Afghanistan — Gates: Recruiting May Ease Afghan Forces’ Attrition

LONDON, June 9, 2010 — With recruit­ing on pace to exceed goals, the increased num­bers may help to ease attri­tion prob­lems that have plagued the Afghan army and police, Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates said here today.

Gates met with U.S. and British reporters as he wrapped up a two-day vis­it dur­ing which he met with lead­ers of the new British gov­ern­ment.

Recruit­ing for Afghanistan’s army and police is exceed­ing goals, Gates said, and recent pay increas­es have helped with police reten­tion. But although reten­tion for the Afghan army has been good, attri­tion has been an issue for the both the police and the army, he acknowl­edged.

“While the num­bers are grow­ing,” the sec­re­tary explained, “too often, units are sent into bat­tle and there’s no plan for them to rotate back home for a peri­od of rest and recov­ery. So they’re just in the fight indef­i­nite­ly.

“So in a way,” he con­tin­ued, “the only way to get any R&R, the only way to get out of com­bat, is to desert. And so I think the recruit­ing rates and the attri­tion rates are very much tied to get­ting enough num­bers in the forces that they can have a reg­u­lar rota­tion­al process that allows them to get home and see their fam­i­lies.”

But while recruit­ing may increase num­bers for Afghanistan’s army and police, Gates said, the NATO train­ing mis­sion in Afghanistan needs 450 more train­ers to get the new recruits ready for duty. The sec­re­tary said he’d like to see NATO allies – espe­cial­ly those that are not con­tribut­ing com­bat forces to the effort in Afghanistan – to step up to relieve the train­er short­fall.

“I’ve tried to pro­vide a bridg­ing capa­bil­i­ty over about a six- or sev­en-month peri­od by send­ing a cou­ple of Marine detach­ments and an Army unit to pro­vide train­ing,” he said, “but I see that as a tem­po­rary bridge until the Euro­pean train­ers and oth­er train­ers can get there.”

The sec­re­tary pre­dict­ed a “tough sum­mer” in Afghanistan as the troop surge con­tin­ues and coali­tion forces go into more areas where the Tal­iban have been in con­trol or have been intim­i­dat­ing local peo­ple and gov­ern­ment offi­cials. But he added that he expects suf­fi­cient progress will be evi­dent by year’s end to show that the strat­e­gy in Afghanistan is on the right track.

Many of the 30,000 addi­tion­al U.S. troops Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma autho­rized for the troop surge have only recent­ly arrived in Afghanistan, Gates not­ed, and about 12,000 more have yet to deploy.

The sec­re­tary also expressed his plea­sure that Toshi­mi Kitaza­wa has remained in place as Japan’s defense min­is­ter in Prime Min­is­ter Nao­to Kan’s new gov­ern­ment.

“I think sta­bil­i­ty and con­ti­nu­ity is of val­ue,” Gates said. “I’ve also had the oppor­tu­ni­ty now to meet with him a num­ber of times, and I feel like we have a good rela­tion­ship.” Gates also applaud­ed Kan’s announce­ment that he will stand by an Amer­i­can-Japan­ese gov­ern­ment agree­ment made in 2006 to relo­cate a U.S. Marine Corps air base on Oki­nawa. Kan’s pre­de­ces­sor had want­ed to move the U.S. base off Oki­nawa entire­ly.

“I think now we have an oblig­a­tion to work with our Japan­ese part­ners to see how we can togeth­er mit­i­gate the impact in Oki­nawa of our mil­i­tary pres­ence, whether it’s hav­ing more train­ing out­side of Oki­nawa [or] whether it’s noise abate­ment pro­ce­dures,” he said. “I think there are some things that we need to look at in terms of how we can be help­ful, and I think that’s what we’ll be doing going for­ward.”

After the meet­ing with reporters, Gates left Lon­don for Brus­sels, Bel­gium, where he will attend two days of NATO meet­ings.

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