KABUL, Afghanistan – Afghan Ministry of Defense senior leaders gathered at Camp Eggers in September to approve the findings of a first of its kind Afghan-led working group charged with analyzing how the Afghan National Army keeps its wheeled vehicle fleet up and running.
The effort brought dozens of Afghan army officers together with coalition advisers from NATO Combined Security Transition Command – Afghanistan and NATO Training Mission – Afghanistan to tackle difficult fleet logistics questions during regular working shuras, or meetings, that ran throughout the summer.
In the end, the Afghan-led group produced a list of 30 recommended actions to help ensure proper tracking and maintenance of tens of thousands of vehicles and spare parts as coalition forces draw down and Afghans shoulder an increasing share of their own support needs.
“We’ve made quality progress toward building a great logistics system,” said ANA Col. Mohammad Nabi Ahmadzai, a senior acquisition, technology and logistics officer who helped lead the shura and presented the group’s findings to MoD leaders.
“There are still challenges, but those challenges are now much clearer, and it has been a great honor to work with the coalition on addressing these things.” Nabi said. “Once we have [defense] minister approval, we’ll move toward the steps to practical implementation.”
The 30 recommended actions stem from seven support areas directly affecting wheeled vehicle readiness; areas like training, maintenance and proper measurement and reporting. Proposed fixes included items like facility and equipment assessments, the standardization of forms, periodic inspections and instituting more robust readiness measurements. The general consensus among the working group was that, while it’s vital for the ANA to show real progress in each area, successfully improving its training opportunities would be paramount.
“Driver maintenance and mechanic training is very, very important for us,” Nabi said. “And after soldiers have received training, we need to ensure they are not assigned to some other role where they cannot take advantage of the training they have received.”
Training recommendations include mandatory driver instruction and the possible deployment of driver maintenance training teams that would visit ANA troops around the country to help unit commanders ensure each qualified driver knows how to conduct basic preventive maintenance and upkeep on their vehicle.
Providing that basic knowledge to soldiers is expected to significantly decrease the frequency of more serious repairs. Other training recommendations include the creation of an accurate driver training database and incentivizing education with driver badges, promotions or special privileges to encourage drivers to seek out and complete the necessary instruction.
“There has been a huge amount of very important work accomplished. Many problems were identified, as well as the solutions to fix these problems,” said Senior Executive John Johns, CSTC-A’s director of Afghan National Security Forces Sustainment. He said the leadership briefing represented “the beginning of the turn between talking and the actual execution of an implementation plan.”
Johns said coalition advisors envisioned the shura as a “complex problem solving event” that would serve three priorities simultaneously: make lasting improvements to wheeled vehicle readiness, provide collateral benefit to the management of other Afghan weapons systems, and give Afghan defense leaders a forum to develop structured program management techniques and learn how to evaluate, track and maintain forward momentum toward seeing recommended actions reach full implementation. He said tackling wheeled vehicle maintenance represented a relatively contained topic that “was something real that people could focus in on.”
From the beginning of the shura, Afghan officers remained engaged and took the process seriously, Johns said. From problem identification and root cause analysis to identifying solutions and discussing executable actions, coalition advisers saw consistency in participation levels throughout the seven weeks of meetings.
“We tried to create the situation where Afghans were in the lead,” Johns said, noting that coalition advisers were still needed, but only to guide the problem solving rather than solve problems themselves.
While Afghan solutions may not always look like coalition solutions, the ability of the country’s security forces to identify, examine and generate real solutions to overcoming obstacles will undoubtedly determine their ultimate success in defending the Afghan people from aggressors.
Given the time and manpower requirements of holding a logistics shura of this type, Johns said coalition advisers probably had the capacity to tackle one topic at a time. He said he expected the next project to focus on Afghan National Police health care and equipment challenges.
“This focus on sustainment is critical. We don’t want our investment in Afghanistan lost because we couldn’t reach a point of ANSF self sustainment,” Johns said. “Everything we and the Afghans have put into establishing effective operating forces could collapse if we don’t get this right.
“Logistics is like air. As long as you have it, you’re not thinking about it. But as soon as you don’t, it’s all you think about.”