By J.D. Leipold
Army News Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 10, 2010 – The quantity and quality of officers, noncommissioned officers and recruits in the Afghan army is rising, the deputy commander of the NATO training mission in Afghanistan said this week.
During a “DoD Live” bloggers roundtable Sept. 8, Army Brig. Gen. Gary Patton cited a visit he’d just made to Afghanistan’s National Military Academy, noting that the class of 2009 came from a field of applicants numbering only 360 in 2005. The 2010 class of freshmen who will graduate in 2014 had more than 3,000 applicants.
“The interest level, the recruiting and so forth has grown tenfold just in the last couple of years. … That’s impressive,” said Patton, who noted that 212 new officers have reported to their assignments. And, he said, these officers were selected by way of a neutral lottery, not by favoritism or other practices.
Patton also said that in one week of training, the army grew by 1,326 new enlisted soldiers, gained an additional 850 new NCOs at various ranks, and brought in another 157 former officers who had graduated from a 10-week integration course for former independent fighters.
Prior to this year, Patton said, no schools existed for military specialties or NCO professional training in the Afghan security forces beyond basic training. That also is changing, as the NATO training mission looks at growing the enabler forces -- the engineering, supply and artillery units. He said an advanced logistics school opened last month, and an artillery school will be up and running in October.
“The branch schools are so important, to add to their basic training and further develop and specialize them in their military skills,” Patton said, drawing a parallel to the way U.S. Army officers, NCOs and soldiers are trained.
Even as the Afghan army continues to grow and become more professional, Patton said, the No. 1 enemy of growth is attrition – soldiers killed or wounded and those who are absent without leave. He said 97 percent of the attrition occurs from troops who go AWOL, and he blames it on a lack of leadership.
He added that a second challenge to attrition lies in generating leaders to fill “significant deficits” within the officer and NCO corps.
“In the NCO corps, we’re 10,500 NCOs short,” Patton said. “We are increasing the number of courses to create NCOs. We believe that we can do some things to reduce that deficit and get pretty close to eliminating that deficit by the end of calendar year 2011.”
The Afghan army also has an officer shortage of 4,500, which the NATO training mission is working to fix by increasing the number of courses available.
Mandatory literacy programs also are growing. Officials expect to have 50,000 Afghan soldiers enrolled in literacy training by December and 100,000 by June, Patton said. This month, he added, a pilot course was introduced to take literacy to basic warrior training. About 86 percent of entry-level recruits in Afghanistan are illiterate, the general noted.
Some 1,400 basic trainees are undergoing 64 hours of literacy training to bring their skills to the first-grade level, Patton said, though that is not sufficient to plot an artillery solution or to conduct a supply inventory as a logistician.
Patton said between basic training and advanced instruction, Afghan soldiers will receive an additional 120 hours of immersion literacy training, which would bring them to the third-grade level and place them at bare minimum standards for advanced training in military occupational specialties such as logistics or engineering.