Caldwell Credits Afghans with Stepping Up Force Numbers

WASHINGTON, Feb. 24, 2011 — As the Unit­ed States and NATO surged 40,000 addi­tion­al com­bat troops into Afghanistan last year, the Afghan army and police forces also surged, grow­ing to 258,700 by Sep­tem­ber, the gen­er­al in charge of the train­ing effort said yes­ter­day.
And now, Army Lt. Gen. William B. Cald­well IV added, some 6,000 recruits join Afghanistan’s army and police forces each month.

At a media round­table in Brus­sels, Bel­gium, Cald­well updat­ed reporters on the growth of Afghan secu­ri­ty forces and NATO’s role in train­ing them.

“The real sto­ry, the surge of Afghans, tru­ly is astound­ing, when in Sep­tem­ber 2009, only 800 Afghans joined their secu­ri­ty force that month, while 2,000 left it,” he said. The net result, he not­ed, was a decline of 1,200.

That was the last decline, the gen­er­al said. The Afghan gov­ern­ment recruit­ed vig­or­ous­ly and added pay and ben­e­fits to attract recruits. NATO train­ers arrived to give the sol­diers and police the train­ing they need­ed to pro­vide secu­ri­ty in the coun­try.

Now, Cald­well said, offi­cials face a new chal­lenge. “There are more recruits that want to join the army and police than we have the capac­i­ty to bring in,” he explained, “even though we are con­tin­u­ing to rapid­ly expand the train­ing bases.”

Afghan secu­ri­ty forces are on track, Cald­well said, to reach the 305,000-member goal in Octo­ber. “And we will achieve that objec­tive,” he added.

Although the num­bers are “amaz­ing,” the gen­er­al said, the quan­ti­ty is not as amaz­ing as the qual­i­ty.

“While [quan­ti­ty] is impor­tant and nec­es­sary,” he said, “what is essen­tial is inject­ing qual­i­ty into those forces, because with­out qual­i­ty, [Afghan forces] won’t endure and be self-sus­tain­ing.”

The quest for qual­i­ty is ham­pered by the huge prob­lem of illit­er­a­cy in Afghanistan, Cald­well acknowl­edged. “Eighty-six per­cent of the Afghans vol­un­teer­ing to serve their nation were illit­er­ate,” he said. By work­ing with the Afghan inte­ri­or and defense min­istries, he added, NATO estab­lished a manda­to­ry lit­er­a­cy pro­gram 10 months ago.

“We brought train­ing to these illit­er­ate young men, and some women, up to at least a first-grade lev­el of edu­ca­tion,” Cald­well said, “so they could at least read the ser­i­al num­ber on their weapon, they could count the amount of mon­ey they’re paid, they can do inven­to­ry of the weapons giv­en them, and do basic read­ing and sim­ple arith­metic.”

Cald­well said the plan is even­tu­al­ly to bring Afghans to third-grade com­pe­ten­cy, the inter­na­tion­al­ly rec­og­nized lev­el of lit­er­a­cy.

The gen­er­al said NATO is the only orga­ni­za­tion in the world that could have accom­plished this mis­sion. The 32 nations that make up NATO Train­ing Mis­sion Afghanistan, he added, rec­og­nize the need to build a sta­ble, secure Afghanistan, and a self-sus­tain­ing and endur­ing Afghan secu­ri­ty force.

“To accel­er­ate progress and ful­fill our ‘train the train­er’ pro­gram,” Cald­well said, “we’ll still need about 20 more train­ers from each coun­try for the next two years.” This, he told reporters, would give the Afghan forces the abil­i­ty to take the lead for secu­ri­ty in their coun­try by the end of 2014.

“I am hum­bled and feel a tremen­dous sense of pride when I see the NATO train­ers stand­ing along­side their Afghan trainees and train­ers,” Cald­well said, “and I look for­ward to watch­ing the Afghan train­ers in the lead while the NATO train­ers men­tor and super­vise, … until one day when the Afghans will tru­ly be able to stand on their own.”

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

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