By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
Dec. 9, 2009 - Better pay for Afghan national security forces and a government-led emphasis on national service appear to be paying off in stronger recruiting, the commander responsible for recruiting and training them told reporters here today. Army Lt. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, who heads up Combined Security Transition Command Afghanistan, cited signs of promise since the Afghan government announced major changes in its pay system in late November.
In addition to increasing base pay, the new pay structure includes combat pay for troops operating in the most dangerous provinces. In Helmand, Ghazni and Kuduz provinces, for example, new recruits now earn the Afghan equivalent of $240 in U.S. dollars a month – twice what they previously earned, Caldwell noted.
New Afghan soldier recruits in Kabul and Herat provinces will earn the equivalent of $210 per month, and in Parwan, where no combat pay is authorized, $165.
This compares to $120 all new recruits previously received, regardless of where they operated.
Similar pay raises have been instituted to better compensate Afghan soldiers throughout the rank structure, Caldwell said, expressing hope that they'll encourage the retention critical to developing leaders.
Caldwell noted similar pay increases to bring Afghan National Police salaries on par with those of their Afghan army counterparts.
The new pay structure comes as welcome news, he said, as U.S. and NATO trainers work to build professional, capable Afghan national security forces. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates calls this effort key to turning the security lead over to the Afghans – a critical step toward the drawdown of international troops here.
Yet Gates told reporters during the flight here he was surprised to learn during last week's congressional hearings that the Taliban had been paying more than the Afghan National Army, and particularly the Afghan National Police.
According to Caldwell, the Taliban typically pay $250 to $350 a month to their members.
"So raising the pay of police, and putting in place a number of additional incentives and bonuses... for the Army, such as combat pay, ... clearly will help," he said.
Army Lt. Gen. David M. Rodriguez, commander of International Security Assistance Force Joint Command and deputy commander of U.S. Forces Afghanistan, today noted attrition challenges, particularly in the south and east, where fighting is the heaviest. "Where it's hard, you can't recruit," he said. "Where it's hard, you can't retain."
Recruiting trends since the pay-structure changes point to signs of promise.
During the first seven days of December, 2,659 recruits joined the Afghan army – halfway toward the month's 5,253-recruit objective, Caldwell said.
In November, the army fell 21 percent below its recruiting goal, recruiting 4,303 members but falling short of its 5,442-recruit objective. In October, the army fell 14 percent short of its 4,408-recruit objective, signing on 3,811 members. September figures were particularly dismal: 65 percent short of the goal of 2,400 members, with only 831 new soldiers being recruited.
Caldwell said it's too soon to declare a trend since the new pay scale took effect, but conceded he's feeling "very, very positive" about its impact, at least initially, on recruiting. It also appears to be having an impact on retention. Some troops who had gone AWOL, for example, have rejoined their units.
Caldwell and Rodriguez agreed that the vast majority of Afghan soldiers and police aren't drawn simply by dollars. Most want only enough money to care for their families and welcome the opportunity to serve their country, they said.
The Afghan government is capitalizing on this through outreach aimed at promoting national service.
In January, U.S. and ISAF trainers will begin a literacy program for Afghan security forces that Caldwell said he expects to be another incentive to recruiting, as well as retention.
These efforts will be an important step toward the goal of 287,000 Afghan national security forces by July 2011, he said. That's when President Barack Obama expects to begin reducing the U.S. force commitment in Afghanistan, subject to conditions on the ground.
Although Afghan security forces are a lynchpin toward making good on that commitment, Caldwell conceded that success in Afghanistan will require more than just military might.
"Putting more security forces out there, is not, in itself, a sufficient answer," he said. "It is essential; it sets the conditions. But judicial reform has to start taking place. And the people will have to have confidence that this government is going to resolve disputes and they have a place to go and arbitrate things. They have to feel things are fair and equitable out there. There are going to have to be some basic services provided out there that aren't present today.
"So there are other things that are going to have to take hold, and those are going to take time, too," he continued. "So it is a team effort, with all of us – the international community, the ... Department of Defense and all the elements of the U.S. government, working collaboratively together."