By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
Nov. 25, 2008 - The performance of Afghanistan's army and constabulary continues to improve while more soldiers and police are trained and fielded, the senior U.S. military officer responsible for their training said today. Afghan National army and police units "are leading in the fight here today," Army Maj. Gen. Robert W. Cone, chief of Combined Security Transition Command Afghanistan, told reporters during a satellite-carried news conference at the National Press Club here. Combined Security Transition Command Afghanistan's mission is to partner with the Afghan government and the international community to train Afghan security forces.
Afghan army units take the lead "in about 60 percent of the operations they participate in," Cone said, noting Afghan soldiers have proved themselves to be "an effective fighting force."
Meanwhile, the ANA is undergoing expansion, Cone said. About 68,000 Afghan soldiers are now in the field, he said, with plans to field more than 130,000 trained troops eventually.
Last year, Cone said, about 26,000 Afghan National army troops were trained by U.S., coalition and Afghan instructors working for Combined Security Transition Command Afghanistan. Another 28,000 or so Afghan troops will be trained this year, he said.
At the same time, Afghan army equipment is being upgraded, Cone said, noting that up-armored Humvees and modern NATO-issued weapons and other gear are replacing older vehicles and weaponry derived from the Warsaw Pact.
Similar progress is being realized with Afghan National police units, Cone said.
"They, too, are leading in this counter-insurgency war," Cone said. The police, he said, are bearing the brunt of casualties during engagements against Taliban or al-Qaida fighters.
"The Afghan National police currently suffer about 56 percent of those killed in action here in Afghanistan," Cone reported, noting that police casualties "are more than double the rate for either the ANA or coalition forces."
Cone suggested that Afghan soldiers have a training advantage over their police counterparts. The United States and its partner nations have been training Afghan army troops for about five years, Cone said, while Afghanistan's police training only began about a year ago.
More than 22,000 Afghan police have been retrained over the past year, Cone said, noting that number amounts to more than a quarter of Afghanistan's national police force.
"We're very pleased with our progress, but we have more to do," Cone said. Ongoing police-reform and improvement programs, he said, include training for district officers as well as border police.
Fifty-two companies of Afghan border police will be trained up over this winter at a cost of $70 million, Cone said, while 165 permanent border facilities will be constructed at a cost of about $800 million.
Afghanistan's long, rugged eastern border with Pakistan has proved problematic in recent months, as al-Qaida and Taliban fighters camped in Pakistan have been conducting cross-border raids into Afghan territory.
"We believe the increased security and stability along the border and throughout the country will be worth the investment in Afghanistan," Cone said.
Though Afghan soldiers and police continue to improve, Cone said, there's still a long way to go, and a sustained international effort is necessary to achieve ultimate success.
"This is especially true in reforming the Afghan National police," Cone said. "We welcome the international community involvement, especially in providing police trainers and mentors."