NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan marks year of progress

By J.D. LeipoldNovember 10, 2010

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Nov. 10, 2010) -- The NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan commander said Tuesday that since the stand up of his organization just a year ago, he believes progress has been made toward enabling Afghan National Security Forces to take the lead by Dec. 31, 2014.

"(With) what we have seen over the past year, there's no reason to believe that that's not an attainable goal," said Lt. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV from Afghanistan in a teleconference with bloggers.

"We believe that we can in fact achieve that and have the Afghan security forces in the lead by the end of 2014," Caldwell said. "It doesn't mean that there will still not be coalition forces here in support of them."

Caldwell added that the coalition is already seeing ANSF in the lead in small, select and isolated areas. They are already demonstrating the capability of taking the lead. He credited the progress toward that end by a strategy shift away from quantity alone in November 2009 to force-size expansion with emphasis on quality and professionalism.

"Today, we have built a foundation for the Afghan ministries of Interior and Defense to recruit, train and assign police and soldiers across their country," Caldwell said. "All members of the Afghan National Security Force now attend basic training which includes survivability, professionalism and literacy training before assignment to units."

Pay has been increased to provide an income beyond a living wage and that will help prevent desertion and graft, though he said losses from attrition remain a constant challenge and are "the endemic enemy of professionalism as it greatly inhibits the continued expansion in both quantity and quality of the Afghan National Security Force."

Another part of the attrition problem was that private security companies had been offering Afghans attractive pay to work for them. Caldwell said the president of Afghanistan had made a decree that all private security companies be eliminated. He said 23 companies had thus far had their credentials rescinded, but there were still another 52 registered with the government that would not be authorized to operate in the country.

Other significant challenges which he expects to continue will be in noncommissioned officer and officer shortfalls in the Army and police force. They require additional training, education and experience in order for them to embrace an ethos of service and stewardship, which he said are both hallmarks of a professional army and police force."

Before the NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan, there were no specialized schools to support military operations such as intelligence gathering and equipment maintenance. Today, NTM-A has 10 specialized schools in operation in fields such as finance, logistics, engineering, artillery, with two more on the way, including a signal school.

Caldwell has called for 900 additional specialized trainers who would come from the NATO alliance and work in the schools. He said NTM-A has enough instructors to open up schools and provide basic skills, but not enough to transit to the next level of a robust train-the-trainer program that is essential to the 2014 timeline.

Lack of literacy also remains a challenge, as only about 15 to 18 percent of Afghan National Security Force recruits can read, write or recognize numbers, he said. Without the basic ability to read a map, write down a weapon serial number or read a bank statement, recruits are greatly at risk on the battlefield and become highly susceptible to corruption in garrison, he said.

Since the summer, NTM-A has required 64 hours of literacy training that has been taught by Afghan teachers the command has hired. Caldwell said what the mission has discovered after the Afghans have taken a first-grade test is roughly a 94-percent pass rate which gives them the fundamentals such as numbers capabilities and writing their names. To date, NTM-A has trained and tested more than 25,000.

"I think what's real important to understand is, just because you're illiterate does not mean you're not intelligent. These young men are very, very intelligent," he said. "They have some very incredible street-savvy skills, (indicative of) their intellect. And, so what the education gives them now is that ability to read and write and allows them to really start the professionalization."

"Despite the progress achieved thus far, now is not the time for us to slow our momentum," Caldwell said. "We must continue to maintain a sense of urgency that we have created over this last year. In fact, it's going to be required if we're going to overcome the significant challenges that still remain."

Related Links:

STAND-TO!: NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan

NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan website