By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, June 21, 2012 – The Afghan national security forces are making tremendous strides and look to be ready to assume security control of the country on schedule, Defense officials told the House Armed Services Committee June 20.
David S. Sedney, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia, said the Afghans remain on track to assume the lead for security nationwide by the end of 2014.
There are immediate payoffs, he said. One is the last U.S. surge troops – some 23,000 service members – will withdraw from the country by the end of September. “That is all made possible by the improvements in the Afghan national security forces,” he said.
After the surge troops leave Afghanistan, the remaining American and coalition forces will work to transition security to Afghan forces.
“The key to the success is the increasing capability and confidence of the Afghan security forces and of the Afghan people in those security forces,” he said. “The Afghan national army and Afghan national police are both on schedule to meet their goal for size by or before October this year.”
Afghan security forces now participate in over 90 percent of all operations in the country and lead more than 40 percent of the missions. Sedney quoted Marine Corps Gen. John Allen, the NATO commander in Afghanistan, who said the Afghans “are better than we thought they were to be, and importantly, they’re better than they thought that they could be.”
Sedney said Afghan forces already provide security for more than 50 percent of the Afghan population. That will climb to 75 percent when more areas come under Afghan control in the months ahead. The latest group of areas to transition to Afghan control contain contested areas, and there is some tough fighting going on, he added.
“This fighting season … will be the most significant challenge for the Afghan security forces, as they are more in the lead than ever before,” he said. “However, the time for this test is now,¬ when we and our coalition partners have the forces in theater to ensure their success.”
Army Maj. Gen. Stephen Townsend, the director of the Joint Staff’s Pakistan/Afghanistan Coordination Cell, gave more detail about the growth and training of Afghan security forces, and said NATO’s International Security Assistance Force remains focused on building an Afghan national security force of 352,000.
“That becomes a mechanism for defeating the insurgency,” Townsend said.
The security forces continue to meet or exceed this year’s recruiting objectives, “with the army and the air force expected to meet their combined goal of 195,000 by the end of this summer, and the police reaching their goal of 157,000 by October,” he said.
The security forces have problems with literacy and with shortages of non-commissioned officers, and efforts are underway to solve. The NATO training mission and the Afghan ministries provide literacy programs to approximately 90,000 soldiers and police each day. “This is going to make the ANSF one of the most literate elements of Afghan society,” the general said.
Attrition – from failure, sickness and desertion – continues to be an issue, the general said, and this continues to hamper long-term development. “The security ministries continue to implement policies to combat attrition, and they’re working,” Townsend said. “Attrition is going down for the last several months.”
Shortages of NCOs hamper training and operations as well, but this takes time. “The (Afghan National Security Forces) are taking the lead in training their own forces, and they’re implementing instructor cadre training programs,” he said. “These Afghan instructors are providing more basic and advanced skills training at Afghan-led training centers every day.”
The NATO command has rated 67 percent of the army units and 62 percent of the police units in the top two categories of operational effectiveness, Townsend said.