Colonel A. Zia Karimi, Senior National Representative of Afghanistan, to the U.S. Central Command, with Jason Criss Howk, retired Army foreign area officer, Afghanistan veteran
(Editor’s note: This is an account by Afghan Colonel Zia Karimi running in Jason Howk’s column)
Recently, I was invited to a dinner in Tampa to honor of U.S. war veterans. As usual, I had the pleasure to meet some new people and my conversation with a kind, elderly woman stuck with me. She kept asking me about my stay and experiences in Tampa and general questions about Afghanistan my homeland. Suddenly she noticed my cell phone on the table and asked me if we have cell phones back home? I gently answered with a smile, yes ma’am after 18 years of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, there have been tremendous achievements.
Our conversation reminded me of how little Americans probably know about all the progress in Afghanistan since 2001. I thought, who better than I to explain it? This short article gives a glimpse of the new Afghanistan that I know; its progress and how far Afghans have come. We Afghans are the first to acknowledge that without the direct support of American citizens this wouldn’t be feasible; so, thank you to my American readers.
I have to say that Afghanistan is a success story that Americans should be proud of. Barely 18 years ago, after the overthrow of the Taliban regime, we started rebuilding our country from nothing. No single institution of the country was functioning properly. Not the treasury, medical or education system, or security system –we had nothing.
Now if you compare today’s Afghanistan to 18 years ago, we have 10 million kids going to schools, and half of them are girls. There was only one functioning university in Kabul, and now 168 universities are teaching thousands of Afghans on daily bases. A country where a single woman could not have a job now has many women ministers and ambassadors, and considerable female representation in the parliament. Internet and networking facilities cover even the most remote parts of the countryside. Roads, dams, social facilities, and all kinds of new construction is all the country. One can see tremendous progress and achievements in all walks of life.
Building Up the Afghan National Army
Besides the reformation of those institutions in the country it is important to write about the most trusted organization of our country, the Afghan National Army (ANA). The formation of its first battalion started in 2002, trained by the U.S. and other NATO countries. Now Afghanistan has its own army with a strength of more than 200,000 members.
The ANA provides security all over Afghanistan with its seven corps and one division of regular army, a corps of special operations forces (ANA Special Operations Command) and an its own air force. The ANA play a vital role in the global war against terrorism. During the implementation of the recent U.S. South Asia Strategy, the ANA went from a defensive role to a completely offensive mode; gaining control over 11 new districts from the Taliban in just the last eight months. The major gains from this increasing offensive spirit is solid proof of ANA capabilities. The ANA has paid a huge price for protecting our fellow Afghan citizens.
One of the organizations in our military that Americans should really learn about is the Afghan National Army Special Operations Command (ANASOC). Their role has been vital in the war on global terror over the last two decades. A big reason behind the success stories of all Afghan security forces is the ANASOC. They have been provided the best training under the finest mentors and trainers from U.S. Special Operations Forces. ANASOC is the best in the region; they are trained with excellent skills to counter insurgents and the most hard-core terrorists. They participate in many operations on a daily basis against the most dangerous terrorist organizations like ISIS-K, Al Qaeda, the Red Units of the Taliban, and many more. They have been chasing the enemy into their safe havens and destroying them or accepting their mass surrender.
The young ANASOC leaders (just captains and sergeants) are planning and executing all their operations on their own. Something that even their own advisors did not expect just five years ago. In the last seven months, more than 1,100 missions were all planned and successfully executed by ANASOC junior leaders. Eighteen of them were raids on Taliban-movement prisons. The prison rescue operation at Bala Murghab in Badghis is a good example of their recent success stories where 62 ANDSF prisoners were rescued from the Taliban’s prison with zero friendly forces KIA or WIA. These are some of the most complicated SOF missions to carry out, and they were done by Afghans.
Another pride of ANASOC soldiers is that they are truly trained to become national patriots, and don’t fall sway to the influence of any ethnic, tribal, or political orientation. If you ask an ANASOC operator their tribe, they will proudly tell you that their tribe is the ANA and if you ask them where they are from, you will get only one answer “Afghanistan.” They fight hard and respect even their enemies. Hundreds of ISIS-K families surrendered to ANASOC forces in the East of Afghanistan, and they chose to surrender to the ANASOC because they knew their kids and women would be treated with dignity. It is matter of pride that our ANASOC offer respect even to the cruelest enemies. ANASOC leaders are steadily imparting this professionalism on the other Afghan security forces. We take pride in the ANDSF of our growing professionalism and our complete respect for our Afghan citizens.
At a recent multinational conference of South and Central Asian nations, LTG Ahmadi, the Commander of the ANASOC provided a briefing to our neighbor states about ANASOC capabilities. The delegates of the other nations were so impressed with his presentation and the skills of the Afghan Special Operations Forces they immediately asked him if they could start sending their soldiers to Kabul to join the ANA in their special operations school. This started a multi-national discussion about making the ANASOC school in Kabul a regional center of excellence that could improve capability and cooperation of regional counter-terrorism forces.
The peace process that is occurring right now, which is the quest and dream of the Afghan people, is due to the ANA’s vital role in pressuring the Taliban movement to sit for negotiations with the Afghan government of our republic. This pressure came at a heavy cost in casualties from Afghan and partner forces.
The Taliban and their supporters are hopefully realizing that Afghanistan has changed. That the new generation is committed to peace and that they want to interact with all other nations on the international stage, they want to live a life with dignity. The youth who are serving in the ANDSF are not simply there to make a small monthly salary, this is something monumental. The nonstop sacrifices every day by our forces are for Afghanistan. Not an Afghanistan dependent forever on the international community, but an Afghanistan that has good partners yet self-sufficiency.
The international security forces who have been involved closely with Afghans realize that the future of Afghanistan is bright. The ANDSF will not only preserve the 18 years of achievements, but will be the guarantor of the peace process, reconciliation, and integration. We pray that peace reaches every single street and village of our beautiful country. The ANDSF will be playing a role on the international stage during peacebuilding missions, and should remain a close ally and partner of United States on missions to fight terrorists globally.
All these successes would not be possible without the support of USA and its generous people. I assure the people of America that their investments are not wasted. Afghanistan is and will be a strong ally in the region.
Colonel A. Zia Karimi, is assigned at the U.S. Central Command, and a graduate of the Military Academy of Modena, the US Army Maneuver Captain Career Course, and the UK Advanced Command & Staff Course. He holds an MA in Strategic Studies (Italy) and also one in Defense Studies (UK). He has held various planning and intelligence positions in the Afghan Ministry of Defense and NATO ISAF.