Literacy key to developing Afghan security forces
August 24, 2010
By J.D. Leipold
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Aug. 24, 2010) - The Army's top man in charge of the NATO training mission in Afghanistan told bloggers and the Pentagon press corps Aug. 23 that the three major elements he's focused on that are needed to grow and sustain a professional Afghan National Security Force -- leader development, literacy and addressing losses through attrition -- are paying off.
In an update on the general health and development of Afghan forces, Gen. William B. Caldwell said that since the establishment of NTM-A nine months ago, growth in the army and police forces has more than doubled the average of any previous year, with the current year being up 58,000 thus far.
"The growth of the ANSF in the first half of 2010 is in fact larger than at any other year in its history," he said, adding that growth goals for the army and police were three months ahead of schedule.
"To understand the measured progress we've made, you have to really stop and take a look back. From 2002 to November 2009 ... the development of the Afghan National Security Force really was hampered by a lack of resources leading to understandably slow, halting and uncoordinated progress. Today, we've reversed that trend," he said.
Caldwell said NTM-A has focused on quality training, developing experience and providing an appropriate education to those in leadership roles across the security forces which in turn creates an ethos of service and loyalty. He said only when leaders have embraced a culture of service to others will the Afghan National Security Force be a truly professional force.
The general added that the ability to read and write is an essential enabler to having a professional and enduring force. He cited the average literacy rate of an entry-level soldier and policeman to be between 14-18 percent across the force, saying that illiteracy posed a major challenge to training, education and basic skills performance.
"Literacy prevents bad actors from preying on the illiterate," he said. When the force is literate, standards can be published and everyone can be held accountable to adhere to them, up the chain of command as well as down.
"Literacy provides us with the ability to enforce accountability ... allows for professional military education ... and it combats corruption within the Afghan National Security Force," Caldwell said. "Through the creation of what used to be optional but is now mandatory literacy courses in the past nine months, we have been supporting professionalization of the security force."
He said, today, there are about 27,000 soldiers and policemen enrolled in mandatory literacy programs which will grow to 50,000 by December and to 100,000 by June 2011.
Caldwell said NTM-A recognizes it will take time and sustained effort to educate an entire generation of Afghans to a level necessary to create professional leaders and allow for specialization within the force.
"The final element and the really true endemic enemy of professionalism are the losses from attrition," Caldwell said. "These losses include desertions, deaths and low retention and pose the greatest threat to quantity and, for us, quality of the security force."
Caldwell said one way attrition rates have been addressed is through working the pay structure -- adding longevity pay, hazardous duty pay, and a "living wage" or base pay, which will give soldiers and policemen the ability to live at basic levels and take care of their families without having to resort to other means to develop income.
He said Afghan leadership had taken complete ownership to increase recruiting, reduce attrition and improve retention over the last nine months by creating recruiting commands.
Based on current attrition rates, in order to grow the ANSF, an additional 56,000 new recruits are needed to meet the Oct. 31, 2011 goal of 305,000. To get there, Caldwell said, another 141,000 police and soldiers must be recruited over the next 15 months.