Afghanistan — Better NCO Training Boosts Afghan Army’s Capabilities

WASHINGTON — The influ­ence of the U.S. Army and Marine Corps in the devel­op­ment of Afghanistan’s mil­i­tary forces is pos­si­bly most appar­ent in its train­ing reg­i­men.

Decades ago, a very top-rank-heavy Sovi­et-style sys­tem dom­i­nat­ed the Afghan mil­i­tary, Army Sgt. Maj. Michael Logan, with NATO Train­ing Mis­sion-Afghanistan, said. But now, he said, thou­sands of new Afghan troops are being trained by a strong corps of non­com­mis­sioned offi­cers, a sig­na­ture of the Amer­i­can mil­i­tary.

Logan dis­cussed how U.S.-style train­ing has played a cen­tral role in the Afghan army’s growth and devel­op­ment over the past year dur­ing a July 20 DoDLive Blog­gers Round­table.

When Logan arrived in Afghanistan last year, there were about 1,950 NCOs in the Afghan Nation­al Army; the goal now is to reach 15,450 NCOs by Novem­ber 2010. The objec­tive, he said, is pro­fes­sion­al­iza­tion of the Afghan army. Leader devel­op­ment, or “grow­ing” NCOs, he explained, is a key aim of this mis­sion.

Logan said it’s indica­tive of a move­ment by NTM‑A to “train the train­ers,” and cre­ate a corps of on-the-ground lead­ers that’ll form the back­bone of the Afghan army, the way the U.S. Army relies on its own NCO corps.

“It’s impor­tant that we con­tin­ue to sup­port and devel­op the NCOs because they’re going to make dif­fer­ences that we can’t from the out­side, look­ing in,” Logan said.

Logan said the mis­sion has been so suc­cess­ful in the past year because of this shift in focus. Some 20,000 Afghan sol­diers are in train­ing right now, about 3,300 of them to be NCOs, with one instruc­tor for every 29 trainees – pri­mar­i­ly Afghans. Last year, Logan said, there were far few­er instruc­tors in gen­er­al and near­ly no Afghan train­ers.

Bet­ter-train­ing of Afghan NCOs and oth­er enlist­ed mem­bers con­tributes to a high­er lev­el of trust among Afghan sol­diers for their low­er-lev­el lead­er­ship, he said, and pro­duces a more respect­ful, pro­fes­sion­al envi­ron­ment across the force.

“With­in the train­ing realm, when it comes to pro­fes­sion­al­iz­ing the [Afghan] army … that’s affect­ing them on the out­side,” Logan said. “So that’s mak­ing a dif­fer­ence.”

NTM‑A isn’t with­out prob­lems, though. Logan said that increased Afghan army recruit­ing efforts have cre­at­ed a need for more NCOs that can’t be instant­ly sat­is­fied. Anoth­er issue, he said, involves the need to have troops in the field, leav­ing them unavail­able to take the nec­es­sary time to train.

“We do face cer­tain chal­lenges, main­ly that leader devel­op­ment is out­paced by accel­er­at­ed force gen­er­a­tion, and oper­a­tional con­cerns and train­ing envi­ron­ments present us with dif­fi­cult choic­es,” Logan said.

One method of pro­duc­ing more Afghan army NCOs, Logan said, involves a pro­gram that allows in-the-field pro­mo­tions for sol­diers who demon­strate lead­er­ship abil­i­ty. In some cas­es, as with lit­er­a­cy train­ing, instruc­tors are able to join with deployed units to teach sol­diers when they have down time.

Logan said the plan is to allow Afghan NCOs to con­tin­ue to take over train­ing mis­sions, until NATO’s involve­ment is unnec­es­sary. The suc­cess NTM‑A is hav­ing with NCO train­ing, he added, can be seen in the qual­i­ty of enlist­ed sol­diers now fin­ish­ing basic train­ing.

For exam­ple, Logan said, in the past year marks­man­ship qual­i­fi­ca­tion lev­els have jumped from about 35 per­cent to 95 per­cent. Cre­at­ing stan­dards-based train­ing, with clear goals sol­diers have to reach, he explained, pro­vides met­rics to mea­sure their abil­i­ties. And, increas­ing the abil­i­ties of NCOs and low­er-enlist­ed sol­diers, he added, con­tributes to increased capa­bil­i­ty across the force.

“As the army con­tin­ues to build, they gain the ben­e­fit of the time and expe­ri­ence that comes with sea­soned and effec­tive lead­ers,” Logan said. “You see changes where they start to embrace some of the prac­tices they’ve learned, and it has been time that has made the dif­fer­ence. Over time, they’re gain­ing con­fi­dence in what we’re teach­ing them.”

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