The Economist would certainly have you think so.
The army looks very different from the ragged force of three years ago, when units sent to the south were losing 30% of their men through desertion. Desertion rates in Helmand are now only 7%; about half of all soldiers re-enlist. They are better equipped, too, with body armour, M-16 assault rifles and the latest model of Humvee armoured vehicle.
Good equipment does not guarantee success, of course. The army the Soviet Union equipped lavishly in 1989 succumbed swiftly to the mujahideen. Many think the ANA too small. But at least it has stomach for a fight. “They are aggressive and fight forward,” says Captain Ray Dalzell, one of the sweat-stained British advisers in Attal, a new base the ANA built after sweeping up the Gereshk valley, an area of persistent Taliban activity. Others praise the ANA’s speed across the ground and its ability to detect changing local opinion and mood invisible to foreign eyes.
Naturally, the only thing the Americans and Brits say the Afghans are missing is more western mentors and the drive to train instead of nap. Despite the complaints that Tajiks are disproportionately represented in the officer corps and the Hazara can’t get promoted, the army “has the correct proportion of Pashtuns, the ethnicity from which the Taliban draws its strength.” While the Provincial Council of Helmand complain they are “rented by foreigners,” The Economist declares, “few can doubt the eagerness of those foreigners to hand over to the Afghan army as soon as they decently can.”
Well, few can, if they can figure out what that sentence means (hand over what? control? command?). But there isn’t any “there” there, and the author relies on some pretty creative historical interpretations to make this argument. The seige of Jalalabad was hardly succumbing swiftly to the mujahideen, and the author must be thinking us the fool if he (or she) wants to portray Najibullah’s 3-year post-Soviet reign as a rapid collapse. In fact, one of the more interesting, and drastically understudied, aspects of the Soviet War is how long, and how effectively, Najibullah’s army was able to maintain control after the Soviet withdrawal.
But hey, as long as they have M-16s and up-armored HMMWVs (both of which, needless to say, require expensive American maintenance routines), then who’s going to worry?
Previously, the august British magazine of record was caught brutalizing metaphors by comparing the current war to the Great Game, and Hamid Karzai to Shah Shujah. Before that, they went shallow and came up short in describing the actual crisis facing the country. And let’s not even touch their Borat-tastic treatment of Kazakhstan’s bid to chair the OSCE.