By John D. Banusiewicz
American Forces Press Service
June 9, 2010 - With recruiting on pace to exceed goals, the increased numbers may help to ease attrition problems that have plagued the Afghan army and police, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said here today.
Gates met with U.S. and British reporters as he wrapped up a two-day visit during which he met with leaders of the new British government.
Recruiting for Afghanistan's army and police is exceeding goals, Gates said, and recent pay increases have helped with police retention. But although retention for the Afghan army has been good, attrition has been an issue for the both the police and the army, he acknowledged.
"While the numbers are growing," the secretary explained, "too often, units are sent into battle and there's no plan for them to rotate back home for a period of rest and recovery. So they're just in the fight indefinitely.
"So in a way," he continued, "the only way to get any R&R, the only way to get out of combat, is to desert. And so I think the recruiting rates and the attrition rates are very much tied to getting enough numbers in the forces that they can have a regular rotational process that allows them to get home and see their families."
But while recruiting may increase numbers for Afghanistan's army and police, Gates said, the NATO training mission in Afghanistan needs 450 more trainers to get the new recruits ready for duty. The secretary said he'd like to see NATO allies – especially those that are not contributing combat forces to the effort in Afghanistan – to step up to relieve the trainer shortfall.
"I've tried to provide a bridging capability over about a six- or seven-month period by sending a couple of Marine detachments and an Army unit to provide training," he said, "but I see that as a temporary bridge until the European trainers and other trainers can get there."
The secretary predicted a "tough summer" in Afghanistan as the troop surge continues and coalition forces go into more areas where the Taliban have been in control or have been intimidating local people and government officials. But he added that he expects sufficient progress will be evident by year's end to show that the strategy in Afghanistan is on the right track.
Many of the 30,000 additional U.S. troops President Barack Obama authorized for the troop surge have only recently arrived in Afghanistan, Gates noted, and about 12,000 more have yet to deploy.
The secretary also expressed his pleasure that Toshimi Kitazawa has remained in place as Japan's defense minister in Prime Minister Naoto Kan's new government.
"I think stability and continuity is of value," Gates said. "I've also had the opportunity now to meet with him a number of times, and I feel like we have a good relationship."
Gates also applauded Kan's announcement that he will stand by an American-Japanese government agreement made in 2006 to relocate a U.S. Marine Corps air base on Okinawa. Kan's predecessor had wanted to move the U.S. base off Okinawa entirely.
"I think now we have an obligation to work with our Japanese partners to see how we can together mitigate the impact in Okinawa of our military presence, whether it's having more training outside of Okinawa [or] whether it's noise abatement procedures," he said. "I think there are some things that we need to look at in terms of how we can be helpful, and I think that's what we'll be doing going forward."
After the meeting with reporters, Gates left London for Brussels, Belgium, where he will attend two days of NATO meetings.