By Judith Snyderman
Emerging Media, Defense Media Activity
June 2, 2010 - Just six months after activating the NATO Training Mission- Afghanistan, one of the command's deputy commanders said that changes to the training program have produced marked improvements in the quality of troops entering the Afghan National Army.
During yesterday's DOD Live Bloggers Roundtable Army Brig. Gen. Gary Patton, NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan and deputy commander for the Army Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan discussed the results of the first 180-day assessment. Patton highlighted remaining challenges, along with some significant achievements.
"We now see an army that is meeting its growth objectives and lowering its attrition rate," Patton said. He credited the NTM-A's standards-based approach as an instrumental factor in the positive turnaround. The approach includes raising the ratio of instructors to students and requiring recruits to pass tests after they graduate from basic training.
Patton stressed that the focus on quality has not diminished the ability to meet growth objectives. He said the Afghanistan National Army may hit its October 2010 target number of 134,000 troops in August.
"We are on a glide path to exceeding our current goals for growth," he said.
Although the numbers look terrific, Patton said many challenges remain. He said he is especially concerned with a "critical shortfall of non-commissioned officers and [regular] officers right now in the ranks of the Afghan Army." There was a good reason, Patton said, to prioritize the growth of the infantry over officers during this past year. "We wanted more boots on the ground, and an infantry force is a force that you need in a counter-insurgency fight," he said.
Next year, he said, aggressive training plans are in place to develop leaders, including up to 4500 officers and 15,000 non-commissioned officers. For instance, he said, the NTM-A is taking the top 150 recruits from every basic warrior training class and sending them directly into the non-commissioned-officer training course.
Patton also pledged that 2011 will be "The Year of the Enabler." He said training programs will turn out specialists in military intelligence, military police, route clearance and engineering. All of these specialties, he said, will be critical to building a future self-sustaining military.
He added that efforts to train-the-trainer are underway. Patton pointed out that the name of the Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan includes the word, "transition" for a reason. Eventually, he said, NATO will withdraw and a solid foundation of military training schools will be critical to the Afghan army's ability to endure.