By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service
March 5, 2009 - The Afghan National Army continues to improve as it assumes more security responsibility, the U.S. commander in charge of the training effort said yesterday. Since its inception about six years ago, the corps of Afghan soldiers has grown to an 80,000-strong force that increasingly takes the lead role in security operations, Army Maj. Gen. Richard P. Formica said.
Formica -- who commands Combined Security Transition Command Afghanistan, responsible for Afghan national security force growth and training -- acknowledged that progress with the army has outpaced progress with the police.
"As we look out towards 2009 and into 2010, we must sustain the momentum that is with the Afghan National Army while adding focus to the Afghan National Police," he told reporters here via video teleconference.
Appearing with Formica, who assumed command in November, was Canadian army Brig. Gen. Alan Howard, assistant commanding general for Afghan National Army development. Howard, who has helped to oversee Afghan National Army development for nearly a year, said the army has undergone an "amazing evolution," has garnered the respect of the local populace and continues to expand its capabilities.
"The Afghan army is certainly and fully participating in security operations here in Afghanistan. And in many cases, they actually lead," he said, adding that the corps is focused on growing to 134,000 soldiers by December 2011.
In recent weeks, the Afghan army has shown its humanitarian capabilities, assisting flood victims in northern Afghanistan and acting as first responders in some cases of domestic crises, Howard said.
"They're also extremely well respected by the local population," he said. "Each time I'm out with them, I am simply amazed on the interface that they have with the locals."
U.S. Army Col. Stephen Yackley, deputy to the commanding general for Afghan National Police development, said the national police force is focused on three areas: security operations, reform and development.
Afghan police helped to provide security recently for voter registration ahead of an election cycle slated for August. Police also work side by side with their army counterparts on routine security missions throughout the country, he said.
But the command also is focusing on tamping down corruption among the police ranks. The corruption often stems from the mishandling of police salaries, with about half being paid in cash, Yackley said.
"Sometimes that pay wouldn't arrive," he explained. "Sometimes because of literacy problems, the policemen would get less than they were supposed to. So there was potential for skimming in that area."
The colonel said nearly 60 percent of the police force is receiving their salaries via electronic transfer, which is expected to reduce the level of corruption related to pay.
But widespread illiteracy -- with CIA estimates citing 60 percent of Afghanistan's male population as unable to read and write -- exacerbates more than the issue of corruption.
"We've got good people, hardworking people, in many cases, but literacy does hold us back in some of the development areas, and we're trying to address that as we go along," Yackley said.