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Eight weeks to face the Taliban

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 09:20 UK time, Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Can you train an Afghan army recruit, in eight short weeks, to play an effective role fighting the Taliban insurgency?

The success of US and UK strategy in Afghanistan hinges on the answer to this because that strategy involves training and equipping the Afghan National Army to play an ever greater role, so international combat troops can eventually leave.

We wanted to find out what this training process is actually like for the raw recruits entering the Afghan armed forces.

Screenshot of Eight weeks to face the Taliban website

From initial concept to finished product

With the help of the BBC Persian and Newsgathering teams in Kabul we decided to follow four young men through the eight weeks of basic training they receive before being deployed.

It took Kabul producer Bilal Sarwary weeks of negotiation with the Afghan authorities to get permission to film and spend time with the recruits, accompanied by BBC Persian reporter Daud Qarizadah and cameraman Abdul Hameed Karimi.

The Afghan army told us no other foreign media organisation had been given such a close-up look at the training facilities or process.

A Taliban attack right at the start of our reporters' assignment highlighted the dangers the recruits face just by wearing their country's uniform. The militants are doing their best to dissuade young Afghans from joining the military.

On the Sunday morning when our team was due to arrive at the training base, attackers ambushed an army bus outside. It was only because our reporters were held up that they were not caught up in the assault, in which a suicide bomber also detonated explosives, killing five soldiers.

The BBC's high risk advisers had already made clear that our team should confine themselves to reporting only from inside the heavily guarded base, as spending time with the recruits outside, whether in uniform or not, was deemed too dangerous.

So this report focuses on life inside the base, the eight week journey from arrival, through basic training, to the moment when they hear where they are to be posted.

We hear from the four young men about why they joined up, what their families think, and their own hopes and concerns, and we begin to get a sense of what facing the Taliban means for them.

We recently published another special report on the BBC News website - Life with the Lancers looking at the training, challenges and day-to-day lives of UK troops in Afghanistan.

This report complements that UK perspective with a view from the Afghan soldiers who are being prepared to take their places.

The report is also running in two separate instalments on BBC World News, and on BBC World Service. If you get time to have a look, let us know what you think.

Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website.


  • Comment number 1.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 2.

    Ever wondered why US/UK forces are in Afghanistan?
    Yes, so the BBC can shoot a reality TV show!
    Imbedded Journalism does for war coverage what Changing Rooms did for craftsmanship.

  • Comment number 3.

    Eight years and this is the best we can do, train soldiers in 8 weeks. What happened to al the rest, have they retired?

  • Comment number 4.

    As the finished product here is the photo illustrating the film, then the rough sketch is a preceding product, and of course, not the 'concept'that envisioned both of them.
    And since reporters are now required to be at less risk from harm than the civilians active in conflict zones, then de facto, the classical tradition of war correspondence has come to an end at the bbc.

  • Comment number 5.

    The BBC allows us to 'hear from the four young men [fighting the Taliban] about why they joined up, what their families think, and their own hopes and concerns'. The BBC has also allowed us to witness close-up (and empathise with) the UK troops in Afghanistan in :"Life with the Lancers".

    But this is one-sided journalism - focusing only on the soldiers, only on one side of the battle, only on male perspective, and with the actual residents of the country denied a voice.

    If this is truly objective, multi-sided journalism (rather than embedded military journalism) showing both sides of the story, the BBC needs to also allow us to 'walk in the shoes of':

    - the ordinary Afghan citizens who live with this war around them. It was recently reported on German news that more of 80% of Afghans have absolutely no idea why Nato/UK forces are in their country

    - the Afghan women whose children are killed in this war. If the BBC is happy to take viewers inside the heads of male Afghan and British soldiers it needs to balance this and give us some coverage from a female perspective, please.

  • Comment number 6.

    It's just a numbers game.

    Stating there will be so many Afgan soldiers & police, sounds not too bad to much of UK, western public.

    It's only when the true reality is obtained from under the heavy smoke screen that the fact of such vile attrocity emerges.

    Arming so many people who have such low discipline is once again the creation of future attrocity.

    The future when Nato forces leave I think will turn into a much bigger/wider blood bath

  • Comment number 7.

    To all the 'critics' of the 8 week course:

    Please try to understand that is the basic training: The enlisted men will then be attached to other already operational Afghan regular Army units as well as with NATO Armed Forces.

    To be clear: The BBC Documentary is just a small measure of the overall 'training' & 'equipping' these recruits receive over a very lengthy period. E.g. Some recruits will receive additional training for use of Armoured vehicles, heavy Weapons training, Bomb disposal etc. The notion these men just get sent off on Patrols after 8 weeks is simply way off reality: Though of course the Infantryman's main role is always front-line combat & as there's no frontline these Recruits can expect to be in-action at anytime.

    No, they are not sent out after 8 weeks to attack the Taliban! Though of course the Taliban are not inclined to wait to attack at any and every opportunity in an effort to undermine these courageous men.

  • Comment number 8.

    The US-UK plan for training recuits for the Afghan National Army for eight weeks to enable them to face the Taliban has little prospects for success. The Taliban are hard-core guerilla warriors. New recruits with eight weeks training might prove helpless in confrontation wth the fierce fighters like the Taliban. They might be easy targets for the suicide bombers. It is also difficult to say whether the families of the young men to be recruited would allow them to join the US-UK controlled Afghan National Army to make them fodders for the Taliban's guns.

    It is tragic that the US-led coalition forces fighting the war on Afghanistan could not yet read the writings on the wall.It is now anybody's guess that Afghanistan is going to be another Viet Nam for America.The sooner the Americans and the Britons realize it, the better for world peace.That way they can prevent the unnecessary deaths of their soldiers and the colossal loss of their properties.
    The sooner the coalition forces realize the futility of the war on Afghanistan, the better for them.Let the Afghans alone.

  • Comment number 9.

    I believe that because of their religion, the afghan army is hard
    to train. The enemy would be co religionist. they have little concept
    of nationhood. In the context of Phil history, americans were able
    to train the igorrotes, and the Muslims to join the Constabulary. Filipinos were mercenaries before the Americans came. The Macabebe
    scouts is one example

  • Comment number 10.

    This is not the first time this happened. The film "Camp Victory, Afghanistan" followed the training of the Afghan Army from 2005 to 2008. Ten months of shooting spread over ten years it is a close look at the training and the mentoring of the ANA.
    There is plenty of story here for everyone, but please don't act like you are the only ones who had the idea or did the work.

  • Comment number 11.

    Eight weeks is only the initial basic training. The US Army also does an 8 week basic training. From there soldiers gain advanced training in specialty skills and are then introduced and integrated into veteran units to learn from experienced soldiers. This isn't some old fashioned communist war fodder mill that stamps out whole units and sends them to the front in a matter of days. People need to read the full article and research the topic before just spouting off reactionary and pessimistic portents of doom.
    These are a tough people who have known more than 30 years of war, they are more mentally prepared for the realities of combat than most western recruits. Some concepts are new and discipline does need work but they have to start somewhere. American revolutionaries were once seen as backwards and ill trained as well. Look what a few generations can do to a country and its military.

  • Comment number 12.

    A lot has been made of a face 2 face meeting with the taliban.

    I would suggest the taliban want this for the simple reason to thank the Brit taxpayer thru the Brit Gov for their donations to the taliban over the years with a year on year increase.

    Any one who doesn't believe this just search the webb for the truth.

    I cannot give the precise webb page address as the beeb would not print this comment then. It would be against their PC principles, but it is ok to show our young men / troops being murdered

    Sad isn't it when one cannot speak the truth any more.

  • Comment number 13.

    The trouble with Afghanistans army is that it is full of outcasts from local communities.

    Afghanistan does not lack motivated drug free young men but they all go and fight for the taliban. What you have in the official army is local laybouts who have nowhere else to go.

    They sit around smoking hashish all day or even opium and are a danger to themselves and coalition soliders.

    If you want to get an idea of what i am talking about look up 'hashish army' on youtube.

  • Comment number 14.

    Wonder how much training the Taliban fighter's have undergone?

  • Comment number 15.

    All this with Libya is a major crime AMERICA !!!!! Aggression, to be kidnapped Libyan oil - and that is the whole philosophy. What protection of civilians, any freedom, the struggle for a democracy there - ALWAYS THE SAME LIES THE WEST!! Bear up LIBYA!! Do not give up Gaddafi !!!!!!! SERBIA IS TO LIBYA !!!!!!! TO VICTORY !!!!!

  • Comment number 16.

    "Eight days a week" for even another 2 years wouldn't turn out an army there...because a lot of the Afghan's have a loyalty to money (& who would blame them)so then once we're gone & the Taliban offer it...the olds ways will return. & it will once again be the land of the "Manic Ones" reign!


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