Since 2001, British and coalition troops of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) have fought a complex and costly war in Afghanistan. Between 2006 and 2012 – when Taliban fighters were most active – the fighting was intense. The role of Britain's armed forces evolved as they prepared to withdraw combat troops at the end of 2014.

In 2013, the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) took over responsibility for security in Afghanistan. British troops became less involved in combat operations and have increasingly provided an advisory role.

British forces have concentrated on training and mentoring personnel of both the Afghan National Army (ANA) and Afghan National Police (ANP). This has included establishing an ANA Officer Academy based on the British Army's academy at Sandhurst. International police agencies have also been involved in training their Afghan counterparts.

The success of Afghan forces in providing security in Afghanistan is vital in allowing development work to take place and in making Afghans more confident about their future. While the ability of the ANSF to maintain security has been improved, the withdrawal of international combat troops is still a significant step into the unknown.

In spring 2014, IWM staff visited Afghanistan as part of IWM's Contemporary Conflicts Programme. The individual accounts presented here are just some of the interviews that featured in our exhibition War Story: Afghanistan 2014.


“We've become I think more professional than we have been since about 1945. We are better soldiers, we're better equipped, we have better officers and better senior NCOs because they've all been through war. And so we're no longer you know, you won't find many people of my generation. I did Iraq, I've done this and I'm out here for a second time. You won't find many people of my generation, sort of generals and brigadiers even more so and colonels who have not fought their way through and that must be a good thing that they've got real experience of war. And so, we're a more professional force we're a more caring force I think than we were, whatever might be said in the papers, we really care about the people who are killed because it means an awful lot to us when you fought next door to somebody. So we're a more professional force, we're a more caring force than we were and I think therefore we are a far better force than we were.” 

Security in Afghanistan

Major General Richard Nugee, Chief of Staff of ISAF Joint Command, explains how Afghan forces took over responsibility for security in Afghanistan in 2013 and how ISAF have continued to work with them.


“I think it has been, I mean I described it as a commanding officer when I left that we've been on the fight of our lives and it had been exhilarating, it had been utterly challenging, it had been heart-breaking at times when we'd lost people but it had taken us into a sort of level of operational experience and the ability to do things that that we've probably had not had before. Now that's come at a cost and our hearts go out absolutely to every single one of those and families who've lost somebody or to the soldiers who've been dreadfully wounded. So, I think on one hand it's given us a level of operational experience that is second to none, it's given us real cultural awareness of how to work within another country, it's given us the ability to work with another nation's security forces, it's taught us how to build capabilities in capacity. I think all our advisors have done some really, really important work. There's one caveat is that we are been completely consumed by Afghanistan and rightly so for the first few years and what we need now to do is to come back out of that and understand where the right lessons from Afghanistan matter for our army across, so that we're not just consumed about fighting in this way because there's only one way of fighting and in the future we will need to fight in a range of different ways.”

The Afghan National Security Forces

Brigadier Rob Thomson, Deputy Commanding General for Regional Command Southwest, gives an overview of how the ANSF have progressed.

'Well most militaries in the world have a school where they train their officers, for us in the UK it's the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst…The UK has been exporting the…Sandhurst model around the world for over a hundred years, to, in fact, 50, at least 50 other countries. Some with a great deal of success, some with no success at all...The Afghans were keen to also have their officers trained in the British way, along the lines of Sandhurst. In 2012, President Hamid Karzai and Prime Minister David Cameron signed a memorandum of understanding where we undertook to deliver the creation of an Afghan National Army Officer Academy in the Sandhurst mould. Therefore, I am out here with a group of about, eventually, a hundred or so mentors, and we are helping to develop the institution itself…but also invest an awful lot of time and effort in making the instructors - and the instruction is delivered nearly totally by Afghans -…here are as best as we can make. We haven't just taken the Sandhurst programme and then Afghan-ised it and given them that - far from it. When it comes to things like the war studies, all the examples are examples from their own history; many of them actually beating the British, which they always find highly amusing…The other trick, of course, is to make sure that the programme is structured in a way that is flexible…So it must be written in a way that the Afghans are able to make sense of it when we are not here, and they are able to make adjustments to it, and so on. That's not wanting to belittle their ability to do that, far from it, but people change over in this academy just as they do in every other academy, so it must be future-proofed as well.'

Training an Army

Brigadier Bruce Russell, Chief Mentor at the Afghan National Army Officer Academy (ANAOA) at Qargha, near Kabul, explains how the ANAOA was established and how it is run.

"Some surprising things I've come across is the female sergeants in their training last year, haven't actually been taught the same stuff that the male sergeants have, purely because their jobs here are so limited. They haven't been taught tactics or field craft. They've been focused towards the non-front line skills that the women in the defence force need here. The other thing would be they're really keen to learn. The opportunity for the female sergeants to do an instructor training course with male Sergeants, they jumped at because they were all learning the same thing, and they were curious to see if they would be taught the same as the men…Most of the women have family or friends in the military, and so they've got the support of their families. There are some women who have kept it away from their families, and there's one girl that only has her mother that knows. That's just one, but most of them do have family that encourage them to join, and are happy for them to join, and that's fantastic but I'm hoping that women across Afghanistan can all join at one stage."

Training Women in the Army

Captain Danielle Huggins, Australian Defence Force Female Platoon Commander Mentor at the ANAOA, explains the differences in the training between male and female Afghan soldiers and the background and circumstances of the women who join the Afghan National Army.

"We're trying to encourage the Afghan National Police from being paramilitary to being more civilian orientated, being more community focused. That really means listening to what the people want. That really means…having a bit more respect for the rule of law than perhaps, currently, has been in place in Afghanistan…In Afghanistan, most of the policing is done on checkpoints. In Kabul, for instance, every few hundred metres there will be another checkpoint. There will be another static police officer. The concept of patrol and response really isn't what the Afghan National Police, certainly in Kabul, are about at the moment. We're trying to offer, where appropriate, different alternatives to just purely checkpoint based policing, with a man with a gun, effectively."

Training the Police

David Oram, Head of Kabul Field Office for the European Union Police Mission in Afghanistan (EUPOL), explains how EUPOL is trying to change Afghan policing methods.

"I think at the moment, they're officers that we're training, but they're only employed in admin roles, or making tea, so for me, the hope would be that they would do what we did a number of years ago in the British Police Force. You have a women's department where they have specific roles that are more suited, because I think I'd be unrealistic to say that they'd have an equal role to males in this culture because I don't think that will happen. But we've now got our first Head of a Police District that is a female…I know a lot of them; their families still don't know they're in the police force. We had a female who has been in 27 years and her family still doesn't know that that's what she does. She just goes out in civilian clothing in the morning and comes home, so they have no idea, and they all have to have the permission of their families…so it is a difficult process and it's not respected. It's a pretty low-level - they're similar [seen in a similar way] to prostitutes. That's how they're seen, so it's not a credible career for females in Afghanistan really."

Female Afghan Police Officers

Christine Edwards, Senior Police Advisor for the European Union Police Mission in Afghanistan (EUPOL), describes her hopes for the future role of female Afghan police officers and the huge challenges faced by Afghan women in performing these roles.


“I think the, this operation has had a huge effect on the British Army and the British military as a whole. I think we're a lot more professional, I think that we work much better together in terms of the air force and the army and the marines we’re much better in that respect. I think we've got a lot of combat experienced young men and women who are, you know terrific, and they've proven every time how good they are, and I think that's one of the lasting takeaways that I'll have from this operation having commanded young men and women it's just how good they are, how good our people are.

In terms of personally what I got out of this operation I think I've learned four main things about a counterinsurgency campaign. First of all, the importance of, of in this case the Afghans owning, owning the problem. I mean if we try and impose any solution on them it won't work. Secondly, the importance of all the lines of development as we would say so ensuring that governance as well as economic development are looked after and it's not just security, they work in tandem. Thirdly is understanding the operational environment. It's so complex out here, far more complex than other areas in which I serve and trying to understand that because if you understand that or have a good understanding of that it is easier to, to try and succeed. And finally, and I think this is something that we've all learnt is, is it's a concept of time. How long these things take, and this is an odd, there's never a solution that is going to provide a miracle overnight and it's about working hard it's about understanding what the ends are and achieving that through hard work and working closely with the Afghans.”

Reflections on Handing over Security

Lieutenant General John Lorimer, Deputy Commander of ISAF, talks about the future prospects of the ANSF.

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