By Ian Graham
Special to American Forces Press Service
Feb. 24, 2010 - Expanding the Afghan army and teaching it to become a force capable of defending Afghanistan in the air and on the ground is no small undertaking, and that's why nine nations are working together in that mission, a top officer in the effort said yesterday.
During a "DoDLive" bloggers roundtable, British army Brigadier Simon Levey, commander of Combined Training Advisory Group Afghanistan, described the coalition of trainers under his command, the training venues he oversees and the progress the Afghan army is making toward self-sufficiency.
The training advisory group's mission is to advise and monitor Afghan National Army Training Command in establishing a training system capable of developing a professional, modern army.
"I'm responsible for every part of growing the army and army training, along with the Afghan National Army Training Command," Levey said.
Levey said his organization focuses on three areas, or "lines." The first – the one they're currently working – is growing the army. After enough troops are recruited and given basic combat training, he said, his teams will work on developing – further specializing and training – the Afghan soldiers.
Levey said he's looking forward to the development portion, as officials expect easily to reach the 134,000-member target for Afghan army recruitment.
"The army will not be balanced," he said. "It will be an infantry-centric force, so we'll have to rebalance it and develop future parts of the army."
The final part, what Levey called "institution building," is the continued development of future army components and laying the groundwork for Afghans to take the reins and control the army and its programs.
"We want to make sure we've put into place something that will last long after we've all departed," Levey said.
The training effort requires great international collaboration, Levey said. In addition to the United States and Great Britain, France, Germany, Turkey, Romania, Mongolia, Canada and Estonia have provided trainers and mentors. Recently, NATO asked its member nations to provide 2,000 more trainers.
Levey said he asked for the new trainers to help in the development stage of training the army. The new trainers will open the various specialized schools needed to keep Afghan forces operating and competitive.
"All the schools we need to open that aren't open: armor, artillery, infantry school, logistics, human resources, finance, engineer, signal, military police, legal, health. ... I could go on; there are plenty of schools that need to be open," Levey said. "That's what I need the instructors for."
Levey said the plan is to have instructors come to handle the intellectual side of training in these specialized fields so that by October they're collectively ready to teach the 134,000 Afghan recruits and have the first classes graduated by December.
In the effort to grow an officer corps, three methods of entry are involved, Levey said. One is the National Military Academy of Afghanistan, which so far has received 3,000 applications for 600 seats.
The second source is an officer candidate school. Soldiers who are literate and pass physical tests -- and are vetted to make sure they aren't enemy infiltrators -- can learn leadership skills.
The third source for officers is what's called the "mujahedeen reintegration course," in which former paramilitary officers are brought up to speed on how the new, modern Afghan army works.
"They're extremely valuable to us, because as we're building the new army as quickly as we are, we have the senior officers and the junior officers we're training, but it's the middle-order officers that come in really handy," Levey said.
Levey said his organization continues to work to deliver what Afghanistan needs so that it can stand on its own and the NATO forces can leave the country. He said he's confident the training portion will be successful in creating a self-sufficient force to keep insurgents and international criminals at bay, providing a stabilizing factor to Afghanistan and the surrounding nations.
(Ian Graham works in the Defense Media Activity's emerging media directorate.)