forces). I understand the concerns about fueling a nascent civil war that some say is already underway in Afghanistan between the mostly Tajik Northern Alliance and the Pashtun Taliban insurgency, but expediency would seem to warrant the risk.
Well, ISAF is now moving in that direction. On a conference call with reporters last week, Maj. Gen. David Hogg, deputy commander of NATO’s Afghan training effort, said they have identified around 3,000 to 4,000 former mujahedin, what he called Afghanistan’s “inactive reserve,” that could be tapped and brought into the Afghan National Army.
“They’re getting a little long in the tooth, but they have some leadership experience,” Hogg said. If the Afghan army needs anything right now its seasoned small unit leaders, so even small numbers of battle hardened leaders could do some good. The former mujahedin fighters are taken to Kabul where they’re put through an eight week training program, he said; so far, some 900 mujahedin have been taught how to be part of a regular army and sent out to ANA units.
Hogg was quick to point out that these are not former Taliban fighters. Reintegrating Taliban insurgents is a politically tricky issue, but Hogg said they were ready to pursue Taliban reintegration and training if the decision is made by the political folks.
Hogg said more recruits have been flocking to the Afghan banner ever since ISAF implemented a pay raise, boosting base pay to $165 a month plus combat pay of $75 a month.
It also sounds like the Army’s Green Berets are getting back to their traditional Foreign Internal Defense mission. Hogg said SF is partnering with Afghan commando battalions, from basic training all the way through to their combat deployment.