By Kristen Noel
Special to American Forces Press Service
March 26, 2008 - The Afghan National Army will assume a leading role in the fight against enemy forces this spring, a military official said in Kabul, Afghanistan, yesterday. Enemy activity has been down in recent months due to the harsh winter weather in Afghanistan, but violence has historically increased when conditions improve in the spring, U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Robert Cone, commander of Combined Security Transition Command Afghanistan, said during a conference call with online journalists and "bloggers" Mar. 25.
Cone said the coalition was very productive in generating Afghan forces during the enemy's downtime. "The Afghan National Army decided to double its production of soldiers over the course of the winter," he said, "and that'll give us around about 8,000 soldiers that are ... beyond the training base and out into the fielded units."
The Afghan army now has a fielded force of about 51,000 soldiers, who make up 11 full brigades throughout Afghanistan, Cone said. An additional 10,000 new soldiers are in training and will be out in units in the next couple of months, he said.
He said the coalition also is training and fielding six Afghan commando units equipped with U.S. elite light-infantry tactics. Three of the six commando battalions are already in the field, he said.
"The first three battalions have acquitted themselves in operations with special forces extremely well in their performance and conduct," Cone said. "It sets an example and tells us what a well-trained Afghan National Army soldier is truly capable of accomplishing."
Afghan forces currently are leading the majority of "named operations" -- which are major operations -- in Afghanistan, Cone said. "A lot of (the operations) are small right now because the season hasn't really started," he said, "but we expect (Afghan forces) to take a very leading role here in the weeks to come."
In addition, Cone said, new equipment was acquired over the winter to reduce shortages for the Afghan army.
The coalition will be equipping the Afghan forces with M16 rifles at a rate of 10,000 new rifles per month through the summer and fall, he said. The rifles are a contribution from the U.S. and Canada, he added.
Afghan forces are also being provided up-armored humvees for protected mobility and survivability against IED attacks, which Cone acknowledged are on the rise. The Afghan army will receive 5,000 of the latest version of the up-armored humvee, he said, and the first shipments have already begun to arrive from acquisition sources.
The Afghans will begin drivers' training for those vehicles soon, he added.
Cone also said he recently completed a tour where he visited each of the Afghan National Army corps headquarters located in various parts of Afghanistan. The Afghan soldiers are "very much attuned to supporting the (International Security Assistance Force) campaign plan," he said.
"I believe that investment in the Afghan forces, in training and equipment and time, ... rewards itself," he added, "because of the fact that the Afghans now are at a point where they will be taking the fight to the enemy."
(Kristen Noel works for the New Media branch of American Forces Information Service.)