Afghan Forces Expand, Gain Capability

WASHINGTON, Feb. 24, 2011 — The Afghan army is grow­ing fast and simul­ta­ne­ous­ly strug­gling with the need to edu­cate and train its non­com­mis­sioned offi­cer corps, the senior enlist­ed leader of NATO’s Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Assis­tance Force and U.S. Forces Afghanistan said today.

Army Command Sgt. Maj. Marvin Hill of the International Security Assistance Force at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan
Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma shakes hands with Army Com­mand Sgt. Maj. Mar­vin Hill of the Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Assis­tance Force at Bagram Air­field, Afghanistan Dec. 3, 2010, after receiv­ing a gift from Hill and Gen. David H. Petraeus, ISAF com­man­der. Hill briefed Pen­ta­gon reporters via video tele­con­fer­ence Feb. 24, 2011, on the state of Afghanistan’s secu­ri­ty forces.
U.S. Army pho­to by Staff Sgt. Michael L. Sparks
Click to enlarge

Army Com­mand Sgt. Major Mar­vin Hill and his Afghan coun­ter­part, Sgt. Maj. Roshan Safi, spoke with reporters at the Pen­ta­gon dur­ing a video tele­con­fer­ence from ISAF Joint Com­mand head­quar­ters in Kab­ul, Afghanistan. 

“The Afghan Nation­al Army, like the entire [Afghan secu­ri­ty forces], has come a long way in just a short peri­od of time,” Hill said. 

The Afghan secu­ri­ty forces include the army, the air force and the nation­al police. 

Since 2009, the army has grown more than 56 per­cent, Hill said. In the past year, it’s grown by about 50,000 sol­diers, more than 23,000 of them are in train­ing, and the army con­sis­tent­ly meets its recruit­ing goals, he added. 

With new pro­grams for recruit­ment and reten­tion, high­er salaries, an auto­mat­ed pay sys­tem and an attri­tion rate of 1.6 per­cent per month, growth is not a prob­lem, he said. 

“The big­ger chal­lenge is cre­at­ing an entire struc­ture of mil­i­tary edu­ca­tion and devel­op­ment that will pro­fes­sion­al­ize the entire force,” Hill said. A big part of Roshan’s role is help­ing pro­fes­sion­al­ize the Afghan army’s non­com­mis­sioned offi­cer corps, he added. 

In 2009, only 86 per­cent of army recruits were lit­er­ate, and there was no manda­to­ry lit­er­a­cy train­ing. Sol­diers faced sub­stan­dard pay, short­ages of equip­ment, a poor qual­i­ty of life and a high attri­tion rate, Hill said. 

“Under Sergeant Major Roshan’s lead­er­ship, there’s been a 76 per­cent increase in trained non­com­mis­sioned offi­cers,” Hill said. “[Afghan army] NCOs are already fill­ing key posi­tions, such as instruc­tors for pro­fes­sion­al cours­es, as well as set­ting the exam­ple for stan­dards and dis­ci­pline,” Hill said. 

Today, all sol­diers receive manda­to­ry lit­er­a­cy train­ing, he added. They are are out­fit­ted with Afghan-made uni­forms, NATO weapons and high-qual­i­ty equipment. 

Eleven of the 12 branch schools are open — includ­ing infantry, engi­neer­ing and intel­li­gence — and in many case, Afghan sol­diers already are tak­ing the lead as instruc­tors, Hill said, adding that Afghanistan’s army is “built on the pride of its people.” 

Sol­diers rep­re­sent sev­er­al eth­nic groups, includ­ing Pash­tun, Tajik, Haz­ara and Uzbek, Hill not­ed, and the army takes pride in being “the pro­tec­tor of the peo­ple and the nation.” As a result of sup­port the Afghan army has received from the Unit­ed States and coali­tion forces, Roshan said, Afghan sol­diers have begun to take the lead in a num­ber of com­bat operations. 

“We are well on our way to tak­ing full con­trol and lead­ing all com­bat oper­a­tions by 2014,” he said. “By work­ing shoul­der to shoul­der today, we will stand on our own tomor­row.” “Hooah!” Hill added, and both senior NCOs smiled. 

Since 2009, women have served in the Afghan army, Roshan said. 

“Just 10 years ago, women were not allowed to attend school,” he said. “In fact, women had very lit­tle rights at the time. Now, we see women attend­ing school, and they hold mean­ing­ful jobs in our com­mu­ni­ty and posi­tion in our gov­ern­ment.” The Afghan army’s train­ing cen­ter is train­ing future female NCOs, he added. 

In late 2009, 20 women grad­u­at­ed from the first female offi­cer can­di­date school. Twen­ty more women are enrolled in school now, and women also are enrolled in the mil­i­tary med­ical school, the Afghan sergeant major said. 

Chal­lenges lie ahead for the grow­ing army, Hill said, espe­cial­ly in the areas of equip­ment and inter­na­tion­al trainers. 

“The end state is that by 2014, the [Afghan army] is a self-suf­fi­cient pro­fes­sion­al force,” Hill said. 

“This process will take time,” he added, “but ISAF is ful­ly com­mit­ted to an endur­ing rela­tion­ship and part­ner­ship with the Afghan Nation­al Army and the Afghan nation­al secu­ri­ty forces as a whole.” 

In the mean­time, Hill said, pro­tect­ing peo­ple is the No. 1 concern. 

“Right now, we have 110,000 more forces here in Afghanistan than we had at this time last year,” Hill said. “We have 70,000 more Afghan nation­al secu­ri­ty forces, and we have 40,000 more U.S. and coali­tion forces. And that’s pro­vid­ing a bet­ter umbrel­la of security. 

“Just months ago,” he con­tin­ued, “the peo­ple in Mar­ja could­n’t come out of their homes. And today, bazaars are open, there are open shops and mar­kets, and schools are open. There’s a girls’ school open that has 180 stu­dents, and that was­n’t the case just months ago. 

Secu­ri­ty always is a prob­lem any­where, Hill said. “But here,” he added, “we are com­bat­ing that with the boots we have on the ground and with a com­pe­tent Afghan nation­al secu­ri­ty force.” 

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs) 

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