Gates Visits Afghan Army Training Center
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
March 10, 2010 - For the last stop in his visit to Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates opted to take a first-hand look at the Afghan National Army training center here. Gates and Afghan Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak watched the 2nd Kandak of the 215th Brigade demonstrate their training.
After watching the Afghan soldiers, Gates addressed the formation. "The future of Afghanistan is in your hands," Gates said to them. "I know you will make your fellow Afghans proud. We will be steadfast brothers in arms and friends."
Training the Afghan national security forces is a strategic objective for the United States and international partners so that Afghans can be responsible for Afghanistan. "This is your country, and ultimately your fight to win," Gates said.
The goal is for the Afghan National Army to grow to 170,000 and the Afghan police to grow to 134,000 by October 2011. Gates said he supports Afghan President Hamid Karzai's goal of 300,000 in the security forces, calling it realistic, though ambitious.
The Afghan soldiers Gates spoke to will leave Blackhorse and join the fight in Helmand province. A kandak is roughly the size of a battalion, and Camp Blackhorse is where these units form.
"Recruits come here from basic training and join with their senior leaders," said Army Lt. Col. Brett Sylvia of Combined Security Transition Command Afghanistan. The units marry up with their equipment and go through increasingly complex training, starting with squads and moving on to platoons, companies and ultimately the whole kandak.
At Blackhorse, the kandak also marries up with its training team. This unit is moving to Helmand and received 17 Marines as its training team. "These teams are crucial to continued training and to the effectiveness of the unit in combat," Sylvia said.
Training the Afghans to take over security is the favored strategy for the United States and the international community, and the Afghans want that responsibility. The Afghans are accelerating the growth of the Afghan army.
"We hope in the future the army will stand on its own feet and take the burden from the international forces," Wardak said during a joint news conference with Gates.
The Afghan defense minister said he is optimistic about the future. The strategy is clear, he added, and he noted that working with the coalition has allowed Afghan officials to identify problems and craft responses.
Gates stressed how much already has been achieved in Afghanistan and that the surge into the country has only just begun. In the past three years, the number of international forces in Afghanistan has increased by over 100,000, he said, and training over that period has built the size of the Afghan army and increased its capabilities.
"Keeping in perspective about how much has already been achieved, the breadth of international support for what we're doing here is critically important," he added.
The strategy to increase U.S. and international forces in Afghanistan to conduct counterinsurgency operations is important, Gates said, but "the training that is going on at this facility is even more important."
Gates said the degree and pace of progress will determine when the transition to Afghan control will begin. "Between now and July 2011, we might be able to begin the process of transitioning to Afghan security control," he said. "But between now and July 2011, it would have to be conditions-based. We will begin that transition no later than July 2011, but the pace will depend also on conditions on the ground."
Since December, thousands of Afghans have volunteered for the army, and Gates expressed his gratitude to the soldiers here for making that decision and assured them of continued support.
"Your fellow Afghan soldiers are currently demonstrating valor on battlefield and assuming security responsibilities," he said. "The international community is here to support your efforts and help you develop forces."