Afghan veterans feel left out from new security force

As the US military operation in Afghanistan continues to expand, more new local fighters are being recruited into the security forces, whereas Afghan veterans feel their skills and experience are being overlooked.

Zaban Dast Safi spent 28 years protecting Afghanistan as a solider, becoming an officer in the Afghan National Army. Now, he says he feels forgotten by his country and worries about the safety of his children under the current security conditions.

He recalls the time he became involved in the Afghan-Soviet conflict just months after finishing his military training: “The Soviet Union did not invade Afghanistan. They did not attack us. They were invited by the President to be here as a friend of our country,” Safi says.

I used to think we had the ability to defeat our enemies ourselves, but all we had was old guns and weapons. The Soviet Union provided us with Kalashnikovs, Makarovs and new tanks.”

However, it has been three decades since he finished his service and now Safi’s family lives in two rooms in a run-down building in the old part of Kabul. Safi supports his family by running a small shop, which brings little profit. His evidently modest living points to how poorly his time in the military has been rewarded.

Yes, I feel that my country has forgotten about me,” Safi admits. “The Americans don’t want to keep experienced and educated people in the Afghan National Army and Police. They are training illiterates. They train them for three to five weeks. You can’t even learn how to use a weapon in that time. The new recruits can be so easily manipulated. They don’t know what they are doing, who they are fighting, and so the security situation is getting worse.”

Four years ago the United Nations Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration Programme attempted to free Afghanistan from the rule of the gun by collecting weapons from former soldiers. Safi and thousands of his fellow soldiers handed in their weapons. Now, however, most of them are unemployed and feel disillusioned by the absence of any progress.

The current US-led military operation has provided little opportunity for former soldiers like Safi. And while the US claims it is helping to train and equip Afghans to defend themselves, Safi expresses bitterness at their policies.

America says it wants to withdraw its forces, but this is not true. When we fought with the Russians there were few Russian soldiers on each patrol. Now, if 20 Afghan National Army soldiers are fighting, there are about 200 American soldiers fighting with them,” he explains.

Americans want to train their soldiers here. They have received the theory, but here is the practice. They can train in the mountains and implement their policies, capture Pakistan, and reach India. At least the communists were working honestly.”