Afghan soldiers way below standard, exasperated Marines say

McClatchy NewspapersMarch 24, 2010 

WORLD NEWS POLICE 4 MCT

A member of the Afghan National Civil Order Police returns from a patrol in Marjah, Afghanistan.

DION NISSENBAUM — Dion Nissenbaum / MCT

MARJAH, Afghanistan — If the U.S. Marines at Combat Outpost Turbett have any problems with their Afghan colleagues, they're with the Afghan soldiers who followed them into battle against Taliban fighters, not with the elite police officers who've stepped in to help fill the security vacuum.

While the Marines praise the Afghan National Civil Order Police force, they can barely conceal their contempt for the Afghan soldiers who live alongside the Americans in this one-time drug den in Marjah.

The greatest concern is that the shortcomings of the Afghan soldiers could undermine U.S.-led efforts to present ANCOP as the new, more respectable face of the Afghan government.

Marines routinely disparage soldiers in the Afghan National Army as lazy and incompetent. One platoon leader recently avoided taking Afghan soldiers on patrol in favor of ANCOP officers because the soldiers were hours away from ending their tour of duty.

"I'm not f***ing with the ANA," the platoon leader said. "F*** those guys. They don't give a f***. They're leaving tomorrow." He asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue.

The simmering frustrations boiled over last weekend as the Afghan force that fought alongside the Marines prepared to hand things over to a new batch of incoming soldiers.

During the transition, an Afghan soldier was caught trying to steal a care package for a Marine sent from the United States. One of the new arrivals collapsed from a suspected heroin overdose and had to be spirited away on a helicopter.

On their last day, the departing Afghans refused to clean up their cluttered living space, prompting the Marines to threaten to seize the Afghan soldiers' ammunition until they complied.

Covert hashish use among the Afghan soldiers was so prevalent that the Marines adopted a "don't ask, don't tell" policy unless they were directly confronted with the problem.

Tim Coderre, a sheriff's deputy from Wilmington, N.C., who's working with the Marines as a law enforcement adviser, spent part of the weekend trying to figure out how to reimburse a local storekeeper after discovering that an Afghan soldier apparently had stolen cell phones and SIM cards from the shop.

Since the Afghan soldiers present as much of a public face in Marjah as the Afghan police do, their shortcomings could reflect poorly on the overall campaign.

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McClatchy Newspapers 2010

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