War on Terrorism

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

NATO Trainers Work to Professionalize Afghan Forces

By Navy Lt. Jennifer Cragg
Emerging Media, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, Nov. 9, 2010 – As the organization begins its second year, NATO Training Mission Afghanistan is pushing forward in its effort to professionalize Afghanistan’s security forces, the general in charge of that effort said today.

Army Lt. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, who also commands Combined Security Transition Command Afghanistan, said during a “DOD Live” bloggers roundtable today that the coming year will focus on growth, building supporting and enabling forces, and developing self-sustainable security systems and enduring institutions while continuing the process of professionalizing the force.

Now is not the time to slow momentum in the professionalization effort, he added.

“We must continue to maintain a sense of urgency that we have created over this last year,” he said. “In fact, it’s going to be required if we are going to overcome the significant challenges that still remain.”

Caldwell added that despite these challenges, he is proud of what the Afghan forces have accomplished in the past year and “what is in the realm of possible.”

Trainers from the collaborating nations have worked over the past year with their Afghan partners to field an infantry-centric army and police force capable of participating in counterinsurgency operations, Caldwell said.

“Since the activation of the NATO Training Mission Afghanistan last November, the Afghan national security force has made truly significant progress [through] all of the collaborating stakeholders, expanding their size and improving their quality,” he said.

Before the current organization was stood up, the general said, a lack of sufficient resources was a key inhibitor to success that reflected directly in the quantity and quality of recruits entering the force. The past year’s focus, Caldwell said, benefited from the creation of standards to evaluate the quality of the recruits who help to build the foundation of the Afghan forces while also creating a capacity to increase their end strength.

“Today we have built a foundation for the Afghan ministries of interior and defense to recruit, train and assign police and soldiers across their country,” he said. “All members of the Afghan national security force now attend basic training [that] includes survivability, professionalism and literacy training before being assigned to their units.”

A pay increase also has added to the professionalism of the Afghan forces, Caldwell said, providing a living wage and reducing potential for predatory corruption.

These measures enabled the Afghan army and police to attain their 2010 end strength goals three months ahead of schedule and facilitated their movement toward professionalization, the general noted.

Looking ahead to the next year, Caldwell said, the training mission’s focus will continue to center on developing Afghan forces dedicated to serve and protect the Afghan people.

During the professionalization process in the year ahead, the general said, officer and noncommissioned officer shortfalls pose a challenge, as many leaders still require training, education and experience to “embrace an ethos of service and stewardship, both hallmarks of a professional army and police force.”

He added that in the coming year, trainers will work on increasing the literacy rate of the vetted Afghan recruits. With only about 15 to 18 percent of recruits able to read and write or recognize numbers, this continues to be a challenge, Caldwell said.

“Without the basic ability to read a map, write down a weapon’s serial number or read a bank statement, Afghan national security force recruits are greatly at risk on the battlefield and become highly susceptible to corruption in garrison,” he said. Trainers are focusing the literacy training on the patrolman or basic soldier. Every recruit is tested to better gauge their literacy level. Those who score less than a first-grade level are provided 64 hours of literacy training, which is taught by Afghan instructors.

“We have instituted mandatory literacy training, [which] didn’t exist last year,” Caldwell said. “It is now implemented across all of the army and police programs.”

After they complete the first 64 hours of training, army and police recruits are provided the Afghan education ministry’s first-grade test. Caldwell said NATO trainers have found that more than 94 percent pass that test.

Despite their low literacy when first coming into the Afghan forces, the general said, the recruits are quite intelligent.

“Just because you are illiterate doesn’t mean you are not intelligent,” he said. “These young men are very intelligent and have some incredible security and savvy skills, and they just haven’t been educated. What this education provides them is the ability to read and write and start the professionalization [process].”

To date, NATO Training Mission Afghanistan has trained and tested 25,000 recruits. By next month, Caldwell said, he hopes to have 40,000 to 50,000 recruits in literacy training. Officials are looking to further expand the literacy training by summer, he added, by extending it to the operational units to include more than 100,000 soldiers and police involved in a vast array of training encompassing first- to sixth-grade level of training.

Caldwell said he understands this is a long-term mission, and that while traveling throughout Afghanistan and seeing progress first-hand, he looks ahead optimistically, but with a realistic lens.

“You can see a change, just talking to the people and the perceptions they have about the security of their country,” he said. “The desire to move forward, … where truly Afghans are going to secure Afghanistan, is what they all want. I am very optimistic where this mission can go. But, I am also realistic about the challenges we will face in the future.”

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