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Afghan Armed Forces
2011 Afghan Independence Day.jpg
President Hamid Karzai observing the honor guard of the Afghan Armed Forces during the 2011 Afghan Independence Day in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Afghanistan (orthographic projection).svg
Founded 1709
Current form 2002
Service branches Afghan National Army
Afghan Air Force
Headquarters Kabul
President Hamid Karzai
Defense Minister Bismillah Khan Mohammadi
Military age 18
Available for
military service
6,800,888 males, age 16 to 49[2],
6,413,647 females, age 16 to 49[2]
Fit for
military service
3,888,358 males, age 16 to 49[2],
3,641,998 females, age 16 to 49[2]
Reaching military
age annually
378,996 males,
357,822 females
Active personnel 200,000 (June 2012)[1]
Budget $11.6 billion (mostly aid)[3]
Percent of GDP 1.9%
Foreign suppliers

United States

 Soviet Union
 United Kingdom
Related articles
History Military history of Afghanistan
Soviet war in Afghanistan
War in Afghanistan (2001–2021)

The Afghan Armed Forces are the military forces of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. They consist of the Afghan National Army and the Afghan Air Force. Being a landlocked country, Afghanistan has no navy. The President of Afghanistan is the Commander-in-Chief of the military, acting through the Ministry of Defense that is headed by General Bismillah Khan Mohammadi. The National Military Command Center in Kabul serves as the headquarters of the Afghan armed forces. The military of Afghanistan currently has around 200,000 active soldiers,[1] which are expected to reach 260,000 by 2015.[4][5]

The current Afghan military originates in 1709 when the Hotaki dynasty was established in Kandahar followed by the Durrani Empire. The Afghan armed forces fought many wars with Persia and India from the 18th to the 19th century. It was re-organized by the British in 1880, when the country was ruled by Amir Abdur Rahman Khan. It was modernized during King Amanullah Khan's rule in the early 20th century, and upgraded during King Zahir Shah's forty-year rule. From 1978 to 1992, the Soviet-backed Afghan army fought with multi-national mujahideen groups who were being funded by the United States and Saudi Arabia while trained by the Pakistani Armed Forces. After President Najibullah's resignation in 1992 and the end of Soviet support, the military dissolved into portions controlled by different warlord factions and the mujahideen took control over the government. This era was followed by the rise of the Pakistan-backed Taliban regime, who established a military force on the basis of Islamic sharia law.

Following the US-led invasion and the removal of the Taliban in late 2001, the military of Afghanistan is being rebuilt and reformed by NATO military alliance, mainly by the United States Armed Forces. Despite early problems with recruitment and training, it is becoming effective in fighting against the Taliban insurgency. As of 2011, it is slowly becoming able to operate independently from US-led NATO forces. The administration of U.S. President Barack Obama announced in 2009 that it would increase the number of Afghan troops and police to 400,000 active units.[6] It also announced plans to spend $1.3 billion on building several military bases for the Afghan army.[7] This includes an upgrade of more than $100 million to Bagram Air Base, the largest military base in the country, as well as a new $70 million base in Farah near the border with Iran.[7] In the meantime, the Afghan military began seeking latest fighter aircraft and other advanced weapons."[8]


Afghan royal soldiers of the Durrani Empire.

Afghans have served in the militaries of the Ghaznavids (963–1187), Ghurids (1148–1215), Delhi Sultanate (1206–1527), Mughals (1526–1858) and the Persian army.[9] The current Afghan military traces its origin to the early 18th century when the Hotaki dynasty rose to power in Kandahar and defeated the Persian Safavid Empire at the Battle of Gulnabad in 1722.[10]

"The sun had just appeared on the horizon when the armies began to observe each other with that curiosity so natural on these dreadful occasions. The Persian army just come out of the capital, being composed of whatever was most brilliant at court, seemed as if it had been formed rather to make a show than to fight. The riches and variety of their arms and vestments, the beauty of their horses, the gold and precious stones with which some of their harnesses were covered, and the richness of their tents contributed to render the Persian camp very pompous and magnificent.
On the other side there was a much smaller body of soldiers, disfigured with fatigue and the scorching heat of the sun. Their clothes were so ragged and torn in so long a march that they were scarce sufficient to cover them from the weather, and, their horses being adorned with only leather and brass, there was nothing glittering about them but their spears and sabres..."[11]

Jonas Hanway1712–1786

When Ahmad Shah Durrani formed the Durrani Empire in 1747, his Afghan army fought a number of wars in the Punjab region of Hindustan during the 18th to the 19th century. One of the famous battles was the 1761 Battle of Panipat in which the Afghans invaded and decisively defeated the Hindu Maratha Empire.[12] The Afghans then engaged in wars with the Punjabi Sikh Empire of Ranjit Singh, which included the Battle of Jamrud in which Hari Singh Nalwa was killed by Prince Akbar Khan. During the First Anglo-Afghan War, British India invaded Afghanistan in 1838 but withdraw in 1842. During the three years a number of battles took place in different parts of Afghanistan.

King Habibullah Khan with the military men of Afghanistan in early 1900s.

The first organized army of Afghanistan (in the modern sense) was established after the Second Anglo-Afghan War in 1880 when the nation was ruled by Emir Abdur Rahman Khan.[13][14] Traditionally, Afghan governments relied on three military institutions: the regular army, tribal levies, and community militias. The regular army was sustained by the state and commanded by government leaders. The tribal or regional levies - irregular forces - had part-time soldiers provided by tribal or regional chieftains. The chiefs received tax breaks, land ownership, cash payments, or other privileges in return. The community militia included all available able-bodied members of the community, mobilized to fight, probably only in exceptional circumstances, for common causes under community leaders. Combining these three institutions created a formidable force whose components supplemented each other's strengths and minimized their weaknesses.[14][15][16][17]

MiG-15 fighters and Il-28 bombers of the Afghan Air Force in 1959.

After the Third Anglo-Afghan War ended, the reforming King Amanullah did not see the need for a large army, instead deciding to rely on Afghanistan's historical martial qualities. This resulted in neglect, cutbacks, recruitment problems, and finally an army unable to quell the 1929 up-rising that cost him his throne.[18] However, under his reign, the small Afghan Air Force was formed in 1924. The Afghan armed forces were expanded during King Zahir Shah's reign, reaching a strength of 70,000 in 1933. Following World War II, Afghanistan refused to join the United States-sponsored Baghdad Pact. This rebuff did not stop the United States from continuing its low-level aid program, but it was reluctant to provide Afghanistan with military assistance, so Daoud turned to the Soviet Union and its allies for military aid, and in 1955 he received approximately US$25 million of military matériel. In addition, the Soviet bloc also began construction of military airfields in Bagram, Mazar-e-Sharif, and Shindand.[19] By the 1960s, Soviet assistance started to improve the structure, armament, training, and command and control arrangements for the military. The military reached a strength of 98,000 (90,000 army and 8,000 air force) by this period.[20]

After the exile of King Zahir Shah in 1973, President Daud Khan forged stronger ties with the Soviets by signing two highly controversial military aid packages for his nation in 1973 and 1975. For three years, Afghan armed forces and police officers received advanced Soviet weapons, as well as training by the KGB and Soviet commandos. Due to problems with local political parties in his country, President Daud Khan decided to distance himself from the Soviets in 1976. He made Afghanistan's ties closer to the Greater Middle East and the United States instead.

From 1977 to 1978, the Afghan armed forces conduced joint military training with the Military of Egypt. In April 1978 there was a coup, known as the Saur Revolution, orchestrated by the Soviets and members of the government loyal to the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA). This led to a full-scale Soviet invasion in December 1979, led by the 40th Army and the Airborne Forces. In 1981 the total strength of the army was around 85,000 troops according to The New York Times.[21] The army had around 35-40,000 soldiers, who was mostly conscripts, the air force had around 7,000 soldiers and if put together all military personnel in 1984, the total strength of the Afghan military was around 87,000 in 1984.[22]


Soviet-backed Afghan troops in 1988.

Throughout the 1980s, the Afghan military was heavily involved in fighting against the multi-national Mujahiddin rebel groups who were largely funded by the United States and trained by the Pakistani Armed Forces. The rebel groups were fighting to force the Soviet Union to withdraw from Afghanistan as well as to remove the Soviet-backed government of President Mohammad Najibullah. Due to large number of defectors, the Afghan armed forces in 1985 was reduced to around 47,000.[23] The air force had over 150 combat aircraft with about 7,000 officers who were watched over by an estimated 5,000 Cuban and Czechoslovak advisers.[24]

Weapons supplies were made available to the Mujahideen through numerous countries; the United States purchased all of Israel's captured Soviet weapons clandestinely, and then funnelled the weapons to the Mujahideen, while Egypt upgraded their own army's weapons, and sent the older weapons to the militants, Turkey sold their World War II stockpiles to the warlords, and the British and Swiss provided Blowpipe missiles and Oerlikon anti-aircraft guns respectively, after they were found to be poor models for their own forces.[25] China provided the most relevant weapons, likely due to their own experience with guerrilla warfare, and kept meticulous record of all the shipments.[25]

Following the Soviet withdrawal in 1989 the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan continued to deal with attacks from the Mujahiddin.[26] For several years the Afghan army had actually increased their effectiveness past levels ever achieved during the Soviet military presence. But the government was dealt a major blow when Abdul Rashid Dostum, a leading general, switched allegiances to the Mujahideen in 1992 and together they captured the city of Kabul.[27] By 1992 the national army fragmented into regional militias under local warlords because of the fall of the Soviet Union which stopped supplying the army and later in 1992 when the Afghan government lost power and the country went into a state of anarchy.

"The fall of the Moscow-backed regime in 1992 disintegrated the state as well as the army. Bits and pieces of the fragmented military either disappeared or joined the warring factions that were locked in a drawn-out power struggle. The warring factions were composed of odd assortments of armed groups with varying levels of loyalties, political commitment, professional skills, and organizational integrity."[28]

Ali A. Jalali2002

After the fall of Najibullah's regime in 1992, private militias were formed and the nation began to witness a civil war between the various warlords, including Ahmad Shah Massoud, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Abdul Rashid Dostum, Abdul Ali Mazari, Ismail Khan, and many others. They received logistics support from foreign powers including Russia, Pakistan, India, Iran, China, France, Canada and the United States. When the Taliban took power in 1996, all the warlords fled Kabul to the north or neighboring countries. With the backing and support of the Pakistani Armed Force, the Taliban began creating a new military force purely based on Islam's Sharia law. The Taliban maintained a military during their period of control. The Taliban Army possessed over 400 T-54/55 and T-62 tanks and more than 200 Armoured personal carriers.[29] The Afghan Air Force under the Taliban maintained five supersonic MIG-21MFs and 10 Sukhoi-22 fighter-bombers.[30] In 1995, during the 1995 Airstan incident, a Taliban fighter plane captured a Russian transport. They also held six Mil Mi-8 helicopters, five Mi-35s, five L-39Cs, six An-12s, 25 An-26s, a dozen An-24/32s, an IL-18, and a Yakovlev.[31]

Current organization

Soldiers of the Afghan National Army, including the ANA Commando Brigade standing in the front.

After the removal of the Taliban in late 2001 by U.S.-led forces, a unified Afghan Army was slowly reestablished.[32] From 2002, the Afghan armed forces were reestablished by the United States and its allies. Initially, a new Afghan National Army (ANA) was created, along with an Army Air Corps. This air corps later became the Afghan Air Force (AAF). Commandos and special forces, including the ANA Commando Brigade, were also formed. Training was managed initially by the U.S. Office of Military Cooperation, followed by other U.S. organisations and then Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan, and is now being run by the U.S./NATO NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan.

The AAF was very significant before and during the 1980s but by the time of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, the number of aircraft available was minimal. The United States and its allies quickly eliminated any remaining strength or ability of the Taliban to operate aircraft. With the occupation of airbases by American forces it became clear how destitute the air force had been since the withdrawal of the Soviet Union. Most aircraft were only remnants rusting away for a decade or more. Many others were relocated to neighboring countries for storage purposes or sold cheaply. The AAF was reduced to a very small force while the country was torn by civil war. It is currently being rebuilt and modernized by the US-led multinational Combined Air Power Transition Force of the US-led international Combined Security Transition Command - Afghanistan (CSTC-A).[33]

Emblem of the Afghan National Army

After the current government of Hamid Karzai took over in late 2001, there has been significant progress toward revitalization of the national military, with two official branches established. The ANA and AAF became under control of the Afghan Ministry of Defense, which forms the basic military force. By 2006, more than 60,000 former militiamen from around the country have been disarmed.[34] All heavy weapons from Panjshir, Balkh, Nangarhar and other places were seized by the Afghan government. In 2007, it was reported that the DDR programmes had dismantled 274 paramilitary organizations, reintegrated over 62,000 militia members into civilian life, and recovered more than 84,000 weapons, including heavy weapons. But the New York Times reported this information in the context of a reported rise in the number of hoarded weapons in the face of what has been seen as a growing Taliban threat, even in the north of the country.[35]

Afghan Defense University (ADU)

The ANA Commando Battalion was established in 2007. The Afghan National Development Strategy of 2008 explained that the aim of DIAG (Disbandment of Illegal Armed Groups) was to ban all illegal armed groups in all provinces of the country. Approximately 2,000 such groups have been identified and most of them have surrendered to the Afghan government or joined the nation's military.

The ANA, trained primarily by the United States Armed Forces, is presently organized into 31 Kandaks, or Battalions, 28 of which are considered combat ready. Seven regional corps headquarters exist, but at present most Kandaks operate under American or NATO supervision. The National Military Academy of Afghanistan was built to provide future officers, it is modeled after the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. A new $200 million Afghan Defense University (ADU) is under construction outside Kabul. The ADU will consist of a headquarters building, classrooms, dining facility, library, and medical clinic. In addition to this, an $80 million central command center is under construction at Kabul International Airport and is scheduled to be ready for use in 2012.

The total manpower of Afghanistan's military was around 164,000 in May 2011[36] but by June 2012 it reached around 200,000.[1] It is expected to reach at least 240,000 by 2014, and will then begin to build up reserves.[4]

As of 2012, the AAF has over 100 refurbished aircraft, which includes a number of C-27A Spartan and Antonov AN-32 military transport aircraft as well as Mil Mi-17 and Mi-24 helicopters. It also includes trainers such as Aero L-39 Albatros and Cessna 182 turbos. The manpower of the AAF is around 3600, including 450 pilots, mainly trained during the Communist era. The Afghan Air Force also has small number of female pilots.

Senior officers

Minister of Defense Bismillah Khan Mohammadi stands with the Afghan National Army senior noncommissioned officer corps at the 9th annual Sergeant Major of the Army seminar held at the Kabul Military Training Center

Former Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak, ANA Chief of Army Staff Sher Mohammad Karimi, and Colonel Shah Mahmood Rauf Wardak.

  • Defense Minister, General Bismillah Khan Mohammadi
  • Defense Ministry Spokesman, Major General Mohammad Zahir Azimi
  • Chief of Staff of the Afghan National Army, Lieutenant General Sher Mohammad Karimi
  • Deputy Chief of the General Staff, Lieutenant General Mohammad Ikram
  • Unknown position, Sergeant Major Roshan Safi
  • General Staff Chief of Personnel, Major General Abdul Abdullah
  • General Staff Chief of Intelligence, Major General Abdul Khaliq Faryad
  • General Staff Chief of Logistics, Lieutenant General Azizuddin Farahee
  • General Staff Chief of Communications, Major General Mehrab Ali
  • General Staff Inspector General, Major General Jalandar Shah
  • Surgeon General, Lieutenant General Dr. Abdul Qayum Tutakhail
  • Afghan Air Force Commander, Major General Mohammad Dawran
  • 201st Selab ("Flood") Corps Commander, Major General Mohammad Rahim Wardak
  • 203rd Tandar ("Thunder") Corps Commander, Major General Abdul Khaleq
  • 205th Atal ("Hero") Corps Commander, Major General Sher Mohammad Zazai
  • 207th Zafar ("Victory") Corps Commander, Major General Jalandar Shah Behnam
  • 209th Shaheen ("Falcon") Corps Commander, Major General Murad Ali
  • 215th Maiwand Corps Commander, Major Gen. Sayed Malouk
  • Afghan National Army Training Command, Major General Aminullah Karim
  • ANA Special Operations Command, unknown officer
  • ANA Recruiting Command, Lieutenant General Mohammad Eshaq Noori
  • Headquarters Security and Support Brigade, unknown officer
  • Command and General Staff College, Major General Rizak
  • National Military Academy of Afghanistan, Major General Mohammad Sharef
  • Kabul Military Training Centre, Brigadier General Mohammad Amin Wardak[37]

Bases and equipment

Construction of Camp Zafar in Herat province (2005)

Inside Camp Shaheen in Balkh province (2009)

Large number of military bases are found all cross the country, including major ones in Kabul, Kandahar, Herat, Balkh, Nangarhar, Khost, Paktia, Paktika, Maidan Wardak, Ghazni, Farah, and many other provinces. Some of these were built by the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) while others by ISAF and Afghans. It was reported in 2010 that there were at least 700 military bases inside Afghanistan but more were expected to be built in the coming years. About 400 of these were used by Americans and ISAF forces with the remaining 300 or so by Afghan National Security Forces.[38]

During the 1950s and 1960s, Afghanistan purchased moderate quantities of Soviet weapons to keep the military up to date. It was mainly Sukhoi Su-7, MiG-21 fighter jets, T-34 and Iosif Stalin tanks, SU-76 self-propelled guns, GAZ-69 4x4 light trucks of jeep class (in many versions), ZIL-157 military trucks, Katyusha multiple rocket launchers, and BTR-40 and BTR-152 armored personnel carriers. Also included were PPSh-41 and RPK machine guns. After King Zahir Shah's exile in 1973, President Daoud Khan made attempts to create a strong Afghan military in the Greater Middle East-South Asia region. Between 1973 to 1978, Afghanistan obtained more sophisticated Soviet weapons such as Mi-4 and Mi-8 helicopters, Su-22 and Il-28 jets. In addition to that the nation possessed great many T-55, T-62, and PT-76 tanks along with huge amounts of AKM assault rifles ordered. Armored vehicles delivered in the 1970s also included: ZIL-135s, BMP-1s, BRDM-1s, BTR-60s, UAZ-469, and GAZ-66 as well as large quantities of small arms and artillery.

Under the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan (1978–1992), weapon deliveries by the Soviets were increased and included Mi-24 helicopters, MiG-23 fighter aircraft, ZSU-23-4 "Shilka" and ZSU-57-2 anti-aircraft self-propelled mounts, MT-LB armored personnel carriers, BM-27 "Uragan" and BM-21 "Grad" multiple-launch rocket systems and FROG-7 and Scud launchers.[39] Some of the weapons that were not damaged during the decades of wars are still being used today, while the remainder have probably been sold on the black market.

Construction of ANA base in southern Afghanistan.

Site managers checking the progress of construction on the dining facility on Forward Operating Base Super FOB in Paktika province, which is able to feed 1,000 Afghan soldiers at a time. (2012)

Since 2007, the United States has been providing billions of dollars in military aid to Afghanistan. One military package include 2,500 Humvees, tens of thousands of M-16 assault rifles and body armoured-jackets. It also included the building of a national military command center as well as training compounds in several provinces of the country.[40] Canadian Forces supplied some of the Afghan National Army soldiers with surplus C7 assault rifles to bring the force up to NATO standards. As of June 2011, the Afghan National Army has returned the Canadian-made C7 in favor of the American-made M16 rifle, reason being that parts between the two rifles, despite being similar, are not fully interchangeable.

In March 2008, the New York Times reported that in the past 12 months, the main supplier of munitions to Afghanistan's army and police forces was an AEY, Inc., a company headed by a 22-year old Efraim E. Diveroli, an Israeli-American from Florida whose vice president was a licensed masseur. The Times reported that much of the ammunition was defective, and appeared to involve illegal arms dealing. The company obtained more than 100 million cartridges from stocks in Eastern European countries including Albania, Bulgaria, Montenegro, and Romania.[41]

The United States has also been largely responsible for the growth of the Afghan Air Force, as part of the Combined Air Power Transition Force, from four aircraft at the end of 2001 to about 100 as of 2011. Types include Italian-made C-27A Spartans and Russian Antonov An-32 transport aircraft as well as Mi-17 troop-carrying helicopters and Mi-35 attack helicopters. The aircrew are being trained by an American team.[42] The American intention is to spend around $5 billion by 2016 to increase the force to around 120 aircraft.

As the number of the Afghan armed forces is growing rapidly so is the need for more aircraft and vehicles. It was announced in 2011 that the military of Afghanistan would be provided with 145 multi-type aircraft, 21 helicopters and 23,000 various type vehicles. In the meantime, the Afghan military began seeking latest fighter aircraft and other advanced weapons. Defense Minister Wardak explained that "what we are asking to acquire is just the ability to defend ourselves, and also to be relevant in the future so that our friends and allies can count on us to participate in peacekeeping and other operations of mutual interest."[8]


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  34. see
  35. Kirk Semple, 'Citing Taliban Threat, Afghan Ex-Militia Leaders Hoard Illegal Arms', New York Times, Sunday, October 28, 2007, p.8
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  37. Air Force Link: Coalition forces conduct, supervise training exercise
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  39. DDRAFG Heavy Weapons
  40. Afghan News Network, USA to provide $2 billion of gear to Afghan military
  41. C.J. Chivers, "Supplier Under Scrutiny on Arms for Afghans", New York Times, March 28, 2008

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