In light of recent events, were ANA capabilities overmodelled in this game?

Afghanistan '11 changes the paradigm of wargaming and manages to bring Counter-Insurgency and guerrilla warfare to your screen, properly represented thanks to a revolutionary gameplay formula!
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kongxinga
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In light of recent events, were ANA capabilities overmodelled in this game?

Post by kongxinga » Sun Aug 15, 2021 1:31 am

In light of recent Geopolitical events in Afghanistan, does anyone think that the ANA in this game was made too strong? The endgame of Afghanistan 11 was a full US withdrawal, but leaving the heavy equipment, and any ANA spec ops/ infantry you had. Your ANA Spec Ops could still train more infantry post withdrawal, but the US heavy equipment was what you had at that point (you could still get Arty and Light Vehicles). With this, you fight off a big Taliban push with ANA forces, and hopefully win.

Now with a withdrawal, 10 years past Afghanistan 11's date, and instead of winning or even holding off the Taliban counter attack, we have what looks like a complete rout. Instead of trading favorably (often decisively so when Veteran ANA infantry ambushes Taliban regulars) like in game, it seems even greater numbers of ANA are no match for smaller numbers of Taliban. And all those US heavy equipment are or are soon to be Taliban battle trophies.

In hindsight, did the model miss something about the actual real world capability of the ANA? Was the experience/blooding mechanic realistic? Aka, are there even real units of the ANA who have been in battles and been blooded enough that they can fight effectively? Thinking back, I think ANA troops need to start at a severe disadvantage to both warlord Militia and Taliban troops (some who have been fighting since the 80's) that spawn from events. In contrast to ANA troops who probably should start very green, not quite at the level of civilians handed rifles, but probably basic training dropouts level. If ANA start at experience level 1, on the normal difficulty, militia should start at 3, and Taliban 4,5. My recollection was even green ANA did well against Militia and Taliban for the most part, which is probably not accurate.

They probably should have a random chance to be frozen in place each turn, unless a US infantry troop was next to them, reflecting their unwillingess to act, similar to the initiative mechanic in AGEOD where a stack is frozen if the general fails and initiative check.

Most importantly, they need to receive a massive debuff or malus, when operating without the nearby presence of Coalition troops. This malus may be reduced a bit near the Main base or Fobs. This means bad things in the final ten turns, and to win it is not what we needed in game (a core of Veteran ANA Spec Ops and infantry) but probably a ridiculous number of green/raw ANA recruits, and then you probably will still lose, especially if these recruits lose and switch sides turning into a trashy Taliban unit.

Because, where is this hardened core of ANA spec ops and Infantry in real life? I don't think this was a bad model, since in Syria you had Tiger forces being a hard hitting core, supported by less than ideal troops of various quality. Is there a ANA Tiger forces equivalent?

Was building highways to provide job opportunities to the villages the right thing to do? It seemed all those highways backfired and allowed the Taliban to advance faster on better roads. Just trying to reconcile the clear disconnect between expectations and reality.

Maybe Hearts and Minds needed to affect ANA combat capabilities and so this is a case where the H+M was too low and therefore ANA capabilities were handicapped, and therefore the events playing out is what happens when the player severely messed up and loses. God darn it, learn 2 play scrub. :wink:

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Re: In light of recent events, were ANA capabilities overmodelled in this game?

Post by AndrewNguyen1984 » Sun Aug 15, 2021 5:15 pm

Sadly and completely yes. And now this game needs a completely overhaul.

kongxinga
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Re: In light of recent events, were ANA capabilities overmodelled in this game?

Post by kongxinga » Mon Aug 16, 2021 2:57 am

I do remember the couple of white papers on COIN that provided some of the basis for the Hearts and Minds model in here and Vietnam 65. I am beginning to think that there isn't a good generalizable model for each COIN conflict.

This hearts and Minds model does work well for Vietnam (ARVN did put up a good fight), but when moved to Afghanistan, seemed to break somehow, despite the numerous adaptations to make it work in Afghanistan. And it isn't just this game. The famous serious COIN wargame series, of which A Distant Plain modelled Afghanistan, also got it way wrong as well (has anyone managed to take Kabul as the Taliban player ever?). And also pretty much all the published papers in the last two decades.

I think mechanics wise, Hearts and Minds need to be tracked on local troops not just local villages, and all hearts and minds values need to be hidden from the player to keep him guessing. A low enough H+M on the ANA troops and it starts first malingering, then actively, secretly working against you (planting mines secretly, reporting your positions to the insurgents, green on blue, then outright defecting). ANA need to behave like militia in this game. After the engagement, they have a chance to just disperse, win or lose. This chance decreases as it gains veterancy. And it should not gain veterancy on losing like it does now (aka needs to behave like how US units gain veterancy). And losing in the final 10 turns should give a good chance it just defects and turns into a low quality Taliban unit.

Some people mentioned that the Taliban got all the good recruits everytime they pass by villages. This probably should be reflected in game too. IE a recruitment mission is spawned, and if the Taliban or Militia unit reaches the village, it gets a new veteran unit, and the levels of current and future recruits from that village all drop a level. The level drop needs to apply even if you have already recruited units from the village to reflect lower quality replacements due to the Taliban cherry picking motivated recruits. It can also represent ANA soldiers deserting to go home to protect their families.

Afghanistan is known for producing hard fighting men like nobodies business, so if the COIN player even needed to train people it should have been a warning sign. Clearer in hindsight.

In any case, I don't think the Taliban could have advanced so fast without real and significant support from the population. Either that, or people knew the real life 'players' had painted themselves into a low H+M downward spiral, and did not want to report the real conditions.

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Re: In light of recent events, were ANA capabilities overmodelled in this game?

Post by Nijis » Fri Aug 20, 2021 4:11 pm

I'd argue that the August rout of the ANA has more to do with what happened off-map than the units' tactical capabilities. I'm not saying that Afghanistan 11 reflects them accurately, just that this was a strategic rout, not a tactical one. It doesn't reflect day-to-day firefights any more than, say, the performance of the German army in late 1918 reflects their performance throughout the war. Basically, it's what happens after you lose enough district-level operations in a campaign, or the Taliban player wins a game of Distant Plain. It's like when an army reaches its rout level in Field of Glory. You don't game out what happens next, because it's totally one-sided but also qualitatively different than the earlier parts of the battle.

The ANA has done the brunt of the fighting since around 2014-15. Sometimes they've fought well, the commando corps in particular. I believe the commandos were primarily responsible for retaking Kunduz in fairly fierce fighting in 2015, and there were a couple of last stands amid even the current collapse. https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/ ... -collapse/. What happened in the last weeks was the cumulative result of years of attrition, the morale shock of losing air and logistical support, and - maybe most importantly - side deals by local commanders who saw the writing on the wall. Ironically, almost the same thing happened to the Taliban - panic, surrenders, side deals - when the US entered the civil war in 2001 and their Northern Alliance adversaries suddenly had B-52s on their side. Given the importance of re-alignment, post-2021 Afghanistan could turn out to be what Distant Plain would consider a Warlords victory - a Taliban flag flies in Kabul, but the old tribal and militia leaders, including lots of pre-Taliban anti-Soviet mujahideen leaders of the 1980s, still rule in the villages.

That said, if I were rating individual units for a wargame, I'd give the average Taliban unit a higher Combat Factor than an average ANA unit. The active ANA in an average 2011 scenario probably only represent a fraction of the garrison in that particular district, though, so in game terms I'm not sure that their capabilities are overrated in that particular context - a joint district-level operation that takes place before 2015. Maybe the ANA units are companies and the Taliban units are platoons, or the on-map Afghan units represent the fraction with aggressive field commanders while the others are getting high back in the provincial capital.

Afghanistan 2011 isn't really a simulation of the politics of the Afghanistan war. It's a game about route security, and a good one that illustrates a few points about insurgency - but the hearts and minds aspects are there as an incentive to get your troops out to remote valleys and hunt the enemy. Maybe it represents local perceptions of who is on top right at the moment, but certainly not affection or loyalty. The "economic system" also simulates only very local incentives. Sure, if you kill Taliban and destroy poppy fields, the brass will give you more points for helicopters. But maybe you're pulling those resources away from other commanders who could have used them better in their districts to do something that people will appreciate more, even if it's less splashy. The poppy field burning in particular in AF2011 alludes to how the Pentagon set incentives for local battalion or company commanders that weren't always helpful in winning the war.

For what it's worth, polling suggests that the Afghan government had thin support, but even fewer Afghans liked the Taliban. The Taliban did develop a reputation for delivering fair if harsh justice - ie, if you had a land dispute with a bigwig or a cop harassed your daughter, you'd be better off going to them than the state. That's often the reason cited why the organization, which didn't exist until 1994, outfought the mujahideen groups in the 1990s civil wars. But for most other issues, you'd probably get better governance from the Kabul republic.

The problem was, though, that those who did like the Taliban included a lot more of the young men who had an affinity for violence. When I lived in Iraq, I spoke a lot with my Iraqi male friends about who in their neighborhood joined the insurgents. It sounded like it was the same ones who took their lunch money in elementary school. It's better to have 10 percent of the population who are willing to die for you, especially if that 10 percent are young and male, than 50 percent of the population who think you're the best of a bunch of crappy options.

I thought that this was a good piece on the Taliban's internal culture: https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archi ... aign=share. The ability to sustain a narrative that gives your movement a sense of purpose that lasts for 27 years of war, however, is maybe beyond the scope of any wargame. I think the game Labyrinth may try to cover the very big picture, so I'll give that one a shot.

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