By Lalage Snow, NATO Chanel

After three decades of conflict, many young Afghans have only ever known war. But for the first time since its inception, The Afghan National Army has recruited a new breed of soldiers for a year of rigorous training at the new Afghan National Army Officer Academy – modelled on the British Royal Military Academy Sandhurst.

Officer Cadet Faizel Manaman from Kunduz left his job as a radio broadcaster to fight against the insurgency. “I came here because my father was also serving as a soldier until recently so it was one of my dreams to work like my father and serve my country with honour,” Manaman said.

His brother in arms, Officer Cadet Nazar Mohammed was already a foot soldier in Uruzgan. His motivations were also personal.

“Two of my friends were killed in action in a roadside bomb in Uruzgan four years ago. It really saddened me. We must fight whether it is with old weapons or limited ammunition. We must fight,” Officer Cadet Nazar Mohammed said.

Meanwhile, Officer Cadet Hajji Mohammed’s patriotism propelled him forward. “My dream was to always to serve my people, and defend the borders of this country. That’s why I decided to become an officer and become a good leader,” said Haji Mohammad.

The new officer academy on the outskirts of Kabul opened its doors in October this year attracting over 10,000 applicants. 920 were put through their paces in a series of mental and physical tests. Only 270 made it.

Officer Cadet Manaman said, “The exams were really hard especially the physical test. I didn’t think I would make it but tried really hard. With the help of God I passed, and here I am today.”

Major Arabuddein Officer in Command, 3 Tolay 1st Kandak said, “In the beginning they were just civilians, they didn’t know anything or have any discipline or know how to march but I see a lot of changes now. Today I can see that they are wearing their helmets and carrying their rifles in the correct military manner and this makes me very proud.”

The year-long course will certainly push the cadets’ mental and physical boundaries. But Officer Cadet Nazar can see the benefit of tough training.

“Training is really hard but it is for our benefit. We are being taught desert tactics which is a real challenge and really difficult but our instructors keep saying that the more you sweat in the training ground, the less you will bleed in the battle,” said Officer Cadet Nazar.

And at five weeks into their training, this first exercise is a real test of their ability.

Captain Reg Dunthorne, 3rd Tolay 1st Kandak mentor said, “We’re extremely happy from day one. All their equipment was issued, they came out quite early. They’ve worked extremely well and have adapted to the environment quite well.”

But the academy is not only creating the future military leaders, it is also uniting the usually divided ethnicities of Afghanistan through real nationalism and pride.

“There are people in this academy from all over Afghanistan. From north, south, east and west and this touches my heart. They all have the national spirit and the same uniform and the national unity which makes me really happy,” said Officer Cadet Hajii Mohammed.