By Ian Graham
Emerging Media, Defense Media Activity
July 21, 2010 - The influence of the U.S. Army and Marine Corps in the development of Afghanistan's military forces is possibly most apparent in its training regimen.
Decades ago, a very top-rank-heavy Soviet-style system dominated the Afghan military, Army Sgt. Maj. Michael Logan, with NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan, said. But now, he said, thousands of new Afghan troops are being trained by a strong corps of noncommissioned officers, a signature of the American military.
Logan discussed how U.S.-style training has played a central role in the Afghan army's growth and development over the past year during a July 20 DoDLive Bloggers Roundtable.
When Logan arrived in Afghanistan last year, there were about 1,950 NCOs in the Afghan National Army; the goal now is to reach 15,450 NCOs by November 2010. The objective, he said, is professionalization of the Afghan army. Leader development, or "growing" NCOs, he explained, is a key aim of this mission.
Logan said it's indicative of a movement by NTM-A to "train the trainers," and create a corps of on-the-ground leaders that'll form the backbone of the Afghan army, the way the U.S. Army relies on its own NCO corps.
"It's important that we continue to support and develop the NCOs because they're going to make differences that we can't from the outside, looking in," Logan said.
Logan said the mission has been so successful in the past year because of this shift in focus. Some 20,000 Afghan soldiers are in training right now, about 3,300 of them to be NCOs, with one instructor for every 29 trainees – primarily Afghans. Last year, Logan said, there were far fewer instructors in general and nearly no Afghan trainers.
Better-training of Afghan NCOs and other enlisted members contributes to a higher level of trust among Afghan soldiers for their lower-level leadership, he said, and produces a more respectful, professional environment across the force.
"Within the training realm, when it comes to professionalizing the [Afghan] army ... that's affecting them on the outside," Logan said. "So that's making a difference."
NTM-A isn't without problems, though. Logan said that increased Afghan army recruiting efforts have created a need for more NCOs that can't be instantly satisfied. Another issue, he said, involves the need to have troops in the field, leaving them unavailable to take the necessary time to train.
"We do face certain challenges, mainly that leader development is outpaced by accelerated force generation, and operational concerns and training environments present us with difficult choices," Logan said.
One method of producing more Afghan army NCOs, Logan said, involves a program that allows in-the-field promotions for soldiers who demonstrate leadership ability. In some cases, as with literacy training, instructors are able to join with deployed units to teach soldiers when they have down time.
Logan said the plan is to allow Afghan NCOs to continue to take over training missions, until NATO's involvement is unnecessary. The success NTM-A is having with NCO training, he added, can be seen in the quality of enlisted soldiers now finishing basic training.
For example, Logan said, in the past year marksmanship qualification levels have jumped from about 35 percent to 95 percent. Creating standards-based training, with clear goals soldiers have to reach, he explained, provides metrics to measure their abilities. And, increasing the abilities of NCOs and lower-enlisted soldiers, he added, contributes to increased capability across the force.
"As the army continues to build, they gain the benefit of the time and experience that comes with seasoned and effective leaders," Logan said. "You see changes where they start to embrace some of the practices they've learned, and it has been time that has made the difference. Over time, they're gaining confidence in what we're teaching them."