Military of Afghanistan

Military of Afghanistan
Military of Afghanistan
Afghan National Army emblem.png
Emblem of the Afghan National Army
Founded 1709
Current form 2002
Service branches Afghan National Army
Afghan National Army Air Force
Headquarters Kabul
President Hamid Karzai
Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak
Military age 22
Available for
military service
6,800,888 males, age 16 to 49[2],
6,413,647 females, age 16 to 49[2]
Fit for
military service
3,888,358 males, age 16 to 49[2],
3,641,998 females, age 16 to 49[2]
Reaching military
age annually
378,996 males,
357,822 females
Active personnel 164,000 (2011)[1]
Budget $11.6 billion[3]
Percent of GDP 1.9%
Foreign suppliers Current:
 United States
 Soviet Union
 United Kingdom
Related articles
History Military history of Afghanistan
Soviet war in Afghanistan
War in Afghanistan (2001–present)
Afghanistan (orthographic projection).svg

The military of Afghanistan is composed of the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Army Air Force (formerly the Afghan Air Force). Being a landlocked country, Afghanistan has no navy, and the private security forces who are sometimes seen wearing military uniforms are not part of Afghanistan's military. The President of Afghanistan is the commander-in-chief of the military, acting through the Ministry of Defense that is headed by General Abdul Rahim Wardak. The National Military Command Center in Kabul serves as the headquarters of the Afghan armed forces, which currently has around 164,000 active soldiers,[1] with plans to reach 260,000 by 2015.[4][5]

The Afghan military was first formed in 1709 when the Hotaki dynasty was established in Kandahar followed by the Durrani Empire. The Afghan armed forces fought many wars with Persia and India from the 18th to the 19th century. The military of the country was re-organized by the British in 1880, when the country was ruled by Amir Abdur Rahman Khan. It was modernized during King Amanullah Khan's rule in the early 20th century, and upgraded during King Zahir Shah's forty year rule. From 1978 to 1992, the Soviet-backed Afghan army fought with multi-national mujahideen groups who were being funded by the United States and Saudi Arabia while trained by the Pakistani Armed Forces. After President Najibullah's resignation in 1992 and the end of Soviet support, the military dissolved into portions controlled by different warlord factions and the mujahideen took control over the government. This era was followed by the rise of the Pakistan-backed Taliban, who established a military force on the basis of Islamic sharia law.

Following the US-led invasion and the removal of the Taliban government in late 2001, the military of Afghanistan is being rebuilt and reformed by NATO military alliance, mainly by the United States armed forces. Despite early problems with recruitment and training, it is becoming effective in fighting against the Taliban insurgency. As of 2011, it is slowly becoming able to operate independently from US-led NATO forces. The administration of U.S. President Barack Obama announced in 2009 that it would increase the number of Afghan troops and police to 400,000 active units.[6] It also announced plans to spend $1.3 billion on building several military bases for the Afghan army.[7] This includes an upgrade of more than $100 million to Bagram Air Base, the largest military base in the country, as well as a new $70 million base in Farah near the border with Iran.[7] In the meantime, the Afghan military began seeking latest fighter aircraft and other advanced weapons."[8]



Prior to the 18th century, Afghans have served in the militaries of the Ghaznavids (963–1187), Ghurids (1148–1215), Delhi Sultanate (1206–1527) and the Mughal Empire of India (1526–1858) as well as in the army of the Persian Empire.[9] However, the current Afghan military dates back to when the Pashtun Hotaki dynasty rose to power in Kandahar and decisively defeated the Persian Safavid Empire at the Battle of Gulnabad in 1722.[10]

The sun had just appeared on the horizon when the armies began to observe each other with that curiosity so natural on these dreadful occasions. The Persian army just come out of the capital, being com­posed of whatever was most brilliant at court, seemed as if it had been formed rather to make a show than to fight. The riches and variety of their arms and vestments, the beauty of their horses, the gold and precious stones with which some of their harnesses were covered, and the richness of their tents contributed to render the Persian camp very pompous and magnificent.
On the other side there was a much smaller body of soldiers, dis­figured with fatigue and the scorching heat of the sun. Their clothes were so ragged and torn in so long a march that they were scarce sufficient to cover them from the weather, and, their horses being adorned with only leather and brass, there was nothing glittering about them but their spears and sabres...[11]
Jonas Hanway1712–1786

When the Durrani Afghan Empire was created by Ahmad Shah Durrani in 1747, his military was involved in several wars with India and Persia during the 18th to the 19th century. One of the famous battles was the 1761 Battle of Panipat in which the Afghans decisively defeated the Indian Maratha Empire.[12] During the First Anglo-Afghan War, British India invaded Afghanistan in 1838 and the two nations fought until the British were forced to withdraw in 1842.

King Habibullah Khan with the military men of Afghanistan in early 1900s.

The first organized army of Afghanistan (in the modern sense) was established after the Second Anglo-Afghan War in 1880 when the nation was ruled by Emir Abdur Rahman Khan.[13][14] Traditionally, Afghan governments relied on three military institutions: the regular army, tribal levies, and community militias. The regular army was sustained by the state and commanded by government leaders. The tribal or regional levies - irregular forces - had part-time soldiers provided by tribal or regional chieftains. The chiefs received tax breaks, land ownership, cash payments, or other privileges in return. The community militia included all available able-bodied members of the community, mobilized to fight, probably only in exceptional circumstances, for common causes under community leaders. Combining these three institutions created a formidable force whose components supplemented each others strengths and minimized their weaknesses.[14][15][16][17]

Afghan army soldiers in the 1950s.
MiG-15 fighters and Il-28 bombers of the Afghan Air Force in 1959.

After the war ended, the reforming monarch did not see the need for a large army, instead deciding to rely on Afghanistan's historical martial qualities. This resulted in neglect, cutbacks, recruitment problems, and finally an army unable to quell the 1929 up-rising that cost him his throne.[18] However, under his reign, the small Afghan Air Force was formed in 1924. The military of Afghanistan was reconstructed and improved during King Zahir Shah's reign, which reached a strength of 70,000 in 1933. Following the Second World War, the Soviet Union offered assistance to the Afghan government where the United States did not, and by the 1960s, Soviet assistance started to improve the structure, armament, training, and command and control arrangements for the military. The military reached a strength of 98,000 (90,000 army and 8,000 air force) by this period.[19]

After the exile of King Zahir Shah in 1973, President Daud Khan forged stronger ties with the Soviets by signing two highly controversial military aid packages for his nation in 1973 and 1975. For three years, Afghan armed forces and police officers received advanced soviet weapons, as well as training by the KGB and Soviet commandos. Due to problems with local political parties in his country, President Daud Khan decided to distance himself from the Soviets in 1976. He made Afghanistan's ties closer to the broader Middle East and the United States instead.

From 1977 to 1978 the Afghan armed forces conduced joint military training with the Military of Egypt. In April 1978 there was a coup, known as the Saur Revolution, orchestrated by the Soviets and members of the government loyal to the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA). This led to a full-scale Soviet invasion, led by the 40th Army and the Airborne Forces in December 1979.

Throughout the 1980s, the military of Afghanistan was heavily involved in fighting against the mujaheddin rebel groups who were largely funded by the United States and trained by the Pakistani Armed Forces. The rebel groups were fighting to force the Soviet Union to withdraw from Afghanistan as well as to remove the Soviet-backed government of President Mohammad Najibullah.

The armed forces' total strength in 1985 according to the Afghan government was around 47,000, but it was believed to be lower by other sources. In 1981 the total strength of the army was around 85,000 troops according to The New York Times.[20] The army had around 35-40,000 soldiers, who was mostly conscripts, the air force had around 7,000 soldiers and if put together all military personnel in 1984, the total strength of the Afghan military was around 87,000 thousand in 1984.[21]

Soviet-backed Afghan troops in 1988.

Following the Soviet withdrawal in 1989 the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan continued to deal with attacks from the Mujaheddin.[22] For several years the government army had actually increased their effectiveness past levels ever achieved during the Soviet military presence. But the government was dealt a major blow when Abdul Rashid Dostum, a leading general, switched allegiances to the Mujahideen in 1992 and together they captured the city of Kabul.[23]

The fall of the Moscow-backed regime in 1992 disintegrated the state as well as the army. Bits and pieces of the fragmented military either disappeared or joined the warring factions that were locked in a drawn-out power struggle. The warring factions were composed of odd assortments of armed groups with varying levels of loyalties, political commitment, professional skills, and organizational integrity.[24]
Ali A. Jalali2002

By 1992 the national army fragmented into regional militias under local warlords because of the fall of the Soviet Union which stopped supplying the army and later in 1992 when the Afghan government lost power and the country went into a state of anarchy. When the Taliban took power in 1996, they had no need for the Afghan Military because they had their own armed force. After the removal of the Taliban in late 2001 by the American led NATO operation, the new Afghan National Army was re-established.[25]

After the fall of Najibullah's regime in 1992, private militias were formed amongst the mujahideen rebel groups which also included former army and air force personnel. They received logistics support from foreign powers including Russia, Pakistan, Iran, People's Republic of China, Canada, France and the United States.

Current organization

C-27A of the Afghan National Air Force
The class of 2010 listens as President Hamid Karzai gives a speech at the National Military Academy of Afghanistan (NMAA).

The armed forces of Afghanistan is presently composed of the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Air Force (formerly the Afghan Air Force), which included the Afghan commandos and speciall forces. The Afghan military is currently being trained by the United States and other NATO member states to ultimately take the lead in military operations in Afghanistan so they can secure the country when the western nations withdraw.

The Afghan Air Force was very significant before and during the Soviet intervention, but by the time of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, the number of aircraft available was minimal. The United States and its allies quickly eliminated any remaining strength or ability of the Taliban to operate aircraft. With the occupation of airbases by American forces it became clear how destitute the air force had been since the withdrawal of the Soviet Union. Most aircraft were only remnants rusting away for a decade or more. Many others were relocated to neighboring countries for storage purposes. The National Air Corps was reduced to a very small force while the country was torn by civil war. It is currently being rebuilt and modernized by the US-led multinational Combined Air Power Transition Force of the US-led international Combined Security Transition Command - Afghanistan (CSTC-A).[26]

After the removal of the Taliban government and its replacement by the current government of Hamid Karzai, there has been significant progress toward revitalization of the national military, with two official branches established. The Afghan National Army and Afghan Air Force are under control of the Afghan Ministry of Defense in Kabul, which forms the basic military force.

Soldiers of the Afghan National Army, including the ANA Commando Brigade standing in the front.
Honor guard of the Afghan National Army during the 2011 commemoration of Afghan Independence Day.

By July 2005, more than 60,000 former militiamen from around the country have been disarmed.[27] All heavy weapons from Panjshir, Balkh, Nangarhar and other places were seized by the Afghan government. In October 2007, it was reported that the DDR programmes had dismantled 274 paramilitary organizations, reintegrated over 62,000 militia members into civilian life, and recovered more than 84,000 weapons, including heavy weapons. But the New York Times reported this information in the context of a reported rise in the number of hoarded weapons in the face of what has been seen as a growing Taliban threat, even in the north of the country.[28]

In 2007, the ANA Commando Battalion was established. The Afghan National Development Strategy of 2008 explained that the aim of DIAG (Disbandment of Illegal Armed Groups) was to ban all illegal armed groups in all provinces of the country. Approximately 2,000 such groups have been identified and most of them have surrendered to the Afghan government or joined the nation's military.

The Afghan National Army, trained primarily by the United States armed forces, is presently organized into 31 Kandaks, or Battalions, 28 of which are considered combat ready. Seven regional corps headquarters exist, but at present most Kandaks operate under American or NATO supervision. The National Military Academy of Afghanistan was built to provide future officers, it is modeled after the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. A new $200 million Afghan Defense University (ADU) is under construction outside Kabul. The ADU will consist of a headquarters building, classrooms, dining facility, library, and medical clinic. In addition to this, an $80 million central command center is under construction at Kabul International Airport and is scheduled to be ready for use in 2012.

The Afghan National Army Air Force is largely inoperative, however some progress has been made in rebuilding it. A number of Mi-17 and Mi-24 Helicopters and AN-32 cargo planes are operated by the AAF and maintenance crews are being trained. The manpower of the AAF is around 3600, including 450 pilots, mainly trained during the Communist era. The Afghan National Air Corps also includes some female pilots. The air force will double in size to more than 65 refurbished tactical aircraft, paid for by the United States by 2011.

In March 2010, a graduation ceremony was held at the National Military Academy of Afghanistan in Kabul for the class of 2010. These were only the second class to graduate from the academy, which is modeled after the United States Military Academy at West Point. Among the distinguished guests were President Karzai, who made a speech during the event. The total manpower of Afghanistan's military is around 164,000 as of May 2011,[1] which is expected to reach 260,000 in the next few years.

Senior officers

Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak, ANA Chief of Staff Sher Mohammad Karimi, and Col. Shah Mahmood Rauf Wardak.
Defense Ministry Spokesman, Mohammad Zahir Azimi, with German Army Brig. Gen. Josef Blotz.
  • Defense Minister, General Abdul Rahim Wardak
  • Defense Ministry Spokesman, Major General Mohammad Zahir Azimi
  • Chief of Staff of the Afghan National Army, Lieutenant General Sher Mohammad Karimi [29]
  • Deputy Chief of the General Staff, Lieutenant General Mohammad Ikram
  • Unknown position, Lieutenant General Mohammad Eshaq Noori
  • General Staff Chief of Personnel, Major General Abdul Abdullah
  • General Staff Chief of Intelligence, Major General Abdul Khaliq Faryad
  • General Staff Chief of Logistics, Lieutenant General Azizuddin Farahee
  • General Staff Chief of Communications, Major General Mehrab Ali
  • General Staff Inspector General, Major General Jalandar Shah
  • Surgeon General, Lieutenant General Dr. Abdul Qayum Tutakhail
  • Afghan National Army Air Corps Commander, Major General Mohammad Dawran
  • 201st Selab ("Flood") Corps Commander, Major General Mohammad Rahim Wardak
  • 203rd Tandar ("Thunder") Corps Commander, Major General Abdul Khaleq
  • 205th Atal ("Hero") Corps Commander, General (grade uncertain) Sher Mohammad Zazai
  • 207th Zafar ("Victory") Corps Commander, Major General Jalandar Shah Behnam
  • 209th Shaheen ("Falcon") Corps Commander, Major General Murad Ali
  • 215th Maiwand Corps Commander, (unknown)
  • Afghan National Army Training Command, Major General Aminullah Karim
  • Command and General Staff College, Major General Rizak
  • National Military Academy of Afghanistan, Major General Mohammad Sharef
  • Kabul Military Training Centre, Brigadier General Mohammad Amin Wardak[30]


Mi-35 attack helicopters of the Afghan National Army Air Corps
Afghan National Army Scud missile and launcher

During the 1950s and 1960s, Afghanistan received moderate quantities of Soviet weapons to keep the military up to date. It was mainly Sukhoi Su-7, MiG-21 fighter jets, T-34 and Iosif Stalin tanks, SU-76 self-propelled guns, GAZ-69 4x4 light trucks of jeep class (in many versions), ZIL-157 military trucks, Katyusha multiple rocket launchers, and BTR-40 and BTR-152 armored personnel carriers. Also included were PPSh-41 and RPK machine guns. After King Zahir Shah's exile in 1973, President Daoud Khan made attempts to create a strong Afghan military in the Greater Middle East-South Asia region. Between 1973 to 1978, Afghanistan purchased more sophisticated Soviet weapons such as Mi-4 and Mi-8 helicopters, Su-22 and Il-28 jets. In addition to that the nation possessed great many T-55, T-62, and PT-76 battle tanks along with huge amounts of AK-47 assault rifles ordered. Armored vehicles delivered in the 1970s also included: ZIL-135s, BMP-1s, BRDM-2s, BTR-60s, UAZ-469, and GAZ-66 as well as large quantities of small arms and artillery.

Under the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan (1978–1992), weapon deliveries by the Soviets were increased and included Mi-24 helicopters, MiG-23 fighter aircraft, ZSU-23-4 "Shilka" anti-aircraft self-propelled mounts, BTR-70s armored personnel carriers, BM-27 "Uragan" and BM-21 "Grad" multiple-launch rocket systems and FROG-7 and Scud launchers.[31] Some of the weapons that were not damaged during the decades of wars are still being used today, while the remainder have probably been sold on the black market.

Since 2007, the United States has been providing billions of dollars in military aid to Afghanistan. One military package from the United States to Afghanistan include 2,500 Humvees, tens of thousands of M-16 assault rifles and body armoured-jackets. It also included the building of a national military command center as well as training compounds in several provinces of the country.[32] It also received 100,000 M16 rifles, which are used mainly by the commandos but also by some of the regular army.

The United States has also been largely responsible for the growth of the Afghan Air Force, as part of the Combined Air Power Transition Force, from four aircraft at the end of 2001 to 32 as of early 2009. The aircraft are Russian made, but either refurbished or purchased by the US. Types include Antonov transport aircraft, Mi-17 troop-carrying helicopters, and Mi-35 attack helicopters. The aircrew are being trained by an American team (soon to be headed by Brigadier-General Walter Givhan[33]) but are not of a high standard as of early 2009, with none qualified for night flying or in poor weather. The American intention is to spend around $5 billion by 2016 to increase the force to around 120 aircraft.

In March 2008, the New York Times reported that in the past 12 months, the main supplier of munitions to Afghanistan's army and police forces was a AEY, Inc., a company headed by a 22-year old Efraim E. Diveroli, an Israeli-American from Florida whose vice president was a licensed masseur. The Times reported that much of the ammunition was defective, and appeared to involve illegal arms dealing. The company obtained more than 100 million cartridges from stocks in Eastern European countries including Albania, Bulgaria, Montenegro, and Romania.[34]

Canadian Forces supplied the Afghan National Army with surplus C7 assault rifles to bring the ANA up to NATO standards (CTV, CBC report on December 23, 2007). As of June 2011 the Afghan National Army has returned the Canadian-made C7 in favor of the American-made M16 rifle, reason being that parts between the two rifles, despite being similar, are not fully interchangeable.

As the number of the Afghan armed forces is growing rapidly so is the need for more aircraft and vehicles. It was announced in 2011 that the military of Afghanistan would be provided with 145 multi-type aircraft, 21 helicopters and 23,000 various type vehicles. In the meantime, the Afghan military began seeking latest fighter aircraft and other advanced weapons. Defense Minister Wardak explained that "what we are asking to acquire is just the ability to defend ourselves, and also to be relevant in the future so that our friends and allies can count on us to participate in peacekeeping and other operations of mutual interest."[8]


  1. ^ a b c Pellerindate, Cheryl (May 23, 2011). "Afghan Security Forces Grow in Numbers, Quality". American Forces Press Service. United States Department of Defense. Retrieved 2011-07-10. 
  2. ^ Central Intelligence Agency, The World Factbook 2010
  3. ^
  4. ^ "Obama 'mulls Afghan army boost'". BBC News. 2009-03-19. Retrieved 2011-02-11. 
  5. ^ Afghan army and police forces must grow much larger
  6. ^ Morgan, David (2009-07-10). "US eyes possible goal increase for the Afghan army". Reuters. 
  7. ^ a b Pincus, Walter (2009-10-18). "Military Seeks $1.3 Billion for Construction Projects in Afghanistan". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2010-05-12. 
  8. ^ a b Afghanistan makes pitch for heavier weapons
  9. ^ Houtsma, M. Th. (1993). E.J. Brill's first encyclopaedia of Islam 1913-1936. BRILL. pp. 611. ISBN 9004097961, 9789004097964. Retrieved 2010-09-24. 
  10. ^ "AN OUTLINE OF THE HISTORY OF PERSIA DURING THE LAST TWO CENTURIES (A.D. 1722-1922)". Edward G. Browne. London: Packard Humanities Institute. pp. 29–31. Retrieved 2010-09-24. 
  11. ^ "Account of British Trade across the Caspian Sea". Jonas Hanway. Centre for Military and Strategic Studies. Retrieved 2010-09-24. 
  12. ^ Louis Dupree, Nancy Hatch Dupree and others. "Last Afghan empire". The Online Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 2010-08-22. 
  13. ^ "Second Afghan War (Battle of Maiwand)". British Battles. Retrieved 2010-09-24. 
  14. ^ a b "Second Afghan War (March to Kandahar and the Battle of Baba Wali)". British Battles. Retrieved 2010-09-24. 
  15. ^ "First Afghan War (Battle of Ghuznee)". British Battles. Retrieved 2010-09-24. 
  16. ^ "First Afghan War (Battle of Kabul 1842)". British Battles. Retrieved 2010-09-24. 
  17. ^ "First Afghan War (The Siege of Jellalabad)". British Battles. Retrieved 2010-09-24. 
  18. ^ Ali Ahmad Jalali, Rebuilding Afghanistan's National Army, Parameters, Autumn 2002, pp.72-86
  19. ^ Ali Ahmad Jalali, Rebuilding Afghanistan's National Army, Parameters, Autumn 2002, pp.72-86.
  20. ^ "Afghan Military Aid Said to Study In Soviet". The New York Times. November 11, 1981. Retrieved 2009-03-24. 
  21. ^ J. Bruce Amstutz. The First Five Years of Soviet Occupation. Google Books. ISBN 9780788111112.,M1. Retrieved 2009-03-24. 
  22. ^ "1988: USSR pledges to leave Afghanistan". London: BBC News. 1988-04-14. Retrieved 2009-03-21. 
  23. ^ "Afghan Guerrillas Order Kabul Aarmy To Surrender City". The New York Times. April 18, 1992. Retrieved 2009-03-21. 
  24. ^ Ali A. Jalali, Rebuilding Afghanistan's National Army, Parameters, Autumn 2002, pp.72-86. For some further details of this period, see Jane's Defence Weekly 5 February 1992
  25. ^ "Blood Strained Hands". Human Right Watch. Retrieved 2009-03-13. 
  26. ^ Tini Tran (January 24, 2008). "Brief with Commander, CAPTF". Department of Defense. Retrieved 2009-03-13. 
  27. ^ see
  28. ^ Kirk Semple, 'Citing Taliban Threat, Afghan Ex-Militia Leaders Hoard Illegal Arms', New York Times, Sunday, October 28, 2007, p.8
  29. ^
  30. ^ Air Force Link: Coalition forces conduct, supervise training exercise
  31. ^ DDRAFG Heavy Weapons
  32. ^ Afghan News Network, USA to provide $2 billion of gear to Afghan military
  33. ^
  34. ^ C.J. Chivers, "Supplier Under Scrutiny on Arms for Afghans", New York Times, March 28, 2008

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