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Afghan Army Seeks Better Equipment, But Lacks Basic Skills

One of the most common complaints from Afghan forces and officials is that they don't have the equipment they need to lead the fight in Afghanistan. They routinely call on NATO to provide more cutting-edge hardware for Afghan troops.

Certainly, when you see a U.S. soldier standing next to an Afghan one, the difference is striking. U.S. soldiers are often saddled with pounds and pounds of electronics and gadgets, ranging from GPS units to night-vision goggles and radio-jamming devices.

Afghans, on the other hand, generally carry little more than an AK-47 and basic body armor.

But, U.S. troops more often than not say that the Afghans don't need all the high-tech gear.

"Giving them any kind of technology that they're maybe not used to kind of gives them a false sense of reality," says Capt. Kevin Ryan, an intelligence officer with the 1-91 Cavalry based at Forward Operating Base Shank in Logar Province.

He says it would be counterproductive to get Afghan soldiers hooked on technology when they still need to improve their basic soldiering and war-fighting skills, like mission planning, maintain formations and developing human intelligence.

Ryan says that in cases where the Afghans rely on technology, it often hurts them. One example is their use of Symphony systems, jamming technology used to prevent radio-controlled improvised explosive devices from detonating.

"When they know there's a Symphony system within line of sight ... they almost don't look for the obvious signs of an RCIED, and that's typically when they'll get hit by it," Ryan says.

Ultimately, Lt. Col. Whit Wright, the 1-91 Squadron commander, says the Afghan forces have more pressing needs than fancy equipment.

"At the operational level, what they need is a functional means to sustain themselves," Wright says. The questions the Afghans need to address, he says, are: "How are we delivering food, how are we delivering ammunition, how are we delivering things to other parts of the battle space?"

NATO has said for some time that one of the weakest links of the Afghan National Security Forces is logistics. They simply don't have the systems in place to run an army on their own. Part of that is due to their lack of aircraft and pilots — a legitimate need, and one that will take years to address.

But they simply don't have the "tail" in place to support the "tooth" of their operations, and cutting edge weaponry won't fix that.

Wright says that another concern is whether the Afghans have the education and capacity to operate and maintain advanced equipment. He points out they have trouble taking care of the vehicles and other basic gear that they have.

"The maintenance, the operational readiness rates the Afghan fleets are in right now are somewhere below 50 percent, and ... that's crippling," Wright says.

But there is another underlying concern that's been expressed for some time: whether some of the ANSF will sell their equipment to insurgents.

A NATO study that was leaked at the beginning of the year stated that some in the ANSF were selling weapons and equipment to the Taliban, and U.S. officials have long expressed concerns that providing technology such as night vision goggles to the Afghan forces, could ultimately end up equipping Taliban.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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