Milestone in training Afghan forces

By Joshua Partlow
Tuesday, November 9, 2010; A06

KABUL - The program to train Afghan security forces has been transformed over the past year, but a shortfall of about 1,000 NATO trainers, as well as a high dropout rate in some police units, continues to hinder their development, U.S. and Afghan officials said Monday.

At a ceremony in Kabul marking the first anniversary of NATO's training command, senior commanders outlined progress while asking for patience in the process to build up the Afghan army and police forces.

Lt. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, commander of the training effort, said that when he arrived a year ago, 30 percent of Afghan police had received formal training. His command has since trained 37,000 police officers, more than all those trained in the previous seven years.

"What we were doing a year ago was just barely being able to teach them basic soldier skills," he said. "Today, we're teaching them advanced soldier skills."

Over the past year, as NATO has spent $1 billion a month on the Afghan forces, the army grew from 97,011 to 144,638 members. Police expanded their ranks from 94,958 to 116,367, according to NATO statistics. NATO has 1,800 trainers working in Afghanistan, but Caldwell said an additional 900 trainers are needed to meet the goal of full Afghan security control by 2014.

"If you don't have trainers, you're going to have a challenging time transitioning," he said.

Caldwell said that at first he did not realize the importance of teaching Afghan recruits to read and write. Such instruction is now mandatory for new soldiers and police.

About 86 percent of Afghan recruits are illiterate, a big obstacle to self-sufficiency, he said.

"I kept telling people, that's not my job, I'm a military person, and I don't do literacy. Now I am an absolute zealot about literacy," he said. "You can't do anything without literacy. You can't teach them how to read the serial number on their weapon, you can't teach them how to read a map, you can't teach somebody how to account for and inventory equipment."

An Interior Ministry spokesman, Col. Zemarai Bashary, said the improved training regimen has helped Afghan police understand their authority and respect residents. The police have often been criticized for abusive and corrupt practices that have inflamed public opinion against them.

"If you are arresting [someone], you are not supposed to beat them on the street in front of everyone," Bashary said. "But that was happening sometimes, and that's because they didn't know."

© 2010 The Washington Post Company