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Hundreds of Afghans become army officers, vow to fight militants

Afghan cadets march at a training area near Camp Qargah on Thursday, March 9, 2017, before graduating to become Afghan army officers.

PHILLIP WALTER WELLMAN/STARS AND STRIPES

By PHILLIP WALTER WELLMAN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: March 9, 2017

CAMP QARGAH, Afghanistan — Newly minted Afghan army officers vowed on Thursday to fight and defeat the militants launching terrorist attacks across the country.

The Afghan National Army Officer Academy graduation came one day after suspected Islamic State fighters stormed Afghanistan’s largest military hospital, killing more than 30 people and injuring more than 50.

“It has not affected our morale,” said Brig. Gen. Muhammad Sharif Sharifi, the academy’s commandant. “Our graduation is our response to the enemy.”

During Thursday ceremony, 318 male and 22 female cadets marched in formation in front of attendees, who included Defense Minister Abdullah Habibi and Britain’s Vice Chief of the Defense Staff Gen. Sir Gordon Kenneth Messenger.

Attacks on Afghan security forces have escalated in recent months, and casualties have mounted.

Nearly 6,800 servicemembers and police were killed last year and about 11,800 others were injured. In the meantime, the amount of government-controlled territory has decreased, with Taliban insurgents now controlling more land than at any time since 2001, when a U.S.-led invasion ousted them from power.

“We want to defend our country, and we will be daring,” said 2nd Lt. Toofan Zahir, 23, who was named the top graduating cadet. “We are not afraid of terrorists or anyone else who wants to occupy our country, who wants to attack our people.”

Second Lt. Hamida Haidery expressed concern about recent attacks targeting Afghan security forces, “but that can’t stop us,” she said. “We will keep working in the army to stop those type of people.”

The ANAOA is modeled on the British military academy of Sandhurst, which helped establish the school on the western outskirts of Kabul in 2013. While it is Afghan-run, instructors from Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Denmark serve as mentors.

The officers course runs for a full year, with new courses starting about every four months.

Officials hope initiatives like the officers academy will help younger leaders foster a more professional Afghan army with meritocracy at its core. Ineffective and corrupt leaders, identified as one of the biggest obstacles in the fight against insurgents, have been blamed for high battlefield casualties.

“We will create a better leadership for our soldiers in the future in different areas,” said 2nd Lt. Ahmad Feroz Ahmadi, 24, one of the top-five ranking ANAOA cadets. “We hope, in the future, to make Afghanistan one of the best countries in the world.”

wellman.phillip@stripes.com
Twitter: @PhillipWellman

Afghan cadets march at a training area near Camp Qargah on Thursday, March 9, 2017, before graduating to become Afghan army officers.
PHILLIP WALTER WELLMAN/STARS AND STRIPES

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