Afghan Security Forces Grow in Numbers, Quality

WASHINGTON, May 23, 2011 — The num­ber and qual­i­ty of recruits to the Afghan nation­al secu­ri­ty force are grow­ing, a senior offi­cial in the train­ing effort said here today.
Jack Kem, deputy to the com­man­der of NATO Train­ing Mis­sion Afghanistan and Com­bined Secu­ri­ty Tran­si­tion Com­mand Afghanistan, briefed Pen­ta­gon reporters about his duties in the Afghan cap­i­tal of Kab­ul, where he is respon­si­ble for the NATO train­ing mission’s lit­er­a­cy, gen­der, integri­ty build­ing and rule of law pro­grams.

“The size of the Afghan Nation­al Army has increased from 97,000 in Novem­ber 2009 to over 164,000 today,” Kem said, and will grow to 171,600 by summer’s end. The Afghan Nation­al Police has grown from just under 95,000 in Novem­ber 2009 to 126,000 today, and will reach 134,000 by fall.

Tak­en togeth­er, Kem said, this is an increase of 98,000 recruits in 18 months that has been accom­pa­nied by a dra­mat­ic increase in qual­i­ty.

The lit­er­a­cy rate for incom­ing sol­diers and police offi­cers is about 14 per­cent, Kem said, “mean­ing that 86 per­cent of our recruits are unable to read and write at the third-grade lev­el. This has been an enor­mous chal­lenge.” What began as a vol­un­tary lit­er­a­cy pro­gram with less than 13,000 enrolled has become manda­to­ry for basic army and police train­ing, he said, and pro­grams around the coun­try are teach­ing basic lit­er­a­cy and numer­a­cy.

“Today, we have over 81,000 Afghan [sol­diers and police] in manda­to­ry lit­er­a­cy class­es, and we have grad­u­at­ed anoth­er 92,000 in dif­fer­ent lit­er­a­cy class­es since Novem­ber 2009,” Kem said.

“We know that we will improve the lit­er­a­cy rate in Afghanistan in the Afghanistan nation­al secu­ri­ty forces to over 50 per­cent by Jan­u­ary 2012,” he added.

The goal, Kem said, is to have full func­tion­al lit­er­a­cy in the army and police, defined as third-grade-lev­el lit­er­a­cy.

Kem not­ed that the prospect of learn­ing to read and write has been a huge draw for Afghans to join the army and the police.

“Lit­er­a­cy has a huge impact on the pro­fes­sion­al­iza­tion of the army and the police, address­es issues of cor­rup­tion and will have an eco­nom­ic impact on the coun­try in the years to come,” he said.

Cor­rup­tion is being addressed in sev­er­al oth­er ways, he added, includ­ing devel­op­ing codes of ethics for the army and the police and estab­lish­ing an anti-cor­rup­tion phone line that’s always manned and whose inves­ti­ga­tors are from an inde­pen­dent agency.

Putting blue dye in army and police fuel reduces inci­dents of steal­ing, Kem said, and using a lot­tery sys­tem adds trans­paren­cy to hand­ing out army assign­ments and pre­vents the best ones from being sold to the high­est bid­der.

Anoth­er step involves “hav­ing account­abil­i­ty of all the vehi­cles, weapons and radio sys­tems that didn’t have full account­abil­i­ty in the past,” he said, not­ing that a phys­i­cal inven­to­ry is now com­plete for all vehi­cles issued in Afghanistan over the past 10 years.

Spe­cial efforts are in force, Kem said, to deal with prob­lems of recruit­ing Pash­tuns from the five south­ern provinces and avoid­ing vio­lence to Amer­i­cans by mem­bers of the Afghan army and police force. For the prob­lem of attacks on Amer­i­cans, he said, “we’ve insti­tut­ed an eight-step approach for all the new recruits com­ing in.”

The vet­ting process includes match­ing the recruit and his iden­ti­fi­ca­tion card, requir­ing two let­ters of rec­om­men­da­tion from vil­lage elders, per­form­ing a phys­i­cal exam, doing a records check through intel­li­gence sources, and using bio­met­ric mea­sures, such as fin­ger­print­ing.

“It will nev­er be fool­proof,” Kem acknowl­edged. “It’s not fool­proof in the Unit­ed States; it won’t be fool­proof in Afghanistan. But it’s an area that we look at very close­ly, … and it is some­thing that I think the Afghans take very seri­ous­ly as well, because they want to be good part­ners.”

To eth­ni­cal­ly bal­ance the Afghan Nation­al Police, Kem said, the per­cent­age of Pash­tuns, Tajiks, Haz­aras and oth­er eth­nic groups must be mon­i­tored.

“We bal­ance every one of the bat­tal­ions,” he added, and because of prob­lems recruit­ing Pash­tuns from the south­ern provinces, a spe­cial recruit­ing pro­gram has been insti­tut­ed with the Afghans. The num­bers of south­ern Pash­tuns has risen slow­ly, Kem said, “but they’re not where they need to be.”

“We’re try­ing to get at least 4 per­cent of the recruits from the five south­ern provinces that are Pash­tuns,” he added, “and aim­ing for get­ting about 6 to 8 per­cent in the next cou­ple years.”

Work remains to be done between now and Dec. 31, 2014, when the tran­si­tion of lead secu­ri­ty respon­si­bil­i­ty in all 34 provinces to Afghan forces is sched­uled to be com­plete, Kem said.

“In my per­son­al pro­fes­sion­al judg­ment,” he added, “we will have the Afghans ready to assume that respon­si­bil­i­ty.”

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

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