Afghanistan — Buildup for Afghan Security Forces Continues

WASHINGTON, July 9, 2010 — The push to build Afghanistan’s secu­ri­ty forces to 305,000 mem­bers is ahead of sched­ule, but there are still some obsta­cles to over­come, a senior offi­cer involved in the effort said yes­ter­day.

Army Col. John Fer­rari, deputy com­man­der for pro­grams for NATO Train­ing Mis­sion Afghanistan and Com­bined Secu­ri­ty Tran­si­tion Com­mand Afghanistan, dis­cussed the effort’s progress and chal­lenges in a “DoD Live” blog­gers round­table.

Fer­rari is respon­si­ble for ded­i­cat­ing resources to the Afghan Nation­al Police and Afghan Nation­al Army to fight the coun­terin­sur­gency and to aid in build­ing the Afghan econ­o­my. The train­ing com­mands work with region­al coali­tion com­mands and Afghan secu­ri­ty forces lead­ers to deter­mine train­ing, life-sup­port and work con­struc­tion projects, Fer­rari explained.

Con­tract­ed con­struc­tion com­pa­nies — with Afghans mak­ing up the major­i­ty of their employ­ees — build the facil­i­ties. The secu­ri­ty tran­si­tion com­mand pro­cures the equip­ment the Afghan forces use, rang­ing from boots and uni­forms to weapons and vehi­cles, as well as resources need­ed to sus­tain the force in the field, such as fuel, spare parts, and even fire­wood. The bud­get also cov­ers all train­ing costs for Afghan secu­ri­ty forces.

Fer­rari said that when Army Lt. Gen. William B. Cald­well IV arrived in Afghanistan to take charge of the train­ing effort, he found that NATO forces were pur­chas­ing boots that were being import­ed and sold from one per­son to anoth­er. In this process, Fer­rari said, the cost was marked up before the boots were sold to the gov­ern­ment for mil­i­tary use. Thanks to changes made by Cald­well and NATO forces, the colonel said, the boot import­ing has ceased, and all boots for Afghan forces are made in Afghanistan by Afghans.

This, he explained, not only pro­vides an eco­nom­ic plus for Afghanistan, but also helps to solid­i­fy Afghan soci­ety against oppres­sive invad­ing groups such as the Tal­iban. For exam­ple, he said, before the Sovi­ets took over Afghanistan in Decem­ber 1979, women were allowed to own busi­ness­es, and were key con­trib­u­tors to a strong man­u­fac­tur­ing indus­try. Under the Sovi­ets and the Tal­iban rule that fol­lowed, he said, that indus­try was dis­man­tled.

“We now have women-owned busi­ness­es we’ve giv­en con­tracts to that will man­u­fac­ture oth­er things that sol­diers wear,” Fer­rari said. “Life under the Tal­iban was pret­ty awful if you were a woman. By hav­ing women enter soci­ety and become busi­ness own­ers, they now have a stake in the gov­ern­ment and mak­ing sure the Tal­iban does­n’t come back.”

Afghanistan’s army and nation­al police force now num­ber 235,000 total mem­bers. Fer­rari said this num­ber, com­bined with increased recruit­ment and decreased attri­tion, puts the train­ing effort “sev­er­al months” ahead of sched­ule to reach its goal of 305,000 sol­diers and police­men by Octo­ber 2011.

Fer­rari attrib­uted the growth rate to increased pay and bet­ter train­ing for sol­diers and police.

The biggest hur­dle in reach­ing the goal is lit­er­a­cy, Fer­rari said. Nei­ther the Sovi­ets nor the Tal­iban pro­vid­ed school­ing for the gen­er­a­tions of Afghans grow­ing up since the 1970s. As a result, the peo­ple Fer­rari is look­ing to bring into the secu­ri­ty forces – the young adults 18 to 30 years old – most like­ly don’t have any for­mal edu­ca­tion.

“Remem­ber, Afghanistan is a coun­try that has been at war for 30 years,” Fer­rari said. “Edu­ca­tion was not prized; as a mat­ter of fact, the Tal­iban shut down the schools. … If you’re a police offi­cer — they can’t even write down a license plate, because they don’t know what num­bers are.”

A new lit­er­a­cy pro­gram for Afghans enter­ing basic train­ing has helped to mit­i­gate the prob­lem, Fer­rari said, but it’s still rudi­men­ta­ry and has­n’t yet been applied to every train­ing cen­ter. The hope, he said, is to get trainees to the equiv­a­lent of a third-grade lit­er­a­cy lev­el.

The chal­lenge con­tin­ues, though. Fer­rari not­ed that any pro­grams required to sus­tain a nation­al force will require trainees to have the abil­i­ty to mas­ter more com­plex sub­jects, in addi­tion to pos­sess­ing basic read­ing and writ­ing skills.

“That will con­tin­ue to be a chal­lenge, espe­cial­ly as we build enablers, like logis­tics, com­mu­ni­ca­tions and engi­neers,” he said. “It’s hard to teach some­body logis­tics and to do inven­to­ry con­trol if they don’t know how to read.”

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