Friday, February 19, 2010
Positives in Afghan Army Training
By Ian Graham
Special to American Forces Press Service
Feb. 19, 2010 - Though training an Afghan army essentially from the ground up has been a difficult undertaking, an Army general involved in the effort said yesterday that he's seeing positive results. Army Maj. Gen. David Hogg, deputy commander of NATO Training Mission Afghanistan, spoke about the status of the Afghan army, as well as challenges and plans for its training, during a "DoDLive" bloggers roundtable.
More than 17,000 Afghan recruits are in basic training at regional training centers that instruct 1,400 recruits at a time. The Afghan army also has an officer candidate school and a noncommissioned officer education program, including a sergeants major academy.
The Afghan army currently has about 104,000 troops, and officials expect to have 134,000 soldiers by the end of October, Hogg said.
"When we throw in our other schools from the NCO and the officers' side, counterinsurgency [and the] command and general staff college, we've got a total of almost 20,000 Afghan army folks in training right now," Hogg said.
Afghanistan also has a military academy established – 213 cadets will graduate March 16. On March 22, a new class of 600 cadets will begin the four-year program.
"They'll graduate, and every year we'll start cranking out brand-new lieutenants from the military academy," Hogg said.
Recruiting has been on the upswing, Hogg said. In December, the Afghan army recruited 8,800 soldiers, twice what the Afghans ever had recruited previously. Part of that, he explained, is a matter of the season; winter and fall typically are high recruiting times in Afghanistan.
"The real test on whether or not the Afghans can make the numbers is going to start happening probably in the April-May time frame," he said. "When we hit the spring [and] summer, we'll see how that goes. But right now, the Afghans are saying they're going to make their numbers."
So far, the general said, they have. "We're 'bursting at the seams' for training," he said.
Because of that success, Hogg said, there's the challenge of the training infrastructure undergoing stress. But the bigger issue, he explained, is getting the infrastructure and recruits to train leaders. A four-year program, he said, can provide good training, but it can't teach the skills and experience required to command an army.
"Developing leaders, that is a big deal," Hogg said. "It's a main effort for us, both in the officer and NCO corps. It takes awhile to build leaders, and so we're working that very hard, but it's a challenge."
Challenges also exist in the Afghan army's logistical system – the infrastructure simply isn't there yet, Hogg said. Personnel issues -– including establishing an effective military pay system -- have been a problem as well.
Afghan military officials also have some difficulty rotating soldiers out of combat to teach soldiers from their experiences. Hogg likened the latter issue to a problem the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command is experiencing.
"We have the same challenges here as far as getting folks out of the fight into the training environment," Hogg said. "And what we're trying to do is get the Afghans to rotate fresh with combat experience and get combat experience in the training center."
Less-visible training initiatives in Afghanistan, Hogg said, include the commando training programs and Afghan army air corps instruction. The commandos are trained similarly to U.S. Army Rangers, and typically are partnered with Special Forces units as they train.
"[Special Forces units] will go through the training with the Afghans, and then they will deploy to their operational area -- wherever that [unit] is designed to go," Hogg said. "And so that partnering piece really makes a difference as far as the quality of the force."
The commandos also get special equipment, such as night-vision devices, Hogg said.
The air corps, Hogg said, already is assisting in operations in Afghanistan's Helmand province. They currently use Russian Mi-17 and Mi-35 helicopters and T-27A cargo aircraft, essentially a miniature version of the C-130 Hercules. Though Hogg said he expects the Mi-35s to be phased out in lieu of better equipment, he expects to get more Mi-17s, totaling 56 when the air corps' training program is operating at 100 percent.
"It takes awhile to grow pilots, and they are currently in training," Hogg said. "We don't see those really going operational, if you will, probably until this summer, just on the fact that we need to have the training base."
In spite of challenges, Hogg is confident the training programs under way will help the Afghan army immensely. He said the commitment of the Afghans is clear, and that's key to the mission's success.
"This is much more complicated than anything I saw in Iraq the year I was [in Iraq]," Hogg said. "But we are getting the trainers that we need. ... The Afghans are getting it. If you look at the casualty rates for the Afghan soldiers and the Afghan police, there is no doubt in my mind that they are committed to their country.
"I mean, they're out there fighting, and they are dying, and they are being wounded right along with our soldiers," he added. "And so we will continue this mission."
(Ian Graham works in the Defense Media Activity's emerging media directorate.)