As the last coalition troops get set to leave Afghanistan, the Afghan National Army is bracing for its inheritance. The 100,000 international soldiers who remain in the country (roughly half of them American) have already moved into a largely advisory role, leaving the less seasoned Afghan forces to lead the fighting and draw the enemy fire; according to the Afghanistan NGO Safety Office, the first three months of 2013 were almost twice as bloody as the same stretch of the previous year, but only 4 percent of the attacks targeted foreign military. In October, photographer Sebastiano Tomada Piccolomini, who has been embedded with the Afghan army on and off since 2009, spent time with a unit patrolling a part of Eastern Afghanistan where the Taliban terrorizes travelers on a crucial highway linking the region to Kabul. Though the Afghan soldiers appeared combat-ready, the reality was less encouraging. “They have the small-arms firepower, but not the technology nor the air support,” he says. “They look like a real army, but they still have a lot to learn.” —Nora Caplan-Bricker
An Afghan National Army member on duty in Laghman Province.
An Afghan soldier fires artillery rounds at a Taliban position in Laghman Province.
The shirt of an Afghan National Army soldier dries at a remote combat outpost in Laghman Province.
Karim Khan, 36, Parwan Province, Member of the 201st Kandak Corps
Sakander, 25, Baghlan Province, Member of the 201st Kandak Corps
Aidmohammed Hawry, 25, Jalalabad, Member of the 201st Kandak Corps
Samsurahman, 19, Peshawar, Member of the 201st Kandak Corps
“Let the Americans go,” Samsurahman says. “We will finish our job.”
Zai Antazar, 22, Jalalabad, Member of the 201st Kandak Corps
Wahdat Kunari, 20, Kunar Province, Member of the 201st Kandak Corps
Hasmatullah Dawar, 30, Kabul, Member of the 201st Kandak Corps
Mohammad Halem, 23, Kunar Province, Member of the 201st Kandak Corps
Zaljinwalah Sawim, 18, Kunar Province, Member of the 201st Kandak Corps
Sajaudeen Adullah, 35, Badakshan Province, Member of the 201st Kandak Corps