Afghanistan — General Seeks to Build Professional, Sustainable Afghan Forces

KABUL, Afghanistan, Sept. 3, 2010 — Build­ing Afghan secu­ri­ty forces that are capa­ble, pro­fes­sion­al and sus­tain­able is going to take a long time, but also is key to long-term suc­cess, the gen­er­al who leads the NATO train­ing mis­sion in Afghanistan said here today.

Army Lt. Gen. William B. Cald­well IV explained the effort to reporters trav­el­ing with Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, while Mullen was in a series of pri­vate meet­ings at the U.S. Embassy and the Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Assis­tance Force head­quar­ters.

When he stood up the NATO train­ing mis­sion here in Novem­ber, Cald­well said, the enor­mi­ty of the chal­lenge was quite evi­dent. No Afghan army or police train­ing com­mands exist­ed. The only stan­dard for grad­u­a­tion from basic train­ing was start­ing the course and still being there on the last day of train­ing. Most police received no real train­ing. The ethos that guides pro­fes­sion­al mil­i­tary forces was absent in the Afghan secu­ri­ty forces. Recruit­ing was low, and attri­tion was high.

In fact, Cald­well said, the Afghan army had “neg­a­tive growth,” recruit­ing only 800 new sol­diers in Sep­tem­ber 2009 while los­ing more than 2,000 through attri­tion.

With a tar­get today of grow­ing the Afghan secu­ri­ty forces by 55,000 mem­bers to 306,000 by Decem­ber 2011, Cald­well said, the cur­rent attri­tion rates indi­cate that 141,000 new mem­bers must be recruit­ed and trained. If attri­tion improves, he added, the recruit­ing require­ment would ease accord­ing­ly.

The focus of the NATO train­ing mis­sion for its first 10 months has been to turn those trends around and lay a foun­da­tion for the pro­fes­sion­al­iza­tion of Afghanistan’s secu­ri­ty forces, the gen­er­al said. The Afghan army now has had a train­ing com­mand for six months.

“It’s going like gang­busters,” Cald­well said. “We’ve got the right advi­sors and they’re work­ing with them. They’ve appoint­ed a good Afghan com­man­der, and they are tak­ing con­trol of the train­ing for their Afghan army.” A train­ing com­mand for Afghan police was acti­vat­ed in May, and a com­man­der has just been appoint­ed, Cald­well said, and the Afghan police now have a good code of con­duct.

Afghan police have a rep­u­ta­tion for being cor­rupt, Cald­well said, cit­ing reports of police offi­cers shak­ing peo­ple down for mon­ey, using tac­tics such as set­ting up ille­gal check­points and charg­ing peo­ple to pass through them. When he found out that police offi­cers were being paid far less than a liv­ing wage, he said, he under­stood how that could hap­pen.

“We had set the con­di­tions so that a police­man … was not even able to make a basic min­i­mum wage by serv­ing his coun­try,” Cald­well said. Now that police make a decent wage on a par with their army coun­ter­parts, he added, the incen­tive for cor­rup­tion dimin­ish­es and police have a sense they are part of a pro­fes­sion­al force that is a viable career option.

Sol­diers and police now can receive addi­tion­al incen­tive pay for serv­ing in dan­ger­ous areas, as well as longevi­ty pay rais­es that reward them for con­tin­u­ing to serve.

And trainees now must meet stan­dards. The weapon qual­i­fi­ca­tion rate for Afghan sol­diers and police at the end of basic train­ing is now 97 per­cent. “That’s just as good as the U.S. Army,” Cald­well not­ed. The 3 per­cent who don’t qual­i­fy at that point receive more train­ing and then qual­i­fy.

Leader devel­op­ment is a lim­it­ing fac­tor in build­ing pro­fes­sion­al forces, Cald­well said, and the train­ing mis­sion has tak­en on that issue as a top pri­or­i­ty, great­ly increas­ing capac­i­ty to train sol­diers and police offi­cers to become effec­tive lead­ers.

Anoth­er lim­it­ing fac­tor is lit­er­a­cy, the gen­er­al said, not­ing that 80 per­cent of the recruits can’t read or write. “It’s real hard, espe­cial­ly for us, to com­pre­hend that they couldn’t even write their names and they didn’t know any num­bers,” he said. Weapons account­abil­i­ty is impos­si­ble, he not­ed as an exam­ple, when the sol­diers or police can’t read the ser­i­al num­ber and know whether they have the right weapon. If a recruit can’t read the list of equip­ment he was sup­posed to be issued, the gen­er­al added, he won’t know if the per­son issu­ing the equip­ment is hold­ing equip­ment back to sell on the black mar­ket, so the crime goes unde­tect­ed.

When the NATO train­ing mis­sion stood up in Novem­ber, some Afghan recruits were enrolled in option­al lit­er­a­cy pro­grams, but no manda­to­ry pro­grams exist­ed, Cald­well said. Now, 23,000 mem­bers of Afghanistan’s secu­ri­ty forces are in manda­to­ry lit­er­a­cy train­ing designed to give them a third-grade read­ing lev­el. That num­ber will be 50,000 in Decem­ber, he added, and is expect­ed to be 100,000 on any giv­en day by June.

In the effort to move Afghan forces toward self-suf­fi­cien­cy, Cald­well not­ed, a basic lev­el of lit­er­a­cy becomes espe­cial­ly impor­tant as train­ing goes beyond infantry skills and starts to include more spe­cial­ized areas such as trans­porta­tion, main­te­nance and med­ical dis­ci­plines.

Anoth­er chal­lenge is find­ing qual­i­fied Afghan instruc­tors, the gen­er­al said. Hir­ing only Afghan instruc­tors, he explained, is crit­i­cal to build­ing the endur­ing capa­bil­i­ty that is key to long-term suc­cess.

And train­ing doesn’t end when Afghan units fin­ish their for­mal train­ing, Cald­well said. The vast major­i­ty of oper­a­tions now involve Afghan units work­ing along­side ISAF part­ners, so their train­ing con­tin­ues as they learn on the job from pro­fes­sion­al forces.

Though the progress has been con­sid­er­able in 10 months, Cald­well said, it will be a long time before the Afghan secu­ri­ty forces have matured to the point at which they can see to all of their train­ing, recruit­ing and reten­tion needs with­out help and field pro­fes­sion­al and sus­tain­able forces on their own.

“Our mis­sion is not one that is done by next sum­mer, or even next Decem­ber,” Cald­well said. The need to con­tin­ue grow­ing and pro­fes­sion­al­iz­ing the Afghan forces will remain for some time, he added.

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

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