The lack of education points to a basic challenge for the United States, as it tries to expand the Afghan army in the hopes that U.S. and allied forces can one day withdraw. Just as in Iraq — and perhaps even more so — the U.S. is finding it no small task to recruit, train and equip a force that is large and competent enough to operate successfully on its own.
“I face difficulties. If someone calls me and tells me to go somewhere, I can’t read the street signs,” Ahmadi, 27, a member of a logistics battalion, said while walking through downtown Kabul. “In our basic training, we learned a lot. Some of my colleagues who can read and write can take notes, but I’ve forgotten a lot of things, the types of things that might be able to save my life.”
This strikes me as an object lesson in the importance of realistic goal-setting. The Afghan National Army is largely illiterate because Afghanistan is largely illiterate. So while there’s a real problem here, it’s also a problem that the Taliban and the Haqqani network and Hekmatyar and everyone else need to grapple with. So looked at one way, this isn’t a huge problem. We don’t need an ANA that’s an effective military according to some abstract standard, we just need an ANA that’s not likely to be overrun by its adversaries. But if we have the more ambitious goal of created an effectively administered centralized state, then the lack of literacy becomes a huge problem. And a problem without an obvious solution on a realistic time frame.