Small Wars Journal

The Afghanization of Afghan Security

Sun, 06/15/2014 - 8:32am

The Afghanization of Afghan Security

Robin L. Duane

Afghan sovereignty and future prosperity requires a more effective security force that is locally trained and fielded, and solely funded by Afghanistan.  Security in Afghanistan is difficult due to geography and the vast diversity of several distinct cultural, linguistic, and ethnic groups, posing serious threats both to the rest of the world and also to its own people.  Mistrust between neighboring groups, villages, and tribal dynamics contribute to little or no unifying sense of national identity and an ancient mistrust of foreigners.  Despite their differences, Afghans have a strong sense of kinship and conform to their own local standards of proper conduct.  Additionally, Afghanistan is one of the poorest countries in the world.  However, the country possesses vast mineral wealth and agricultural potential.  Harvesting the mineral and agricultural resources can bring economic stability and independence to the country, and set conditions for national pride and prosperity.  In order to build the security that will set conditions for improvement Afghanistan and Afghans will benefit most from locally-controlled internal security in the form of locally-selected police or “village guardians” that are paid for by development of local resources.  National–level security forces in the form of border police, national police, and an army, are still required to protect the country from external invaders and infiltration by outside instigators of insurgency.

The Value of Local Police in Combating Insurgency

The most decisive force in any counterinsurgency is the local police forces.  As quoted in the United States Army’s Counterinsurgency Field Manual (2006), “The primary frontline COIN [counterinsurgency] force is often the police—not the military” (6-19).  Considering the importance of police in a counterinsurgency, the current balance between aggregate numbers of the Afghan Police and the Afghan National Army are inversed.  The way ahead in Afghanistan rests not in building the Afghan National Army to 270,000 and the police to 130,000, but increasing the police to 270,000 and the army to 130,000.  Further, the security of Afghanistan requires focused efforts on the development of local police forces rather than national police forces.

Current Organization of Security Forces in Afghanistan

Security forces in Afghanistan are nationally-oriented in the form of the Afghan National Army (ANA) and the Afghan National Police (ANP).  The ANP is a nationwide parent organization that encompasses Afghan Uniformed Police (AUP), Afghan National Civil Order Police (ANCOP), Afghan Border Police (ABP), and Afghan Specialized Police Forces that include a Criminal Investigations Division (CID), a Counter Narcotics element, a Counter Terrorism unit, and the Fire Department.

Success of Locally-controlled Policing

The Afghan Public Protection Program (AP3) was a short-term, local security force specific to the Wardak Province, established in 2009-2010 under the umbrella of the ANP.  In this program, village elders nominated candidates from their villages for training as local guardians.  The candidates were screened and vetted, and then received six weeks of training at an ANP facility in Mehtar Lam, a large village in eastern Afghanistan’s Laghman Province.  Training included marksmanship, rule of law, the Afghan constitution, and basic police work.  Once trained, these “Village Guardians” returned to their own villages to protect their families and homes.  Initially, the frequency of insurgent attacks in the Wardak Province dropped to zero once the Village Guardians assumed their duty positions, validating the concept of local police forces and their value in counterinsurgency.

The Village Guardians in Wardak’s Afghan Public Protection Program have since transitioned to the Afghan Local Police (ALP) program, a country-wide program approved by President Karzai in August 2010 –while this paper discusses the importance of local police in Afghanistan, it is not specific to the ALP program.  The ALP program is a more effective way ahead for establishing security, development, governance, and prosperity in Afghanistan and it is a key to defeating the insurgency.  The criticality of police in the struggle in Afghanistan is supported by the United States Government Accountability Office report Afghanistan Security (2009).  Commenting on the importance of police in Afghanistan, the report states that “the United States views an effective Afghan police force as critical to extending rule of law in Afghanistan and improving Afghan security” (3).

Mis-organization of the Afghan Police Force

Currently, ANP officers are locally recruited and trained, and then employed nationally.  By law, ANP are not allowed to serve in the district in which they are from.  The practice of making them serve in districts other than their own was to avoid corruption, a preventive measure that failed.  The vast ethnic diversity of Afghanistan makes posting of police in districts other than their own a difficult and ineffective process.  For example, recruiting an Uzbek speaker from Balkh Province in northern Afghanistan, training him as a police officer at the National Police Training Center in Mayden Shahr in Wardak Province, and then assigning him to Lashkar Gah in the southern Helmand Province in the middle of the Pashtun belt is ineffective in providing security for Afghanistan.  The Uzbek speaker cannot converse with the locals and likely has no idea the local customs of the region.  This significantly reduces his effectiveness as a police officer and lowers public opinion of the ANP as a whole because they are seen as outsiders.  In an organization rife with corruption, the public already has a low enough opinion of the ANP.  Training and fielding local police will help to raise public opinion and respect.

Counterinsurgency Begins at Home

Transforming the ANP into a professional and accepted force is paramount to the success of the counterinsurgency fight in Afghanistan.  According to the United States Army’s Counterinsurgency Field Manual (2006), “few military units can match a good police unit in developing an accurate human intelligence picture of their AO [area of operation].  Because of their frequent contact with populace, police are the best force for countering small insurgent bands supported by the local populace” (6-19).  The local populace will only help the police if they respect and trust them as a force and see them as protectors rather than village thugs.

Local Versus Tribal Rule

Almost 70 percent of the Afghan population is agrarian, clustered in the fertile river valleys and around other water sources, often in very remote areas.  The terrain in the majority of Afghanistan is rugged and contains some of the highest peaks in the world scattered throughout the Hindu Kush.  The mountainous terrain further isolates many areas, making them even more remote.  Based on geography and the personal experiences of the author throughout Afghanistan, family, village, and local customs govern behavior more so than tribal affiliation.  In this setting, a shift to locally recruited, trained, and fielded police officers is a must.  A police officer that is locally recruited, trained, and then posted in his own village is motivated to protect his home, his family, his village, and his valley, and provide for the security that will bring development and prosperity to his area, which in turn, will pay his wages.  Further, a local police officer posted in his home village is more likely to spot someone from outside the village, taking away the insurgents’ ability to blend with the local population.

ANA Versus ANP

The Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) consists of the Afghan National Army (ANA) and the ANP.  There is a disparaging difference between the two in corruption, professionalism, and acceptance by the local Afghan people.  The ANA is a well respected force, with the ANA Commandos and the newly formed ANA Special Forces teams being the most effective and respected of the ANA forces.  Conversely, the ANP is rife with corruption.  Officers often take bribes, exact tolls from motorists, and strong-arm villagers for taxes and kickbacks.  The ANP do not embrace the common motto of police offers around the world of “To Protect and Serve.”  There are many villages across Afghanistan in which the locals refer to the Taliban as the “Devils of the Night” and the ANP as the “Devils of the Day.”  Both the corrupt ANP and the Taliban rule and control the population through illegal taxes and tolls, intimidation, and fear.  According to the United States Government Accountability Office report, Afghanistan Security (2009), “Afghanistan is the world’s fifth most corrupt country.  Its police do not respect human rights, according to the Fund for Peace.  The MOI [Ministry of Interior] has a history of corruption, and much of Afghanistan lacks a functioning judicial sector” (2).  To address corruption and create better ties between the rural security forces and the national government, in 2010, the MOI developed the General Directorate of Police Special Units (GDPSU), and also fielded Provincial Response Companies (PRC).  Noting the importance and significant effectiveness of these organizations, Brigadier Smethurst notes that “As the insurgency decreases and the ANSF numbers stabilize, the emphasis will be on policing and even more interest will be shown in the Special Police Units,” (Sparks, 2012).  Lt. Col. Isaac Peltier offers another positive effect of these new police forces and their connection to central government, noting that “the idea is that the provincial chief of police and the prosecutors come together and, if there’s evidence a crime was committed, they will generate a warrant, which the PRC will go and execute,” (Axe, 2012).

Policemen Are Not Soldiers

The United States Army, in particular Special Forces soldiers, trained the first Afghan Army battalions, called kandaks, in 2004.  Of the soldiers who made up the first kandaks, some were old soldiers with experience predating the Soviet invasion in 1979, some with experience during the Soviet occupation, and some in post-Soviet Afghanistan.  Others still were new volunteers who simply answered the call to arms to defend their country.  Training focused on basic soldier skills and camaraderie of the brotherhood that is inherent among all warriors with a similar calling.  In 2005, the US Special Forces turned over training of the ANA to regular US Army forces and an organization called the Office of Security Cooperation-Afghanistan (OSC-A).  OSC-A later became the Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan (CSTC-A).  CSTC-A now works in conjunction with the NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan (NTM-A).  Over time, Afghan trainers and mentors replaced foreign troops and today the majority of ANA training is led by Afghans.  United States Special Operations Forces still have a very important role in training and mentoring elements of the ANA and ANP.  Special Operations Forces trained two Afghan National Civil Order Police kandaks in 2010 for service in the southern region.  The Afghan National Civil Order Police offer a glimmer of hope for moving beyond corruption.  “The commanding general of the Afghan National Civil Order Police . . . personally interviews all applicants for his force” and “stated he had dismissed 120 recruits MOI had sent him due to allegations of drug use and other abuses,” (USGAO, 2009,  22).

Under the Bonn II Agreement, Germany trained the first ANP.  Unfortunately for Afghanistan, the Germans’ area of influence was very limited and the majority of recruits, some 70 percent, were illiterate.  The training lacked education in rule of law, the new Constitution of Afghanistan, and basic police work.  Focus seemed to be on quantity rather than quality.  Police officers received minimal training and minimal pay and were thrust into very dangerous situations with barely the requisite training to react to contact with insurgents.  The Office of Security Cooperation-Afghanistan (now CSTC-A) also assumed responsibility for training the ANP in 2005.  One serious drawback to this assumption of responsibility is CSTC-A consists primarily of military officers and NCOs, and retirees of both, not police officers.  They are qualified to train the ANP in military skills such as marksmanship and to react to contact by insurgents, but they lack the experience and expertise to train basic police and investigative work and they lack the expertise in the rule of law.  Further, having military personnel teach police techniques to the ANP results in role confusion.  The ANP are often employed in offensive operations in Afghanistan.  While the ANP have various forms of Special Response Teams (SRT), Hostage Rescue Teams (HRT), and Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) teams, they are not intended to be an offensive action arm of the military and they should not be used as such.  The primary role of these teams is to serve high-risk arrest warrants, not conduct raids, ambushes and other such missions.

A country’s army protects the nation while its police force protects its people.  The right trainers instructing the right mission will avoid role confusion.  Military Police are a good choice for training basic police work but “higher level police skills –such as civilian criminal investigation procedures, anti-organized crime operations, and police intelligence operations– are best taught by civilian experts,” (US Army, 2006,  6-20).  The practice of hiring contract companies to train the ANP yielded poor, inconsistent, and disastrous results in the past.  However, a wealth of experience exists among tens of thousands of retired law enforcement agency personnel around the world, including former Afghan police officers and investigators.  A recruiting drive needs to seek out and hire a robust cadre from among these retirees, especially those from other Islamic countries that will be more culturally accepted by Afghans.  Regardless of who leads and conducts the training, the training of the ANP must emphasize basic police work rather than defeating the insurgency.  Well trained police that care about their communities will be effective against insurgents simply by conducting their duties on a daily basis.  The US Department of Justice is a logical choice to provide oversight for training of law enforcement personnel and could be the lead in organizing the trainers.

The Geography of Security in Afghanistan

Afghanistan is a landlocked country bordered on the north by Turkmenistan (744 km), Uzbekistan (137 km), and Tajikistan (1,206 km).  To the northeast it is bordered with China (76 km), Pakistan to the east and south (2,430 km), and Iran (936 km) on its western border.  The total border length is 5,529 km and has a total land mass of 652,230 square kilometers (CIA World Fact Book, 2012).  For a size comparison, Afghanistan is slightly smaller than the state of Texas and if overlaid on a map of the southeastern United States, Afghanistan would reach from New Orleans to Washington, D.C.  Approximately half the country is covered by mountains that average 6500-9750 feet with some peaks reaching 22,750 feet in the northeast.  Due to geography and topography it is impossible to secure the entire country but it is possible to secure most of the population centers, land mass, and borders, containing the insurgency within the interior and cutting off the supply and support mechanisms from outside the borders.  The current threat to security in Afghanistan lies in insurgent sanctuaries in the border regions, especially with Pakistan, and rural areas of Afghanistan where insurgents blend with the local population.  With this in mind, the appropriate security forces to deal with the insurgency are the ABP to secure the borders and local police to secure the interior.  Cutting off the insurgency and containing it can empower the local population to minimize the effectiveness of the insurgents.

Afghanistan varies in culture and language, with Turkmen, Pashto, Uzbek, and Dari/Afghan Persian being the four major languages, with several local dialects and other distinctly different languages, including Nuristani speakers in northeastern Afghanistan.  The tribal system in Afghanistan is well publicized but misunderstood and misreported.  Villages and rural communities influence individual behavior in Afghanistan far more than tribal ties.  Much has been written about the centuries old code of honor known as pashtunwaliPashtunwali literally means “the way of the Pashtuns” and although it centers on nine principles, four are key to understand the Pashtun code: Melmastia –hospitality, Nanawatai –asylum, Badal –revenge (or justice), and Ghayrat –honor.  Pashtunwali is not a blanket code or custom that applies to all of Afghanistan.  Rather, it is specific to the Pashtuns, the largest single tribe in Afghanistan, which make up 42 percent of the total population.  The remaining 58 percent of the population include 27 percent Tajik, 9 percent Hazara, 9 percent Uzbek, 4 percent Aimak, 3 percent Turkmen, 2 percent Baloch, and 4 percent other (CIA World Fact Book, 2012).  Each of the major tribes is divided into hundreds of sub-tribes.   Simply put, nearly 60 percent of Afghans are not bound by pashtunwali, although some may abide by it due to their proximity to the Pashtuns.  Further, William Dressler (2007) notes that, “For nearly three decades, an entire methodological tradition in anthropology has documented, among other things, the statistical lack of fit between tribal/group labels and measurable patterns of behavior.”  Also, articles that discuss the tribal influence on behavior in Afghanistan generally cite other articles, rather than reference empirical evidence (Meinhaussen & Wheeler, 2010).

The Indigenous Cultural Structure of Security Forces in Afghanistan

The idea of local security forces is not new in Afghanistan.  Local security forces called arbakai or chalwesti already exist in many remote areas and are tiered in three levels, at the tribe, sub-tribe, and community (Tariq, 2008), a system similar to US city, county, and state police.  Security is a must if development is to reach the remote areas of Afghanistan.  Although Nelson (2009) refers to Azizullah as a “tribal militia leader,” Tariq (2008) points out that “there are clear differences between militias and the Arbakai.  First, the Arbakai are unpaid.  Second, they are not hired by government, a person, or a company.  Third, they carry responsibilities which are approved and recognized as the common or public good.”  The village elders control the arbakai through a jirga.  The jirga is an assembly of village elders that form to resolve disputes and make important decisions for their community.  The word of the jirga is final with regard to village and tribal matters.  However, this should not be a problem with proper oversight by the MOI.  MOI involvement with the village jirga creates another functional bond between the village and the central government.

The value of the jirga is supported by the essence of Afghan society.  Afghanistan is a collectivistic society in which “the individual is at the service of the group or other collectivity; and in return, the group protects the individual” (Entezar, 2008).  In this statement, Entezar gives credibility to the jirga.  Entezar further points out that if the Afghans were free to choose “judges and chiefs of police and other public officials, the security would improve and reconstruction efforts would have positive results.”  Again, Entezar’s position supports the idea of the jirga, formed by village elders, selecting candidates for local police officers.

Paying the Price of Peace

A significant shortcoming for arbakai or chalwesti is pay.  These forces are volunteers and to provide security for a development project in their area means they must leave whatever paying job they might have and put themselves at risk for no pay.  Remote villages have no need for national government unless they see benefit from it on a regular basis.  The national government in Afghanistan must make extraordinary efforts to reach out to the population.  Since security will provide the opening for development, the government of Afghanistan can reach out to local communities by training, equipping, and sustaining local security forces, and paying them for their services.

Azizullah, a tribal militia leader in northeast Paktya Province knows the importance, value, and effectiveness for arbakai.  He asked the commanding general of the Afghan Border Police in his region to provide funding to increase his arbakai force from 18 to 100.  Azizullah “adds that frequent militant attacks in the area deprive residents of badly needed development, like schools and clinics” (Nelson, 2009).  Clinics and schools mean doctors, nurses, teachers, and administrators, and that means jobs for the local populace, in addition to education and health care.  Afghanistan needs more Azizullahs.  Afghanistan also needs more people like Major General Nabi Jan Molakheil, the ABP commanding general in Paktya.  “Molakheil alternates between cajoling and browbeating village elders and local strongmen to support the government in Kabul over insurgents like Jalaluddin Haqqani” (Nelson, 2009).

The Concept of Nation

National pride does not reach much of rural Afghanistan, neither does rule of law as an organized concept but when persuasive representatives of the Kabul government, men like Molakheil, reach the public and instill in them the confidence to stand up against the Taliban and insurgents, then there is a glimmer of hope for national pride.  Molakheil’s convincing arguments resulted in the recruitment of over 700 ABP candidates from the Khowst Province in 2009 (Nelson, 2009).

According to a RAND study of insurgencies, denying sanctuary in neighboring countries is one key to a successful counterinsurgency campaign.  Further, most studies show that successful counterinsurgencies average 14 years.  Using this timeline, a comparison can be made between the current insurgency in Afghanistan and that of Thailand in the 1960s.  Thailand achieved success largely in part due to a program called Village Stability Teams (VST).  Beginning in 1965 the VST trained local villagers to provide security for their own villages.  By 1980 the program successfully tied the local population with the central government, a sense of national pride developed, and the VST defeated the insurgency (Jones, 2008, 53).

Other glimpses of hope for the future are apparent in ANP candidates.  Abdul Ghani Khaksar recently graduated from the Joint Security Academy Shorabak at Camp Leatherneck in the volatile southern region of Afghanistan.  Regarding his training, Khaksar said, “The instructors were trying to make us professionals . . . now I am a professional [officer], I can go to my home and serve my people” (Isom, 2008).  Afghan trainers provided most of the instruction for Khaksar and his 83 classmates, and the US Marine Corps taught ethics training to help curtail corruption and make them professionals, as noted by Khaksar.

Villagers often turn to local elders for swift judgment and justice under Sharia Law.  This is a centuries old practice in Afghanistan, a country that has never had a strong central government, especially in the rural areas.  Villages hold shuras, or councils, comprised of tribal and village elders to hear grievances, adjudicate crimes, and mete out punishment based on local customs.  The arbakai or chalwesti (or Afghan Local Police) is another centuries old practice that can be the tie-in between the locals and Kabul.  Afghans in the lead, training local police as in the case of Khaksar, allows incorporation of local customs into the judicial process.

Enforcement and Funding: Geographic Problems, Geologic Solutions

As noted earlier, the geography of Afghanistan presents a challenge to rule of law.  A loose parallel may be drawn between Afghanistan today and the United States during its Manifest Destiny of westward expansion.  Keeping law and order in the United States’ “Old West” required local sheriffs and deputies, local police with guts to enforce laws and jail people within rule of law and then communicate to the east for a traveling judge until local judicial systems were established.  A similar judicial system much like the US “Old West” is worthy of consideration and possible implementation.  In order to be truly effective, police need the backing of a judicial system.  Currently, the judicial system in Afghanistan is embryonic at best.  The prosecution rate for suspects is extremely low, with releases often occurring due to familial or patronage connections of an elder with local prosecutors or the chief of police or governor.  This will require further development and work is under way to develop rule of law in Afghanistan.  During their reign of control, the Taliban meted out justice on the spot, acting as judge, jury, and executioner, meting out justice based on Sharia Law.  Without an effective judicial system at district, provincial, and federal levels, the people will use this system for quick adjudication.

Currently, CSTC-A / NTM-A receives “funding through the Afghan Security Forces Fund (ASFF) to equip, train, and sustain the ANSF.”  These “funds are appropriated by Congress to the U.S. Army” (, 2008), an unnecessary expenditure of US taxpayer dollars considering the vast, untapped wealth of Afghanistan.  But in order for Afghanistan to be an independent, self-sufficient nation, they must pay the wages of their national security forces, rather than rely on foreign aid for this critical piece.  Afghanistan has natural resources that if capitalized upon, could make the country self-sustaining and therefore nondependent upon outside aid.

In its present economic state, however, Afghanistan is among the top ten poorest countries in the world.  It has a gross domestic product of approximately $29.99 billion and it has an average per capita income of $1000 per year (CIA, World Fact Book, 2012).  Afghan Security Forces “will require $6 billion - $8 billion a year after the foreign troops pull out, according to NATO figures” (Economist, 2011).  Given its economic conditions, the United States simply cannot afford to foot such a steep annual bill, but Afghanistan can.  They simply need help harvesting the wealth they possess and setting conditions by providing security.  Afghanistan can then capitalize on the wealth present in the country and developing their systems for progress.  Investment by other wealthy, traditional Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Jordan, can assure the Afghan people that wealth need not corrupt Islam and their traditional way of life.

Mobilizing Natural Resources to Provide for Afghanistan’s Security

There is enormous potential for Afghanistan to become self-sufficient and thereby self-governing and safe.  Vast natural resources exist that, if leveraged properly, can serve to lift Afghanistan out of poverty.  These resources must be nationalized and controlled fairly to distribute prosperity in the country.  Outside support must come in the form of investment, training, and educating locals to harvest timber legally and responsibly, with reforestation efforts coinciding with timber cutting, modern methods of mining techniques to maximize profits from the gemstone industry –Afghans frequently use crude methods for mining, such as old military explosives, destroying more than they harvest– similar investment in the tapping of natural gas resources, and also gold and other minerals abundant in the region.

Regulating the Opium Industry

But most significantly, rather than eradicate poppy plants, Afghanistan should legalize poppy farming for the purpose of making up a world-wide shortage of medicinal opiates.  Afghanistan currently produces 97% of the world’s heroin and the estimated value of the 2012 poppy crop in Afghanistan is $1.4 billion.  Acreage dedicated to poppies grew from 8,000 hectares in 2001 to over 165,000 hectares currently (UN Office on Drugs and Crime, 2012), a clear indication that the crop is here to stay.  Accepting this fact, if poppy farming was legalized and opium production nationalized, revenues from this industry could equal about one-tenth of Afghanistan’s gross domestic product and could fund the police and other security forces. 

Turkey, Australia, and India have legal poppy crops, supplying the world with opiate-based medicines including morphine and codeine, yet there is a worldwide shortage of medicinal opiates.  A solution to this shortage lies in the vast poppy fields of Afghanistan.  Nationalizing the poppy production in Afghanistan would significantly reduce the amount of heroin introduced into the world.  Certainly some opium would find its way onto the black market so long as demand remains, but nationalizing poppy farming and opium production would also effectively block a major funding stream of the insurgency.  Despite numerous eradication attempts and alternative crops, many Afghan farmers return to poppies for the reliability of income.  With this in mind, “legitimizing the poppy crop is the only feasible solution to Afghanistan’s drug crisis” (Hurst, 2007).  Again, using Turkey as an example, legalization of poppy production means legitimate jobs for Afghans.  Hurst (2007) notes that “600,000 Turks work in the highly regulated system and diversion into the illegal market is negligible.”


President Karzai banned logging and lumber sales in Afghanistan in 2006.  Consequently, timber worth tens of millions of dollars lies in large piles along the Kunar River, rotting away (Trofimov, 2010).  Deodar cedar is a rich resource in Afghanistan’s eastern border region.  And unfortunately, “a two-yard log that sells for $10 in Kunar fetches as much as $150 in the Pakistani port city of Karachi, and $300 in Dubai or Qatar” (Trofimov, 2010).  This is money that is not turned back into the Afghan economy.  Instead, harvested timber from the Korengal Valley is hauled on the backs of donkeys, smuggled across borders, purchased on the cheap by Pakistanis, and then taken to Peshawar and made into expensive furniture that may then be exported for sale in Afghanistan’s larger cities like Kabul, Jalalabad, and Kandahar.  A much more economical practice would be for Afghans to transport the high-value timber to furniture plants in Jalalabad and keep Afghan money in Afghanistan.  Smuggling is a long accepted means of making a living in Afghanistan.  What costs a dollar when smuggled, costs $3.50 when moved legally.  The Karzai Administration can fix this by establishing a regulated national timber industry.

Mineral Wealth

Afghanistan is home to significant veins of gold near Kandahar and in southern Ghazni province.  Some estimate the value of the deposits in the billions.  The Panjsher Valley in central Afghanistan yields some of the highest quality emeralds known in the world, while the Badakhshan Province, bordering Tajikistan and China is home to some of the finest, deepest blood-red rubies.  The Jegdalek Mine in the Sarobi District is well known for its rubies.  The country also has an abundance of other precious and semi-precious stones, including tourmaline, kunzite, aquamarine, amethyst, morganite, and spinel.  They are found primarily in the central part of the country, ranging from Parwan, through Kapisa, Kabul and Panjsher provinces, and into Nuristan and Badakhshan.

In addition to the precious and semi-precious stones, Afghanistan is home to the oldest lapis lazuli mine in the world, also located in the mineral-rich Badakhshan Province.  “The most prized lapis is a dark, nearly blackish blue, much deeper than turquoise and more intense than sodalite or azurite” (Bancroft, n. d.) and flecked with gold colored specks.  The Sar-e-Sang mine in the Kokcha River valley is located nearly a mile up a steep limestone mountain.  It is only accessible (safely) in the summer months due to harsh winters and extreme elevations. Lapis was once the most treasured stone in the world, long used to decorate tombs of the ancients in Sumer and Egypt.  Many of the sarcophagi are adorned with gold and lapis.  “The ancient royal Sumerian tombs of Ur, located near the Euphrates River in lower Iraq, contained more than 6000 beautifully executed lapis lazuli statuettes of birds, deer, and rodents as well as dishes, beads, and cylinder seals.  These carved artifacts undoubtedly came from material mined in northern Afghanistan.  Later Egyptian burial sites dating before 3000 B.C. contained thousands of jewelry items, many of lapis. Powdered lapis was favored by Egyptian ladies as a cosmetic eye shadow and in later years it was used as a pigment for ultramarine paints” (Bancroft, n. d.).  Although lapis is not as valuable today as it was to the pharaohs, Afghan artists still use it in beautiful jewelry and carvings, and it can be a significant part of the economy in this region of the country.  Unfortunately, again, much like the timber, “once mined, the uncut crystals of emeralds, tourmaline, spodumene [kunzite], etc., are smuggled across the border into Pakistan, primarily into tribal Agency areas such as the Bajaur (surrounding Peshawar), where most of the trade in Afghan gems is conducted” (Bowersox, 1986, 3).  Sadly, this only means more lost revenue for the poverty stricken people of Afghanistan.

Additional mineral resources of potential wealth in Afghanistan include copper in the western provinces of Herat and Farrah, Kandahar and Zabol Provinces in the south, Logar Province in central Afghanistan, and Kapisa Province in the east.  Additional deposits of gold exist in Takhar and Badakhshan Provinces in the north, while Bamyan Province holds the largest deposits of iron ore.   Natural gas and petroleum, estimated at “1,596 million barrels (Mbbl) of crude oil, 444 billion cubic meters of natural gas, and 562 Mbbl of natural gas liquids” lie beneath the earth in the Afghan-Tajik Basin and the Amu Darya Basin, respectively (Kuo, 2007, 2.2).

Every region of Afghanistan has abundant natural resources that could fund the country and make it self-sufficient, independent, and able to retain its pride by not having to rely on foreign aid and live with a feeling that foreigners are occupying their country.  Capitalizing on the wealth will take time.  Security in remote areas must improve.  Local police provide that security bubble that in turn allows development to enter.  Afghanistan must pay their own security forces –they have the ability to do so and see the country prosper.

Afghan sovereignty and future prosperity requires a more effective security force that is locally trained and fielded, and solely funded by Afghanistan.  Local police are more effective than national police and better accepted by villagers in Afghanistan.  Afghans must protect Afghans, rather than foreign troops making things better based on a western vision.  And although geography poses a challenge, connecting Afghan villagers to the central government by incorporating village and tribal customs, local Afghan security forces with oversight by the MOI create conditions for economic development.  The secure environment they provide will allow the harvesting of vast natural resources and the country can become self-sustaining.  This wealth from within can help the Afghan culture thrive by making them independent, thus ridding the country of foreign forces, something Afghans have resisted for centuries.


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About the Author(s)

Robin L. Duane is Command Sergeant-Major, United States Corps of Cadets, U.S. Military Academy, West Point.  He has completed 5 tours of duty in Afghanistan in the U.S. Army’s Special Operations Forces and was actively involved in the training of the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police.  The author would like to express his thanks to Professors Dennis D. Kerkman and Ann Schultis at Park University for their comments on a previous draft of this paper.


It will be interesting to see how quickly (not if) the current iteration of the Najibullah regime folds after the withdrawal of US combat troops. One would hope that the raft of failures of intervention in Afghanistan, Syria, Libya and Iraq would provide some degree of insight to the neo-Wilsonians in regards to the paradigmatic problems governing their Western secular myopically focused perceptual prism and sense making framework. Such a hope, however, appears to be unjustified.

One is looking forward to the political spin (it does provide for much amusement) when the Quetta Shura Afghan Taliban government cements further its extant legitimacy by deposing the successor to the Karzai regime.

In the closing paragraph, note how this sentence here:

"Afghans must protect Afghans, rather than foreign troops making things better based on a western vision."

Is contradicted by the sentences that follow:

" And although geography poses a challenge, connecting Afghan villagers to the central government by incorporating village and tribal customs, local Afghan security forces with oversight by the MOI create conditions for economic development. The secure environment they provide will allow the harvesting of vast natural resources and the country can become self-sustaining. This wealth from within can help the Afghan culture thrive by making them independent, thus ridding the country of foreign forces, something Afghans have resisted for centuries."

Herein, should we not see the following as, specifically, a "western vision?"

a. "connecting Afghan villagers to the central government ... "

b. "creat(ing) conditions for economic development ... "

c. "the harvesting of vast natural resources ..."

And as to independence, and the ridding of the country of foreign forces, history would seem to indicate that the Afghans do not need instruction from us on these matters. Herein, their traditional way of life and traditional way of governance handling these problems most impressively.


Sun, 06/15/2014 - 1:25pm


This passage jarred with me: 'However, a wealth of experience exists among tens of thousands of retired law enforcement agency personnel around the world, including former Afghan police officers and investigators. A recruiting drive needs to seek out and hire a robust cadre from among these retirees, especially those from other Islamic countries that will be more culturally accepted by Afghans'.

Given the absence of nearly every Islamic country from ISAF, how likely is it that such countries would allow their nationals to be recruited?

Having read a little about Afghanistan it is very hard to see Afghans finding any outsider as culturally acceptable.

The only exception being Afghans who left and became for example Canadian-Afghans, of whom a number did answer the call to return and serve. Identify them, train them and you might just get the 'robust cadre' you seek.


Sun, 06/15/2014 - 10:04am

In reply to by Dave Maxwell


Agree 100%. I was so happy to see this well researched and written article by someone who has been there, done it, submitted to SWJ.

Dave D.

Dave Maxwell

Sun, 06/15/2014 - 10:00am

Rare to see a Command Sergeant Major writing on such topics. I wish more would do so to contribute their expertise and to contribute to the debate as this should surely stimulate some critical thought. I have benefited from wise counsel of Sergeants Majors throughout my career and I think many others would benefit from reading their perspectives.