NATO Training Mission Meets Procurement, Training Goals

WASHINGTON, Dec. 16, 2010 — As NATO forces make progress in train­ing the Afghan secu­ri­ty forces, they’re also help­ing to teach 146,000 Afghan sol­diers and 115,000 police how to pro­cure the equip­ment they need.
“Our mis­sion is to help the gov­ern­ment of Afghanistan gen­er­ate and sus­tain the Afghan army and police, all the way from the min­is­te­r­i­al sys­tems — essen­tial­ly, their ver­sion of the Pen­ta­gon — through their oper­a­tional com­mands, down to the indi­vid­ual units,” said Army Col. John Fer­rari, deputy com­man­der for pro­grams for NATO Train­ing Mis­sion Afghanistan and Com­bined Secu­ri­ty Tran­si­tion Com­mand Afghanistan, dur­ing a “DOD Live” blog­gers round­table yes­ter­day.

Though the cur­rent Afghan nation­al secu­ri­ty force is 250,000 mem­bers strong, Fer­rari said, plans call for grow­ing Afghanistan’s secu­ri­ty forces to 171,000 sol­diers and 134,000 police by Octo­ber, he said.

Although Amer­i­can forces are procur­ing the equip­ment for the Afghan peo­ple, plen­ty of that equip­ment is not of Amer­i­can ori­gin. Fer­rari said.

“One of the top chal­lenges we have here in Afghanistan,” he said, “is that the Afghan pop­u­la­tion has been trau­ma­tized by 30 years of war. … One of the casu­al­ties of that war was the destruc­tion of the edu­ca­tion sys­tem. What we have now is a pop­u­la­tion that is most­ly illit­er­ate.”

This, Fer­rari explained, presents a prob­lem in procur­ing West­ern weapons.

“Most of the sol­diers and police, when they come in, don’t under­stand what a num­ber is,” he explained. “So if you’re look­ing at a ser­i­al num­ber on a weapon, they don’t under­stand what the num­bers are, and they have an inabil­i­ty to sign their name. … We’ve decid­ed to keep them with a weapon that they know and under­stand.”

Air­craft such as the Mi-17 heli­copter are espe­cial­ly appro­pri­ate for the unique ter­rain of Afghanistan, which is why it has been pro­cured for the Afghan forces, Fer­rari said. “The Sovi­ets designed the Mi-17 for Afghanistan,” he said. “And so it’s the only air­craft in the world that was designed specif­i­cal­ly for the ter­rain and for the alti­tude and the weath­er here. And so when they start­ed up the air pro­gram, the Afghan pilots knew how to fly and main­tain the Mi-17.”

Plans call for mov­ing toward West­ern equip­ment as lit­er­a­cy rates and avail­abil­i­ty rise, the colonel said.

“We are try­ing to move away from those Sovi­et-type weapons to West­ern air­craft or West­ern vehi­cles,” he said. “So on the vehi­cle front we’re buy­ing Inter­na­tion­al trucks as their medi­um truck. We’re buy­ing up-armored Humvees. We’re buy­ing Ford Rangers. And on the air­craft, [we’re buy­ing] C-27s, a West­ern air­craft.”

The move away from Sovi­et-style weapons is some­thing train­ing mis­sion offi­cials plan to do as they intro­duce new equip­ment to the Afghans, such as night-vision gog­gles, Fer­rari said. West­ern radios also are part of the equa­tion, he added.

“We start­ed with Sovi­et-type weapons because that was what was here, and it was easy to start with,” he explained. “But over time, as we bring up their lit­er­a­cy rates, as we’re here longer, as their train­ing increas­es, we have a con­cert­ed effort to intro­duce West­ern equip­ment.”

The push toward lit­er­a­cy was due in part to U.S. Ambas­sador Richard C. Hol­brooke, a spe­cial envoy to the region, who died Dec. 13, the colonel said. Hol­brooke, he added, fore­saw how illit­er­a­cy could affect the then-bur­geon­ing Afghan police force in terms of cor­rup­tion.

“It was his belief — cor­rect­ly, as it turns out — that a large part of [cor­rup­tion] was due to the fact that the police were illit­er­ate,” Fer­rari said.

Tak­ing Holbrooke’s advice, Army Lt. Gen. William B. Cald­well IV, com­man­der of the train­ing effort in Afghanistan, put lit­er­a­cy pilot pro­grams into place, and the train­ing soon became a “very big recruit­ing tool,” Fer­rari said.

Slow­ly but sure­ly, the train­ing efforts in Afghanistan are show­ing signs of progress and hope for the Afghan peo­ple, the colonel said.

“We are start­ing to see signs that the qual­i­ty of the force is improv­ing, both in the train­ing base and in the recruits we’re get­ting, and out in the field,” he not­ed.

Fer­rari acknowl­edged, how­ev­er, that the rapid­ly grow­ing force — which met this year’s growth tar­gets three months ear­ly – still faces chal­lenges.

“I don’t want to leave any­body with a false impres­sion that we’re done and everything’s going extreme­ly well,” he said. “There are sig­nif­i­cant chal­lenges and hur­dles ahead, but we’re pre­pared to over­come them and help the Afghan secu­ri­ty forces take the lead.”

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

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