War on Terrorism

Monday, August 23, 2010

'Training' Equals 'Transition' in Afghanistan, General Says

By Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Carden
American Forces Press Service

Aug. 23, 2010 - The training of Afghan security forces is a vital aspect in the American-led war strategy there, the U.S. commander charged with overseeing Afghan training said today during a video news conference from his headquarters in Afghanistan.

Army Lt. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, commander of NATO Training Mission Afghanistan and Combined Security Transition Command Afghanistan, updated Pentagon reporters on the training progress of Afghan forces.

Without well-trained troops, U.S. and NATO forces likely will be unable to transfer security responsibilities to the Afghan government by July 2011, Caldwell said.

"In many ways, training Afghan forces is transition," Caldwell said. "Our efforts to build and strengthen the Afghan national security force are providing the professional force that is self-reliant and has the ability to generate and sustain their force to serve and protect the people of Afghanistan."

Afghan forces are more than a year away from being able to operate independently, Caldwell said. Some Afghan combat units are leading missions throughout the country, but enabling support such as engineers, logisticians, military intelligence and other necessary elements are not yet established, he explained, and Afghan troops still rely heavily on U.S. and NATO support in those areas.

Such competencies are planned to be ready by the end of October 2011, Caldwell said. That's when the growth of the country's military is expected to be complete and able to operate without foreign aid, he added.

"It doesn't mean, in small, isolated pockets, that they can't have the lead, with coalition enablers supporting them," the general said. "But to say that they'll be able to do much more before October next year would be stretching it, only because we haven't finished the development of their force."

Afghanistan now has about 290,000 police and soldiers, about 56,000 shy of the necessary projected growth, Caldwell said. So far this year, Afghan security forces have grown by 58,000, more than double their average annual growth since 2002, he added.

Although those results seem promising, Caldwell said, anticipated retention and attrition rates of soldiers and police mean more than 141,000 recruits are needed to guarantee a 56,000-member growth, he said. Attrition losses include desertion, death and low retention, he explained. "[Attrition] poses the greatest threat to both quantity and quality of the Afghan national security force," Caldwell said.

Caldwell's team also is addressing leader development and literacy to professionalize the Afghan force, he said. Literacy is a major training issue, the general said, noting that about 18 percent of entry-level Afghan recruits can't read. Literacy will help to enforce accountability, he said.

"If a soldier cannot read, how can he know what equipment he is supposed to have and to maintain?" he said. "If a policeman does not know his numbers, how can he read and understand the serial number on his own weapon? Literacy allows personnel to provide oversight for all aspects of the force, from equipment to personnel, regulations to training."

Literacy will help to establish enabling competencies, he said, noting that trainees must be literate to attend schools for logistics, maintenance and intelligence. Literacy also will help to prevent corruption within security forces, Caldwell added. Some Afghan troops think they haven't been paid, because they can't read their back statements. About 80 percent of the army and police use electronic payment methods, he said.

But literacy training will not be a quick process, the general acknowledged.

"Through the creation of mandatory literacy courses in the past nine months, we have supported the professionalization of the Afghan national security force, and educated many students," he said. "But this will take time, and it is a sustained effort if we are to educate an entire generation of Afghans to the level necessary to create a professional force."

Producing a professional security force in Afghanistan will take time, Caldwell said. He added that he's confident in his command's capabilities and the abilities of his Afghan counterparts.

"We are realistic about the challenges that lie ahead," he said. "But we are also optimistic about what we can do, together with our Afghan partners, to begin the process of transition as the Afghan national security force takes the lead to protect and serve their people."

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