Prior to the Soviet-Afghan War, the Afghan defense had long relied on the USSR for military equipment and advisers. In 1978 the Afghan army numbered 110,000 men, but desertions reduced it to 50,000 by 1986. Many deserters joined the mujahideen in fighting a guerrilla war against the Soviet occupation until 1989. During the subsequent civil war, elements of the former army, National Guard, border guard, national police, and ethnic militias were broken up among the various mujahideen factions. Thereafter, mujahideen commanders maintained control over their own private militias, which enabled them to hold power over most of the country outside Kabul.
In early 2002 Kofi Annan, secretary general of the United Nations, and Hamid Karzai, then the interim leader of Afghanistan, discussed the urgent need to form a well-trained and disciplined Afghan police force and army. In 2003 U.S. and French forces began training recruits for a new multiethnic Afghan National Army (ANA). Karzai ordered all private militias to disarm and merge into the ANA to help bring a goal of 70,000 soldiers into the national army. Many regional commanders resisted disbanding their private militias, however, and the disarmament and army-building process progressed slowly which continually weakened the Afghan defense.