[ Triad Online Home ]                                                                                           Sept. 10, 2004

Afghan National Army soldiers share our values, professionalism

By Maj. William S. Wynn, Army News Service

      KABUL, Afghanistan -- If you would exchange their AK-47s for M-16s and give some of them shaves, they would look very much like U.S. Army Soldiers.

      That is the thought that went through my head as I looked at the Afghan National Army, or ANA soldiers sitting on the runway at Kabul International Airport in the early morning hours of Aug. 16. They were soldiers who were waiting to deploy into what could have been a combat operation against their own countrymen.

Two ANA soldiers carry a supply box brought in by a Missouri Air National Guard C-130 to sustain the recent operation in Shindand. (Photo by Maj. William S. Wynn)
Two ANA soldiers carry a supply box brought in by a Missouri Air National Guard C-130 to sustain the recent operation in Shindand. (Photo by Maj. William S. Wynn)

      In fact, apart from their weapons, beards and dialects, the Afghan soldiers I observed reminded me of Soldiers of the 82nd Airborne Division, waiting on the "Green Ramp" at Pope Air Force Base, N.C., to depart on a mission.

      Certainly the speed at which the decision had been made to deploy these soldiers and how quickly they were ready to deploy rivaled that of the 82nd, a comment that was later echoed by a senior U.S. Army commander in Afghanistan.

      As I continued to watch them, sitting on their equipment and wondering - as all soldiers do - when someone is going to tell them to move out, I noticed that each of the soldiers was dealing with the upcoming mission in his own way. Here and there small groups talked, some slept and some nervously teased each other. They had reason to be nervous. The news coming from Shindand was that there had been heavy factional fighting and a number of killed and wounded. Earlier deploying ANA soldiers had retaken the airport without incident but no one could be certain that this unit's deployment there would be equally peaceful.

      Even without looking at their rank, I could easily make out the noncommissioned officers and officers. They moved from group to group and from soldier to soldier, encouraging them and reminding them of what the Afghan people expect of them. The overall atmosphere portrayed by the ANA officers, NCOs and soldiers was confident and professional. It was clear to me that these men were ready to answer the call to serve their country.

      1st Sgt. Muradi Mohomad told me that his soldiers were ready to go and had achieved a high level of readiness and proficiency.

      "Every one of them wants to go to Shindand and perform their mission of bringing peace and order to the Afghan citizens, that is why we joined the ANA," Mohomad said.

      As he told me told me this, I could see that this was not just someone telling a foreign officer what he thought the officer wanted to hear; this man believed in his troops, his mission and the Afghan National Army.

      The word came down: load up and get on the plane. We boarded a Belgian C-130. The fight to the Shindand National Airport was about an hour and a half. It turned out to be an unexpected learning experience for me.

      While I am no stranger to military air transportation, this was my first flight with non-U.S. military personnel and at first, I felt awkward and isolated among the ANA troops.

      That changed when the soldier sitting next to me, ANA Pvt. Abdul Kabir, began talking to me in English. It did not take long for me to become impressed with this ANA soldier. He was soon showing me pictures of his family from his wallet. While looking at them and talking with him about his family, it dawned on me again about the similarities that exist between soldiers, regardless of the country they serve. There is a commonality that transcends cultures and languages, a common bond that soldiers who volunteer to serve their country have among one another.

      When we landed at Shindand Airport, the ANA soldiers exited the C-130 smartly and moved off to link up and augment their comrades who had arrived earlier.

      The success of the ANA during this operation was due to the army being created as a force from and for all the people of Afghanistan, said ANA Lt. Col. Sherbate Wardak, commander of the 5th Kandak, 3rd Brigade, one of three battalions sent to restore national government authority at Shindand.

      More unusual was our interview with four of Amanullah Khan's militia fighters.

      It was Amanullah Khan's militia which had taken control of the airport from Herat Governor Ismail Khan's forces on Aug. 14.

      It was because of these fighters that the soldiers I had accompanied had been sent here, possibly to fight them, yet they proclaimed their gratefulness to the Afghan government for sending the ANA to restore peace and order - the peace and order that they had upset.

      The militia fighters also stated that they have been fighting for too long and with the presence of the ANA, they truly believe that they will experience peace.

      "We want one united Afghanistan that is accountable to the Afghan people," said Mohammad Ishaq, who is Amanullah Khan's deputy commander. "The ANA is an army of our own."

      Brig. Gen. Afzel Aman, the ANA on-scene commander, said he was proud of his soldiers. "They have proven that they are capable of providing peace to the people of Afghanistan," he said.

      I left with an appreciation for just how much the ANA has matured and changed into a truly professional military force in just a matter of two years, a force that is truly of the Afghan people and for the Afghan  people.

  (Editor's note: Wynn serves with the Office of Military Cooperation - Afghanistan.)

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