WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Sept. 9, 2010) -- The deputy commander of the NATO training mission in Afghanistan reiterated via a Pentagon bloggers roundtable Sept. 8 that the quantity and quality of officers, noncommissioned officers and recruits in the Afghan army is rising.

Citing a visit he'd just made to Afghanistan's National Military Academy, Brig. Gen. Gary Patton said that the class of 2009 came from a field of applicants numbering only 360 in 2005. The 2010 class of freshman who will graduate in 2014 had more than 3,000 applicants.

"The interest level, the recruiting and so forth has grown tenfold just in the last couple of years... that's impressive," said Patton, who noted that 212 new officers have reported to their assignments. And, he said, these officers were selected by way of a neutral lottery, not by favoritism or other practices.

Patton also said that in one week of training, the army grew by 1,326 new enlisted soldiers and gained an additional 850 new NCOs at various ranks and brought in another 157 former officers who after a 10-week training course had graduated from the Mujaheddin integration corps.

With regard to advanced training, he said prior to 2010 there were no branch schools for military specialties or NCO professional training beyond basic training. That also is changing as NTM-A looks at growing the enabler forces -- the engineering, supply and artillery units. He said in August an advanced logistics school was opened and in October an artillery school will be up and running.

"The branch schools are so important, to add to their basic training and further develop and specialize them in their military skills," Patton said, drawing a parallel to the way U.S. Army officers, NCOs and Soldiers are trained.

Patton said even as the Afghan army continues to grow and become more professional, the number-one enemy of growth is attrition - soldiers killed or wounded and those who are absent without leave. He said 97 percent of the attrition occurs from those who go AWOL, and he faults it on lack of leadership.

He added that a second challenge to attrition lies in generating leaders of which there are "significant deficits" within the officer and NCO corps.

"In the NCO corps, we're 10,500 NCOs short," Patton said. "We are increasing the number of courses to create NCOs. We believe that we can do some things to reduce that deficit and get pretty close to eliminating that deficit by the end of calendar year 2011." The Afghan army also has an officer shortage of 4,500 which the NTM-A is working to fix by also increasing the number of courses available.

Mandatory literacy programs are also growing. NTM-A expects to have 50,000 soldiers enrolled in literacy training by December and 100,000 by June. Patton said this month a pilot course was introduced which takes literacy to basic warrior training. He said 86 percent of entry-level recruits are illiterate.

Presently 1,400 basic trainees are undergoing 64 hours of literacy training, which he said only gets the soldiers to the first-grade level, adding that is not sufficient to plot an artillery solution or to conduct a supply inventory as a logistician.

Patton said between the basic course and advanced training, Afghan soldiers will receive an additional 120 hours of immersion literacy training, which would bring them to the third-grade level and place them at bare minimum standards for advanced training in military occupational specialties such as logistics or engineering.