By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
Jan. 12, 2010 - Training Afghan forces to assume security responsibility is a key component of President Barack Obama's Afghanistan strategy, and American paratroopers are working with Afghan units to speed that day. Army Col. Brian Drinkwine, commander of the 82nd Airborne Division's 4th Brigade Combat Team, told Pentagon reporters today via video teleconference that the training and mentoring program is going well.
The unit is the Army's first brigade conducting this type of training and mentoring in Afghanistan. The 5,000-member unit covers an area half the size of Texas in southern and western Afghanistan.
The unit works with Afghan soldiers and police. Once Afghan recruits receive basic training, they move to units called kandaks – the equivalent of U.S. battalions – where the real training takes place. The troopers of the 82nd live with their partnered units, plan with them, train with them and conduct operations with them, the colonel said.
The members of the units conduct community meetings with tribal leaders and local elders. They work at "gaining the trust of the Afghans and increasing the confidence and trust of the people of Afghanistan in their own security forces," he said. "We partner at all levels and on all operations."
Drinkwine said the Afghan army is well respected and many units are ready to operate independently, with little or no coalition support.
"We also found ourselves working with quite a few of the police forces that were well-led and competent," he said. "Unfortunately, this is not true in all cases and in all areas, and in those units where more work and emphasis is needed, this is where we've been focusing, whether it's training or leadership development, to increase their effectiveness."
The unit is making gains and needs to continue working in partnership with more and more Afghan units, the colonel said.
The unit arrived in August and has grown to a joint military and civilian team. Since the president approved the Afghanistan strategy on Nov. 30, the unit has had greater clarity, not only in the operational objectives and strategy, but also in how to meet tactical objectives, Drinkwine said.
"I see us today as a multinational, multicapable unit, and every day [Task Force] Fury and our Afghan partners work alongside and inside with the Italians and the Spanish in the west, the British, Canadians, Australian, Dutch, the U.S. Marine Corps and Romanians in the south, all working towards common goals," he said.
The unit trains the 205th and 207th Afghan National Army Corps, several provincial- and district-level police units, two border-police brigades and an Afghan national civil order police brigade. "I'm encouraged daily by the progress each unit is making, as we continue to grow together," he said.
Corruption remains a problem, the colonel acknowledged, but he said it may not be as big a problem as many people think.
"I think there is likely a greater perception at home and amongst the Afghans that it is deeper and more widespread than it really is," Drinkwine said. "What our Afghans have internalized is that we must all hold ourselves and one another accountable. And we are all encouraged, as the Afghans have taken the lead, to combat corruption from top to bottom in directly dealing with this issue."
The Afghan police remain a problem, Drinkwine said, noting that police training began later than that of the army. Historically, he said, the police were less respected than the army, and that continues to be a problem.
Continued progress is entirely up to the Afghan servicemembers themselves, the colonel said.
"Our main effort here is to work with the Afghan security forces, so they can win this fight for their country and their people," he said, "and to also help build capacity for fair governance and set conditions for development and growth."
Afghan soldiers and police must be confident, he added. "They have to believe in themselves, be trusted by their people and be feared by the enemy," he said. "And I see it every day, in many areas where my brigade soldiers work and live."