By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
April 23, 2007 – The progress the Afghan National Army is making was on display for the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during a visit to the Kabul Military Training Center here April 21. During a visit hosted by Afghan National Army Brig. Gen. Amin Wardak, the commander of the center, Marine Gen. Peter Pace toured the training center, viewed the barracks and spoke to some of the classes.
Wardak described some of the classes the center hosts from basic military training to a kandak (battalion) command course. Pace visited classrooms for Afghan noncommissioned officers learning to become drill sergeants, former mujahideen leaders learning how to be military officers, and computer course for officers and NCOs. Army Command Sgt. Maj. William J. Gainey, the chairman's senior enlisted advisor, accompanied Pace.
The general told each class he visited that it was an honor to meet them. "Every U.S. soldier, sailor, airman or Marine I speak with wants to know when they can get more Afghan soldiers to work side by side with them," Pace said in one of the classrooms. "You are warriors, and they recognize that. We look forward to working with you to keep your country free and safe."
The Afghan National Army seemed like a pipedream in early 2002. After 35 years of war, civil war and internecine war, coalition forces arrived with the Northern and Southern Alliances to take over a country often labeled as the poorest one in the world. The odds were stacked against the government of President Hamid Karzai.
"Now there are around 35,000 soldiers trained, equipped and doing their missions," said Army Maj. Arnold V. Strong, the chief of the U.S. training and operations center.
Strong is one of about 180 U.S. and coalition servicemembers working with the Afghans as part of the U.S. Training Assistance Group. The group is part of Combined Joint Task Force Phoenix and works out of a nearby forward operating base called Camp Alamo.
The Military Training Center is huge. There are 8,700 recruits in the center going through basic training. This is up from last year, when the center graduated about 650 soldiers per month. This month, 2,000 soldiers will graduate, Strong said.
Strong said the Afghans are working to build the Afghan National Army up to the goal of 70,000 by the end of 2008. It is not the coalition training Afghans, but Afghans who train their countrymen.
"All of the classes are Afghan-led," Strong said. "The exception is the Kandak Commanders Course. Contractors teach that course. The Afghan kandak commanders are all out fighting the war."
Coalition experts trained the trainers in the center's early days. Now Afghan instructors are putting together mobile training teams that will travel to units to give refresher training, provide updates and help each corps establish its own professional military education program, Strong said.
Other courses at the center include squad leader training, platoon sergeant training, basic officer courses, staff officer courses, and 16 others classes.
In addition to the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Canada, New Zealand and Romania are involved in training Afghan forces at the Kabul Military Training Center.
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