By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
Oct. 19, 2007 - The number of internationally supplied trainers for Afghanistan's soldiers and police is slated to quadruple, as the number and capabilities of those security forces continues to grow, a senior U.S. military officer told Pentagon reporters here yesterday. Plans are to augment the 22 training teams already operating across Afghanistan with another 80 teams, Army Maj. Gen. Robert W. Cone, the commanding general of Combined Security Transition Command Afghanistan, told reporters.
Boosting the number of qualified instructors that train Afghanistan's soldiers and police is among that country's key security-related needs, Cone said. Several nations provide personnel for the training teams, he said, noting that each team has about 16 people.
"My charter, with the leadership of the Ministry of Defense and the Afghan army, is to build a quality force that is capable of defending Afghanistan," said Cone, who has held his current command for about four months.
Afghan Minister of Defense Gen. Abdul Rahim Wardak accompanied Cone at the news conference. The two leaders are in Washington to confer with senior U.S. government officials.
The Afghan National Army has about 50,000 soldiers, Cone said. That force, he added, is slated to increase to 70,000 troops by the end of 2008. Training emphasis will now be shifted from individual instruction to the training of larger units like battalions and brigades, he said.
Cone is bullish about the progress of the Afghan National Army. Afghan soldiers, he pointed out, "are performing well in combat, fighting side-by-side with coalition forces."
"They are taking the lead in many combat operations," Cone said of Afghan military troops.
Wardak echoed Cone's compliments, noting Afghanistan's soldiers are doing a great job and are well-received by the citizenry. "The Afghan National Army has been one of the success stories of the last few years," Wardak said. "The ANA continues to develop and grow in confidence and professionalism."
Afghanistan's soldiers are members "of a tested and proven fighting force," Wardak said.
Afghanistan's army does require updated weapons and other material, the minister acknowledged, as well as fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft to transport troops.
"Imagine what we could do with better equipment and additional help," Wardak said.
The Afghan National Army has achieved great success, Cone agreed, noting efforts are under way to improve the country's police.
"And now, we are applying greater emphasis towards achieving the same success with the Afghan National Police," Cone reported. "To date, more than 70,000 policemen are serving the citizens of Afghanistan."
Establishing a professional Afghan police force is essential to establishing security, Cone said, noting the police "are the critical interface at the district and community level."
U.S. and coalition officials are supporting Afghan-government initiatives designed to increase efficiency and promote ethical conduct among the country's police, Cone said. These efforts, he noted, involve performance and conduct reviews, as well as improved training and pay for good police officers.
Cone told reporters that terrorists in Afghanistan have been soundly thrashed each time they've confronted coalition or Afghan troops in battles. The terrorists' increased use of suicide bombings in Afghanistan is likely "an act of desperation," he said, due to their failures in conventional fighting.
Wardak agreed with Cone, noting suicide attacks in Afghanistan have doubled since last year. About 80 percent of suicide attacks are committed by foreigners, the minister pointed out. Afghans are turning their backs on terrorists of all stripes, he said, whether they're Taliban or foreigners.
The Afghan minister also told reporters his government is now studying reports that indicate Iran may be supplying materials used to make powerful bombs employed by extremists in Afghanistan. Iranian government officials have denied any involvement, he noted.
Meanwhile, insurgents are determined, Wardak said, and are now employing small-unit tactics dispersed over larger areas, along with improvised explosive devices and suicide bombers, in renewed efforts to destabilize the government.
Yet, Wardak is confident that Afghan, U.S. and coalition security forces "will deliver victory" to the Afghan people.
"In the not-too-distant future, Afghans will be able to increasingly carry a greater share of the burden" in the fight against the terrorists, Wardak predicted, given anticipated increases in training, equipment and support.