“How can we fight a war like this?” asked Col. Hamidullah, the battalion commander, who like many Afghans uses one name.
The problems plaguing Hamidullah’s battalion represent what might be the biggest threat to the fledgling Afghan army: an inability to repair or replace vital equipment once it is broken. The U.S. military shouldered that responsibility for years. But just as the Afghan army started doing the bulk of the fighting, the Americans stopped repairing Afghan equipment.
The U.S. military said that turning over the job to the Afghans was an inevitable part of the transition process. But with the Afghan supply chain still undeveloped and the Defense Ministry still hobbled by corruption, army units across the country aren’t getting the gear and parts that they need.
Afghan commanders are now taking stock of how many vehicles they have lost during the fighting season, which typically lasts from spring until fall, when many Taliban commanders return to Pakistan. Nabiullah, a battalion commander in the Arghandab River valley in southern Kandahar province, said by telephone that 20 percent of his Humvees have been blown up or have fallen into disrepair. Khan Agha, a battalion commander in Kandahar’s Panjwai district, said his unit lost about 15 percent of its Humvees in the past four months.
“We don’t have enough trained professionals to take care of this equipment,” Nabiullah said.
By nearly all measures, it was a brutal fighting season for the Afghan security forces. About 400 soldiers and police officers were killed every month. Even in districts where there wasn’t much combat, improvised explosive devices, or roadside bombs, took an enormous toll on the army and its equipment. U.S. officials have praised the Afghans for their resilience in the face of such heavy losses.
Afghan soldiers say that they haven’t lost their willingness to fight but that the lack of functional equipment has restricted their ability to conduct operations. In Hamidullah’s battalion, for example, the team charged with locating and disarming roadside bombs is down from four Humvees to one, seriously reducing the number of patrols it can conduct.
Even the much-lauded Afghan special forces teams are plagued by the logistical problems.
“The Americans gave us the Humvees, but they didn’t give us the spare parts,” said Sgt. Mohammad Safi, who is part of the special forces team based in Wardak province’s Nerkh district. His team lost three Humvees this fighting season, and none have been replaced.