WASHINGTON (Army News Service, June 13, 2011) -- In Afghanistan, the low literacy rate -- about 14 percent -- presents challenges to Army efforts there to help that nation become independent.
"Nine out of 10 were illiterate," said Lt. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, commander of Combined Security Transition Command - Afghanistan and the NATO Training Mission. "Without literacy, we could not succeed."
During an Association of the United States Army's 244th meeting of the Institute of Land Warfare Forum breakfast, May 9, 2011, Caldwell discussed the importance of literacy in building the Afghan National Security Force over the past two years.
"Today, we employ 2,600 Afghan teachers, and we're still growing," the general said. "We've trained over 90,000 young men to some level of literacy that are today serving in the police and in the army. By this December, over half the police and Army will be literate, with about 28 percent of this nation now literate."
Caldwell said the American Army didn't have any other option but to increase literacy there, because that is what is needed to leverage the extraordinary potential of the Afghans.
"Literacy is the essential enabler of everything we are doing in Afghanistan. Without it, we cannot succeed," Caldwell said.
In November 2009, the U.S. Army's NATO training mission began with two nations -- the United States and Italy -- and 30 trainers. Today, NATO has 33 nations and 1,432 trainers, growing to 2,500 trainers by pledges from the international community, with four more nations standing by and wanting to become part of the effort.
"There's been significant progress," Caldwell said. "The force has been developed but now what? How do we ensure that this investment that the United States and our coalition partners have made -- this enormous investment that we have committed in terms of human lives and our capital -- is going to be self-sustaining, and it's going to be worth the investment?"
Caldwell used an Afghan traditional saying to illustrate what has been happening with literacy in the country as a result of the Army's influence.
"If you want to go fast, you go alone; if you want to go far, you go with others," Caldwell said, adding the U.S. Army has been the backbone of NATO Training Mission - Afghanistan, providing nearly half of NTM-A strength.
GETTING TO TRANSITION
The general said the first step in getting to transition is building up the Afghan security force.
"We've grown the force since November 2009 (by) recruiting, training, equipping and assigning about 160,000 young men and a couple of women during that time period," Caldwell said. "As we keep going, we're not done. Today, the force is almost 300,000. We know that the United States government has agreed to help fund it up to 352,000, so our mission isn't complete."
Caldwell said there's much more work to do.
"Can we do it in the next year and a half? Absolutely we can," the general said.
Today, he said, there are 70 training centers across Afghanistan, in 21 out of the 34 provinces. Since November 2009, the capacity has almost tripled in order to do the training of police and army forces.
"Over the last year, we've worked to bring the international community together and set up boards and all kinds of different programs," he said. "We have the Professional Police Development Board, the Ministerial Integration Coordination Center within the Ministry of Interior, and we've built these centers of excellence. We have one standardized program of instruction for police in Afghanistan."
When the transition happens, Caldwell said, those programs will belong to the Afghanis alone. "It's theirs and it's standardized and it ensures consistency across their country."
Branch schools, or vocational schools, have also been opened -- when just 14 years ago, not one specialty school existed in Afghanistan.
"We were teaching basic infantry soldiers," Caldwell said. "We didn't have engineers, finance, human resources, logistics, maintenance ... we didn't do any of that. That was too hard. But today they're all open, they're all operating and they're starting to make an enormous difference. This is what is going to make this force enduring and self-sustaining and set the conditions to ensure that this transition does in fact become irreversible."
Caldwell also said it's important that the Afghanis are able to sustain their own police and military forces after the American and partner nations leave. For this reason, leader development programs have been stood up, along with officer candidate schools and non-commissioned officer courses.
In early July, for instance, the fourth iteration of the Afghan army sergeants major academy will convene. This iteration is the first, he said, to be taught by Afghan soldiers.
Also part of ensuring sustainability is practicality in terms of what can be done in Afghanistan.
"We're not trying to build a separate and distinct police development program and a separate one for the army, because it's not sustainable for them, nor can they afford it," Caldwell said. "But we can build one academy that can have some take offs inside of it, so it has army, police, air force, and probably (the) next class (will) have a CIA-equivalent type person there."
DOD CIVILIANS HAVE ALSO MADE A DIFFERENCE
It's not just Soldiers in Afghanistan making a difference. Department of Defense civilians with about 30 years of service were also brought over to Afghanistan as part of the Ministerial Defense Advisory Team to lend their expertise wherever they were needed. By August of this year, about 100 will be serving in the country.
"I could not function without these folks -- men and women who have come to Afghanistan to serve our nation as civilians and doing what they have done so well for 30 years," Caldwell said. "They are making an enormous difference."
As an example, Caldwell talked about one DOD civilian who helped modernize a slaughter house that was in the Ministry of Defense.
"Animals come in on one side -- beef goes out on the other side. Now it sounds pretty simple, but I've never run a slaughter house, I'm clueless. I went down there and just about got ill. There were flies everywhere, no sanitation," Caldwell said, saying the facility even lacked cold storage or refrigeration.
The general said that the DOD civilian, from the Defense Commissary Agency, was able to help him get the situation under control.
"This guy has worked in meat processing for 27 years," Calldwell said. " I said, here's the mission, Jeff. You've got to go down there and help this slaughter house. I'm clueless. I have no idea what to do. I don't even know what to tell you."
Now, the general said, the operation has been transformed through improved sanitation conditions and a one-third increase in production.
"Truckloads of animals come in, shepherds bring 'em in, you know, herders herd them in, and we just slaughter them and throw meat out the other side," Caldwell said. "This guy has literally, in the last year, transformed that operation. One person with the expertise and knowledge has made an amazing difference."
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