By Judith Snyderman
Special to American Forces Press Service
March 17, 2010 - The NATO training mission in Afghanistan needs more trainers to build a high-quality Afghan military institution, the deputy commander of the training effort said yesterday. Army Maj. Gen. David Hogg said U.S., NATO and Afghan partners have established military academies, officer candidate schools and specialty programs, but hundreds more trainers are needed. During a March 16 "DoDLive" bloggers roundtable, Hogg said more than 800 of 2,325 trainer positions requested from NATO remain vacant.
The U.S. Defense Department considers the training mission so important that it may bridge the gap for the short term, he said. "In January, the United States Army deployed to us an infantry battalion to help thicken our training structure," Hogg said.
He added that pressure is being placed on Afghan authorities to meet their commitments to supply trainers, and Afghan officials have pledged to pull 30 noncommissioned officers from each army corps to augment the staff in basic warrior training courses. Even without the full complement of trainers, Hogg cited progress.
For example, this week the National Military Academy of Afghanistan, which is modeled on the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., will graduate 212 army officers. A ceremony for new lieutenants to sign their orders symbolized a new merit-based military culture, Hogg said, because assignments were drawn in a transparent lottery.
Hogg said new officers will be distributed among the fledgling corps of Afghanistan's military service. Many will be deployed in Helmand and Kandahar provinces, a few dozen will become pilots in the Afghan National Air Corps, and six will fill instructor positions at the academy.
Hogg also talked about changes improving the quality of the Afghan force down to brigade levels. He said the consolidated fielding center training has been extended from eight to nine weeks, not only to facilitate scheduling so Afghan commanders and U.S. partners can work in tandem with new soldiers, but also adding additional time for collective training, including improving literacy.
"The neat thing about this whole thing is the Afghans very much want to be literate," Hogg said. "It is a motivating factor keeping them in the army and also bringing them into the army. There is a thirst to become literate."
Taliban rule essentially destroyed Afghanistan's educational system, he noted.
"And what you have is a bubble of folks who did not have the opportunity to go through elementary or high school," he said, "and now we have a new generation that is starting to get educated."
In the meantime, Hogg said, instructors at regional basic warrior training centers offer demonstrations and hands-on training. And for those who are literate, training manuals have been translated into Dari.
Next year, enrollment at the National Military Academy of Afghanistan will top 600 cadets, including some 40 future medical officers, Hogg said. He noted other positive signs, including a pilot program to train the first 22 female Afghan military officers that begins next month and the opening of a number of specialty schools for officers. New branch schools are producing needed expertise in areas of armor, artillery, signal, military policing and engineering.
Despite training shortfalls, Hogg said, he believes professional military education already is paying off. Feedback from the field indicates that the quality of the battalions and of the soldiers themselves is improving, he said. Hogg added he expects the training gap for the Afghan military to close over time.
"As the quality of the institution increases, you'll see a decrease in the need for trainers and advisors and contractors," he said.
(Judith Snyderman is assigned to Defense Media Activity's emerging media directorate.)