Afghans are renowned for being the best fighters in the world and they have proved this throughout centuries, as they battled and worsted empires which have tried to dominate them; in recent times the Moghuls, Persians, British, Russians and now the Americans. It is, therefore, always surprising to find the Afghan army displaying a lack of professionalism and effectiveness. The fault has always been with the leaders who have tried to turn the army into an instrument for personal aggrandisement. From the late 1920s, national security agendas were decided by internal struggles for power among Afghan elites, who leveraged external military aid to gain or retain power and to assist in conflicts with neighbouring states over disputed borders. The main rot began with Daud (known in the Afghan bazaar as the 'Mad Sardar) who used the Pashtunistan issue in the fifties as an excuse to expand the army, with Russian assistance, and then as a means to take over the government . With such a policy, personal loyalty was the only criteria for advancement and merit took a backseat. To make matters worse, the army was 80 percent Pashtun which made it a symbol of elite domination rather than a national army. The Russians were, however, playing a double game and infiltrated the defence forces with communist cadres, who took over the government in 1978. Ethnicity, however, trumped ideology and the communists (PDPA) divided into Khalq and Parcham depending on whether they were Pashtun or non-Pashtun, with each side trying to eliminate the other. By the time 3000 Parchamis were killed, the Soviets intervened directly, not realising the extent of Afghan hatred for the outsider. As a result, the army disintegrated through mass desertions and defections (the 17th division in Herat in March 1979 and the 15th division in Kandahar in January 1980). Whatever little was left was stacked with 80 percent non-Pashtuns, making it more unrepresentative than ever. With the Russian withdrawal, the army was divided among the warlords with the Khalqis surprisingly joining the Taliban; an example once more of ethnicity triumphing over ideology. The US intervention in 2001 has led to another attempt to rebuild the Afghan security forces on which $25 billion have so far been spent, half of which has been for the Afghan National Army (ANA). However, the result has been almost as bad as during the Soviet period. The International Crisis Group (ICG) has tried to analyse the reasons for this failure in its report of May 2010 entitled A Force in Fragments: Restructuring the ANA. The main reason identified by the ICG was the early domination of the Ministry of Defence by commanders loyal to the Tajik-based Shura-i-Nazar (founded by Ahmad Shah Masood), combined with bureaucratic stagnation inherited from the Soviet era . As a result, reforms were impeded and resources monopolised by a handful of power brokers further reinforcing ethnic factionalism. In addition, there have been chronic shortfalls in training personnel, faulty equipment, slow infrastructure development, poor logistics and crippling attrition rates (currently at 25 percent). Commanders have also been fudging the recruitment rolls in order to attach the pay. The Northern Alliance entered Kabul on the coat tails of the US forces with 50,000 troops under Defence Minster Qasim Fahim (currently Vice President) and quickly ensured a predominance in the security agencies. The Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) programme targeted non-Pansheri units. In April 2002, where the Northern Alliance was dissolved and turned into an eight corps structure comprising 60,000 troops which formed the backbone of the Afghan military forces, while the command and control fell under the Shura-i-Nazar. Under Fahim the units became organs of patronage with allies and supporters being rewarded with officer commissions. The result was a weak chain of command over a mix of militias, plagued by high desertions rates and low operational capacity. Ninety out of the first 100 generals appointed were from the Pansher valley, reigniting ethnic, regional and political factionalism within the armed forces. General Bismillah Khan Mohammed was appointed Chief of Army Staff from his post in the Shura-i-Nazar Supervisory Council while the US tried to provide the balance by supporting Abdul Rahim Wardak (Pir Gailanis party) as Defence Minister. The army has divided into four main factions; Pashtuns allied with Wardak or affiliated with the Mahaz-i-Milli-i-Islami Afghanistan, Tajiks allied with Bismillah Khan and the Shura-i-Nazar, Uzbeks allied with Lt Gen Hamuyun Fauzi and Hazaras allied with Lt Gen Baz Mohammed Tawahari. Bismillah Khans following is by far the largest and his apparatus includes at least six out of 11 brigade commanders and 12 out of 46 battalion commanders. The US has tried to maintain the ANAs ethnic breakdown to 44 percent Pashtun, 25 percent Tajik, 10 percent Hazara, eight percent Uzbek and 13 percent others. Crisis Group analysis, however, shows the reality to be 43 percent Pashtun, 41 percent Tajik, eight percent Hazara, four percent Uzbek and five percent others. Tajiks continue to dominate the officer and NCOs ranks where the other ethnic groups are underrepresented. These discrepancies fuel factionalism and deepen patronage networks Antonio Giustozzi writing in the RUSI (Royal United Services Institute) Journal of December 2009 agrees with this analysis maintaining that, the re-building of the Afghan National Army is at the heart of NATOs long-term strategy to stabilise Afghanistan. Billions of dollars have been spent in training, mentoring and equipping a new volunteer army which is representative of Afghanistans diverse ethnic groups and operates in the nations interests. Yet, at the end of 2009, the Afghan army is beset by a host of problems including widespread illiteracy, ethnic rivalries, drugs use and poor combat effectiveness. The writer is former ambassador.