Afghanistan — Caldwell Provides Afghan Training Update

WASHINGTON, Aug. 23, 2010 — Train­ing the Afghan secu­ri­ty forces was a daunt­ing task when NATO Train­ing Mis­sion Afghanistan first began. Almost no infra­struc­ture was in place, and few­er than 30,000 sol­diers and police­men served in the force.

Now, the com­mand is recruit­ing and train­ing sol­diers and police in record num­bers, push­ing hard to reach the goal of a 305,000-member force by Octo­ber 2011.

Army Lt. Gen. William B. Cald­well IV, com­man­der of NATO Train­ing Mis­sion Afghanistan and Com­bined Secu­ri­ty Tran­si­tion Com­mand Afghanistan, pro­vid­ed an update on his organization’s progress in a “DoD Live” blog­gers round­table today.

“Our great­est chal­lenge today is to build a self-sus­tain­ing Afghan nation­al secu­ri­ty force with pro­fes­sion­al­ism amongst its ranks,” the gen­er­al said. “Pro­fes­sion­al­ism is tru­ly the key ingre­di­ent to an endur­ing force that can serve and pro­tect its peo­ple.”

In the past nine months, Afghan forces’ growth has dou­bled the aver­age of any pre­vi­ous year, Cald­well said. This year has been the biggest year ever in terms of recruit­ing, train­ing and reten­tion, he said, and the train­ing mis­sion has exceed­ed its annu­al goal three months ahead of sched­ule.

While this is pos­i­tive news, Cald­well said, he cau­tioned that attri­tion still is a prob­lem, call­ing it the only “tru­ly endem­ic ene­my of pro­fes­sion­al­iza­tion.” Cald­well said loss­es due to low reten­tion, deser­tion and casu­al­ty have had a major effect on the qual­i­ty of Afghan sol­diers, not just the quan­ti­ty.

He said with cur­rent attri­tion rates, the train­ing mis­sion will need to recruit and train some 141,000 sol­diers and police to keep the 56,000 need­ed to meet the Octo­ber 2011 goal. “In order to meet the 2011 goal, we will need to recruit and train, in the next 15 months, approx­i­mate­ly the same num­ber as the total strength of the Afghan Nation­al Army today,” Cald­well said.

Cald­well said that regard­less of num­bers, pro­fes­sion­al­ism in the Afghan forces is cen­tral to force sus­tain­ment. Train­ing and edu­ca­tion help to instill lead­er­ship with an “ethos of ser­vice and loy­al­ty” in offi­cers and non­com­mis­sioned offi­cers, the gen­er­al said.

“It is only when the lead­ers embrace a cul­ture of ser­vice to oth­ers that the Afghan nation­al secu­ri­ty force will tru­ly be a pro­fes­sion­al force,” he said. “We have made sig­nif­i­cant progress this year in lay­ing the foun­da­tion to pro­fes­sion­al­ize the [force]. We’re real­is­tic about the chal­lenges ahead, but we are also opti­mistic about what we can do togeth­er with our Afghan coun­ter­parts to begin the process of tran­si­tion as the Afghan forces take the lead in serv­ing and pro­tect­ing their peo­ple.”

Increas­ing lit­er­a­cy in Afghan forces at every lev­el is a cen­tral point to estab­lish­ing pro­fes­sion­al­ism and help­ing to instill not only loy­al­ty and ser­vice, but also account­abil­i­ty, Cald­well said, not­ing that only 14 to 18 per­cent of new enlis­tees can read.

“Lit­er­a­cy pro­vides us the abil­i­ty to enforce account­abil­i­ty, it allows for pro­fes­sion­al mil­i­tary edu­ca­tion, par­tic­u­lar­ly spe­cial­ized skills that are taught in branch schools and con­tin­ued edu­ca­tion,” Cald­well said. “And it com­bats cor­rup­tion with­in the [Afghan forces]. Unless we take on and deal with lit­er­a­cy, we’ll be extreme­ly chal­lenged with account­abil­i­ty, branch com­pe­ten­cy, and work­ing anti-cor­rup­tion with­in the force itself.”

Cur­rent lit­er­a­cy train­ing is focused on get­ting Afghan sol­diers to a third-grade read­ing lev­el, enough to read a man­u­al or pam­phlet, under­stand how their pay sys­tem works, and account for their peo­ple and equip­ment on paper.

Cald­well did­n’t real­ize the grav­i­ty of the sit­u­a­tion until he had been on the ground for a few months, he said. He went in with a mind­set that he was­n’t in the busi­ness of teach­ing peo­ple to read, but that he was train­ing sol­diers. When he real­ized trainees on the range could­n’t read the ser­i­al num­bers on their weapons, he knew lit­er­a­cy had to be a top pri­or­i­ty.

“How can we estab­lish account­abil­i­ty for the mon­ey the Amer­i­can tax­pay­ers are putting in over here if they can’t account for their equip­ment prop­er­ly?” he asked. “If they’re issued a sleep­ing bag and oth­er equip­ment and giv­en a piece of paper that shows what they’ve been issued, how are they able to read that and under­stand the very basic stuff about what they’re respon­si­ble for and are sup­posed to main­tain account­abil­i­ty of? They’re total­ly depen­dent on some­body else who can manip­u­late the sys­tem, and cor­rup­tion sets in place.” Improv­ing lit­er­a­cy not only will help to com­bat cor­rup­tion, a sig­nif­i­cant prob­lem Cald­well has been deal­ing with when train­ing lead­ers, but it also helps sys­tems already in place move more smooth­ly. About 27,000 police and sol­diers are now in manda­to­ry lit­er­a­cy pro­grams. By June 2011, Cald­well said, that num­ber will be about 100,000 in con­tin­u­ous edu­ca­tion pro­grams.

One of those sys­tems, an elec­tron­ic deposit sys­tem that ensures low­er-rank­ing sol­diers aren’t being robbed by cor­rupt supe­ri­ors on pay­day, received a num­ber of com­plaints. The ensu­ing inves­ti­ga­tion found that of the 90 sol­diers who said they had­n’t been paid, all had been paid in full, but they were illit­er­ate and could­n’t under­stand bank state­ments or auto­mat­ed teller machines.

“In fact, each of them had been paid. They had a lot of mon­ey in their accounts, sev­er­al months worth of pay, and just did not know how to get at it,” Cald­well said. “So a great idea to get at this sys­temic cor­rup­tion that was out there, but now we’ve real­ized that there’s a much low­er-lev­el lev­el of cor­rup­tion that could creep in unless we take on and, again, just give them the basic skill sets.”

Cald­well empha­sized that the Afghan secu­ri­ty forces still are very young. Progress is being made to fill the ranks and train lead­ers so the Afghans will have a secu­ri­ty force that can pro­tect the nation, he said, but it’s far from a fin­ished prod­uct. Things such as logis­tics units, mobile med­ical units and intel­li­gence units haven’t been cre­at­ed yet, and the Afghan forces have only a very small trans­porta­tion unit in place.

“So all those kinds of capa­bil­i­ties that you would need to tru­ly oper­ate inde­pen­dent­ly have not yet been built and field­ed into the force struc­ture,” Cald­well said. “Again, our focus up until now has been a very infantry-cen­tric force and get as many, you know, ground units out there that could in fact be engaged in fight­ing the insur­gency with the coali­tion forces pro­vid­ing all their sup­port behind them.”

Between now and Oct. 31 next year, Cald­well said the Afghan forces will be expand­ed and taught bet­ter to oper­ate inde­pen­dent­ly of NATO train­ers and advi­sors. For now, he added, the focus is on essen­tial lead­er­ship and lit­er­a­cy train­ing so Afghans can inde­pen­dent­ly devel­op in the future.

“So even though you may find some units today that have lead­er­ship that’s matur­ing well and are able to take and do the plan­ning, the coor­di­na­tion and exe­cu­tion of mis­sions, they still are depen­dent on coali­tion forces until we fin­ish real­ly the com­plete build out of the army and the police force,” the gen­er­al said.

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

More news and arti­cles can be found on Face­book and Twit­ter.

Fol­low on Face­book and/or on Twit­ter