U.S., NATO to Overhaul Afghan Training Mission as Violence Spirals
Saturday, September 12, 2009
The U.S. military and NATO are launching a major overhaul of the way they recruit, train and equip Afghanistan's security forces, seeking to reverse a trend in which the alliance for years did not invest adequately in Afghan troops and police while the Taliban gained strength, senior U.S. officials said.
The reorganization comes in advance of expected recommendations by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top commander in Afghanistan, to expand Afghan forces and the capacity to train them.
The recommendations, and the additional U.S. and NATO troops they will require, are among the few aspects of President Obama's Afghan strategy likely to have broad bipartisan support in Congress. Democrats, in particular, have expressed anxiety over reports that McChrystal may request more combat troops for the increasingly unpopular war.
Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, called on Friday for the Afghan force to "increase and accelerate dramatically," with a goal of 240,000 Afghan soldiers by 2012. The current target is to increase the existing number of soldiers to 134,000 by the end of 2011. "We're going to need many more trainers, hopefully including a much larger number of NATO trainers. We're going to need a surge of equipment that is coming out of Iraq and, instead of coming home, a great deal of it should be going to Afghanistan instead," he said.
Levin spoke on Capitol Hill after returning from a visit to Afghanistan and talks with McChrystal. "As of right now, it is likely that there will be a request from him for additional combat forces," Levin said.
Levin warned that "a bigger military footprint" in Afghanistan "provides propaganda fodder for the Taliban." The steps he proposed, he said, should be implemented "on an urgent basis before we consider an increase in U.S. ground combat forces beyond what is already planned by the end of this year."
McChrystal's still-secret recommendations are being debated by Obama's national security team. Early this year, Obama approved the deployment of 21,000 additional American troops -- including 4,000 trainers -- to Afghanistan, which will bring the U.S. deployment to 68,000 by the end of 2009.
Under the reorganization, NATO this month will establish a new command led by a three-star military officer to oversee recruiting and generating Afghan forces. The goal is to "bring more coherence" to uncoordinated efforts by NATO contingents in Afghanistan while underscoring that the mission "is not just America's challenge," one senior official said. The new command will also integrate the U.S.-led training command, the Combined Security Transition Command, led by a two-star Army general, Maj. Gen. Richard Formica, while narrowing its responsibilities considerably to building the Afghan Defense and Interior ministries.
In one illustration of how much basic work lies ahead, the U.S. military is seeking 275 contractors to train Afghan Defense Ministry personnel in everything from supply and budget to "diary management, meeting preparation and travel planning" for the minister and chief of general staff, according to the 96-page contract. Contractors will work in dozens of other areas of ministry activity, including operations, intelligence, logistics, force integration, and the offices of the command surgeon and comptroller.
Afghan and U.S. sources in Kabul said boosting the number and visibility of American and NATO advisers at the Afghan Defense Ministry and elsewhere could be unwelcome -- and could play into Taliban propaganda claims that they are part of an occupation force.
In another major change, all the U.S. and allied mentoring and training teams embedded with Afghan military and police units will be placed next month under a new operational command, headed by McChrystal's deputy, Lt. Gen. David M. Rodriguez, who runs day-to-day military missions in Afghanistan.
Spiraling violence in Afghanistan has added urgency to the effort, as the United States has increased its troops in the country nearly twofold without a commensurate increase in the number of Afghan forces.