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Keeping the Armies at Peace

Matthew Rosenberg’s recent article for The New York Times delineates the problems currently plaguing American efforts to create an independent and self-perpetuating Afghan army.  Despite the allied effort to build Afghan security forces and “teach” the Afghans how to fend for themselves, the process has set American forces at odds with their Afghan counterparts.  The teaching process has fostered an uneasy relationship between American military advisors and Afghan soldiers and is evident in the way the Americans have approached their advising tactics.

While visiting and training local soldiers at Afghan Army outposts, American military advisors keep their body armor on and weapons loaded throughout the day, despite the fact that they are within the confines of a fortified base of their trainees and allies.  Their practice of “extreme caution” (even when they are not engaged in military activities) has worked to promote an atmosphere of mutual distrust and has augmented certain problems within the current transitory structure of the Afghan Army.

Sgt. Abdul Karim Haq, captured many Afghan soldiers’ sentiments with his comment: “They come here and they look like they are going to fight us…They are always talking down to us like we are little children.” American military leaders maintain that these precautionary tactics are due to the reality that insider killings have become a prevalent cause of death for American soldiers. However, it appears that the problem surpasses the precautionary tactics (most obvious in the defensive gear and weaponry) of the American military advisors; Afghan soldiers have complained that the Americans have treated them roughly by cursing and bullying them as well.

It is clear from Rosenberg’s article that the transition of military power from the United States Military to the Afghan Army following the official end of the American troop surge has been wracked with challenges stemming from the uneasy relationship between American military advisors and the Afghan soldiers.   American advisors feel their precautions are justified given past fatalities (Afghan soldiers shooting American soldiers) but their guarded presence (and alleged bullying) has been interpreted as hostile and degrading according to the Afghans.  The American advisors seeking to avoid potentially violent confrontations have unintentionally limited the possibility of an equal and cohesive relationship with the Afghan soldiers.

According to the Pentagon in April, Afghanistan’s security forces “continue to confront challenges, including attrition, leadership deficits and limited capabilities in staff planning, management, logistics and procurement,” however this review overlooks the incredibly important social dynamics of a coalition made up of two groups of people from vastly different cultures.  The problems brought about by cultural misunderstandings and resource disparities between the two groups has furthered the disequilibrium and is evident in the Afghan soldiers’ terminology: there is an “Afghan way” way to run an army and conversely an American way to run an army.

The dynamic of the American and Afghan armies parallels many important concepts from something as simple as “positive relationships” to more a complex phenomenon such as “nash equilibria”. To start with the basics, the American troops and Afghan troops can be pictured as two separate clusters. Within each cluster, there are positive strong ties between all of the soldiers; they have positive ties because it represents friendships and camaraderie, and they have strong ties because they are supportive of and close to each other and overall make a very cohesive unit. Similarly, the Afghan troops are represented as such; they have positive strong ties amongst the soldiers. These positive strong ties amongst the soldiers of each country, respectively, create a stable structural balance, which is a network in which all of the people are connected to each other with positive relationships. The troops are definitely tied to the rest of their soldiers because they are training and working together every single day. Therefore, they two troops can be pictured as two complete graphs.

By examining the two networks, it is evident that the ties between Afghan soldiers and American soldier are very different. There are some strong, weak, positive, and some negative ties between them. The stronger more positive ties definitely coincide between the generals or leaders of each troop; the Afghan troops right now are relying on the Americans for help and know that they need the support and training. The captains also resemble local bridges between the two tight knit clusters of troops. Between other soldiers there are typically weaker and negative ties because those individuals are in less contact than are the generals and leaders. Furthermore, the violent attacks launched at American soldiers support the negativity that they feel towards them. One of the Afghan soldiers state that “we like the Americans’ heavy weapons, but we don’t like their solders” and this is a result from the Americans talking to the Afghans with demeaning and authoritative gestures. Because some of the Afghan soldiers have retaliated and have often killed American soldiers, the Americans too build up a feeling of negativity and hatred towards the others.  Also, the weak ties are represented by the lack of trust that the Americans have in the Afghan soldiers and that they have to constantly “keep their guard up” in fear of accidentally angering the Afghans. American Captain Chung had to tell his troops to be gentle to prevent any further violence than what has already happened. Heightened vigilance is also necessary because they don’t trust that the Afghans can protect the base securely enough for everyone to feel safe; the level of confidence that the Americans have in the other troops is too low for the ties to be considered strong.

The relationships between the two troops also demonstrates the concepts of nash equlibria; this phenomenon means that two sides are at a state of equilibrium and are currently in the best and most beneficial position for them. Neither of the sides can improve and each situation is the best response to the other side’s situation.  Relating it back to the soldiers, the American soldiers are being very aware and adamant about acting cautiously in front of the Afghan soldiers to keep the state of concord and peace that currently exists between them. Also, for the Afghans they are currently not lashing out with acts of violence towards the other side. This state of equilibrium is the best for both troops because no one is getting attacked and the Afghan soldiers are still receiving special training and support. In theory there are two “strategies” which would be either acting violent and disruptive or remaining calm and cooperative. If the Americans begin to talk down on the Afghan troops again, that would be ruining the nash equilibria because then they would retaliate with violence. The article states that “no one is taking chances” because they don’t want to risk breaking the stable state that exists between the two troops. As of now there is no incentive for either group to change their strategy and neither of them want to give the other an incentive to do so. Hopefully this state of nash equlibria will be able to maintain through this long journey of working with the Afghan Army; thus far the strategies presented by each army has been successful in keeping peace between all soldiers.




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