The South Asia Channel

The Afghan National Security Forces: A Progress Report

Over the past two years, the Afghan military and police have grown from a poorly trained and ill-equipped force of 191,000 to an increasingly effective counterinsurgency force of 305,000 volunteers who represent all ethnicities and tribes. Afghans are now responsible for security in seven areas of their country, and will assume lead security responsibility for 50 percent of the population by year's end. To ensure Afghanistan has the capabilities and capacity it needs to assume security responsibility from the international community, NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan (NTM-A) personnel are working hard with Afghans to develop the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), and help them overcome leader shortfalls and the barriers posed by Afghanistan's high rates of illiteracy. Due to unifying efforts under the NATO flag in November 2009, one-sixth of the world's countries are working together shoulder-to-shoulder to enable Afghans to achieve the security they deserve, the prosperity they desire and a future they determine for themselves.

Since the first day NTM-A began operations in November 2009, developing Afghan leaders has been and remains the command's number one priority.  Over the past two years, officers and non-commissioned officers in the Afghan Police grew by nearly 20,000 and will grow another 22,000 by November 2012. The same is true in the Afghan Army; officers and non-commissioned officers grew by 26,000 and are on a path to grow another 20,000 in the next year. Partnering with coalition units is key to the professionalization of these units, but growth could not have been achieved without establishing an indigenous training base and a standardized training and education curriculum. Major General Zamary, who leads the Afghan National Civil Order Police, recently told me "we need leaders who are educated because educated leaders are the key to an enduring force."

Ethnic balance, leader development and specialty training and education are shared Afghan and Coalition priorities. The Afghan Minister of Defense assigned two general officers to the Afghan army's 205th and 215th Corps in the country's south, which is having a positive impact on Southern Pashtun recruiting. Over the past three months, recruitment of Southern Pashtuns has exceeded previous goals, and reinforces the Pashtun plurality of 44 percent in the army.

Providing training opportunities for Afghan military and police has always been a key focus area of NTM-A. At first, this was limited to infantry skills required for counterinsurgency. However, we quickly learned what the late Ambassador Richard Holbrooke told me before taking command -- literacy education is the key to training success. Over the past two years, we have embraced the importance of literacy. NTM-A now employs over 3,000 Afghan teachers, who provide all military and police recruits with a basic literacy education for just $37 per person per month. The results continue to prove Holbrooke's sage advice. Literate Afghan police have the means to read and understand the law they are expected to enforce, identify license plates of suspected vehicle-borne explosive devices, and verify identification cards at checkpoints. Likewise, numerate soldiers can inventory their issued gear, read a map, and have the basis for specialty training. Now that the literacy program has been established, we anticipate Afghan military and police will have a literacy rate twice as high as that of the general population by the end of this year.

Prior to the creation of NTM-A, there were disparate international efforts to train and equip the Afghan Army, Air Force, and Police. Numerous reports documented the shortcomings of the result, which still resonates in spite of substantial change. However, once training efforts were unified under a NATO flag, international commitment to develop the Afghan National Security Force grew from two countries providing 30 trainers in 2009 to 37 countries providing 1,800 trainers today with more having been pledged. Through the combined efforts of 37 nations working in NTM-A partnered with the European Union Police and German Police Project Team, the geographic transition that began in July validates the increasing capabilities and professionalism of the Afghan security forces. We also see this in international opinion polls that underscore growing Afghan confidence in their Army and Police and the more than 8,000 young Afghans who voluntarily report to recruiting stations every month.

Through enduring partnerships with the international community, Afghans will have the means to provide for their own security. To make the most of precious resources, we continue to promote an ethos of stewardship and selfless service to overcome decades of service to self. By emphasizing stewardship, Afghanistan will reap the return on the international investment and has the potential one day to become a net contributor to international security. This takes time and requires patience, but development must continue to avoid repeating mistakes of the past. Afghans show a willingness to assume security responsibility, a dedication to a unified country, and an increasing commitment to serve. We are realistic about the challenges facing the ANSF, but optimistic about the future that we and the Afghans are charting together.

Lieutenant General William B. Caldwell, IV., United States Army, has served as the commander of NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan since November 2009.

NEXT: Omar Samad, Afghanistan at a Critical Juncture


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