By Terri Moon Cronk
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 24, 2011 – As the United States and NATO surged 40,000 additional combat troops into Afghanistan last year, the Afghan army and police forces also surged, growing to 258,700 by September, the general in charge of the training effort said yesterday.
And now, Army Lt. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV added, some 6,000 recruits join Afghanistan’s army and police forces each month.
At a media roundtable in Brussels, Belgium, Caldwell updated reporters on the growth of Afghan security forces and NATO’s role in training them.
“The real story, the surge of Afghans, truly is astounding, when in September 2009, only 800 Afghans joined their security force that month, while 2,000 left it,” he said. The net result, he noted, was a decline of 1,200.
That was the last decline, the general said. The Afghan government recruited vigorously and added pay and benefits to attract recruits. NATO trainers arrived to give the soldiers and police the training they needed to provide security in the country.
Now, Caldwell said, officials face a new challenge. “There are more recruits that want to join the army and police than we have the capacity to bring in,” he explained, “even though we are continuing to rapidly expand the training bases.”
Afghan security forces are on track, Caldwell said, to reach the 305,000-member goal in October. “And we will achieve that objective,” he added.
Although the numbers are “amazing,” the general said, the quantity is not as amazing as the quality.
“While [quantity] is important and necessary,” he said, “what is essential is injecting quality into those forces, because without quality, [Afghan forces] won’t endure and be self-sustaining.”
The quest for quality is hampered by the huge problem of illiteracy in Afghanistan, Caldwell acknowledged. “Eighty-six percent of the Afghans volunteering to serve their nation were illiterate,” he said. By working with the Afghan interior and defense ministries, he added, NATO established a mandatory literacy program 10 months ago.
“We brought training to these illiterate young men, and some women, up to at least a first-grade level of education,” Caldwell said, “so they could at least read the serial number on their weapon, they could count the amount of money they’re paid, they can do inventory of the weapons given them, and do basic reading and simple arithmetic.”
Caldwell said the plan is eventually to bring Afghans to third-grade competency, the internationally recognized level of literacy.
The general said NATO is the only organization in the world that could have accomplished this mission. The 32 nations that make up NATO Training Mission Afghanistan, he added, recognize the need to build a stable, secure Afghanistan, and a self-sustaining and enduring Afghan security force.
“To accelerate progress and fulfill our ‘train the trainer’ program,” Caldwell said, “we’ll still need about 20 more trainers from each country for the next two years.” This, he told reporters, would give the Afghan forces the ability to take the lead for security in their country by the end of 2014.
“I am humbled and feel a tremendous sense of pride when I see the NATO trainers standing alongside their Afghan trainees and trainers,” Caldwell said, “and I look forward to watching the Afghan trainers in the lead while the NATO trainers mentor and supervise, … until one day when the Afghans will truly be able to stand on their own.”
This article was sponsored by Army Books.