By Joshua Partlow
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, January 5, 2011; 7:53 PM
KABUL - The United States and its NATO allies plan to spend $11.6 billion this year building Afghanistan's security forces, the largest yearly sum to date, as pressure mounts to shift responsibility for fighting the Taliban from the U.S.-led force toward local troops.
The new funding pushes the total for 2010 and 2011 to nearly $20 billion, as much as in the seven previous years combined, said Lt. Gen. William B. Caldwell, the commander of NATO's training mission in Afghanistan. Funds already spent have purchased, among other things, 24,000 Ford Rangers, 108,000 9mm pistols, 74,000 handheld radios, 44 helicopters and four bomb-sniffing robots.
"It's an enormous undertaking that we do," Caldwell said.
NATO's decision to offer details Wednesday about the vast quantity of equipment provided and the steep cost to foreign taxpayers follows public criticism by Afghan officials that the West has not given Afghan troops and police officers adequate weaponry. Last month, President Hamid Karzai's spokesman, Waheed Omer, said he agreed that time and effort had been expended training the Afghan national security forces.
"But we will not agree that a lot of time and effort was spent in equipping" the forces, Omer said, a day after 14 Afghan soldiers and police were killed in separate attacks.
Defense Minister Rahim Wardak, a former mujaheddin commander, said in an interview last fall that "when I was fighting the Soviets, I had much better, more sophisticated, more heavy weapons than the [Afghan National Army] today."
Afghan troops receive a variety of armored vehicles and weapons, such as machine guns, mortars and rocket-propelled grenades, and Afghan authorities have asked for tanks and fighter jets - weapons that U.S. military officials consider too expensive, as well as unnecessary, for combating the low-tech insurgency mounted by the Taliban.
"They want armor, tanks," said one U.S. military official in Kabul, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk candidly. "We think it's an image thing.
"We're providing them the right kind of equipment to address the needs of the nation right now," the official added.
On Wednesday, Caldwell and other NATO officials disputed the notion that they have not sufficiently armed the Afghan forces, bringing in Afghan soldiers to show off their guns and mortars to reporters at the Camp Eggers military post in Kabul.
"We were not sure many people fully appreciated or knew, not only the treasure in human life that we've given, but also in the monetary resources being put forward to build bases, infrastructure, to buy equipment, to procure uniforms, to do training and education," Caldwell said.
In the past year, the number of people in the Afghan army, police and air force has grown by 70,000, to about 270,000. NATO still faces a shortfall of several hundred trainers necessary to prepare the forces for the planned hand-over of combat responsibilities to Afghans by 2014. The local forces, particularly the police, have been hobbled with problems, including illiteracy, corruption and high dropout rates.
Also Wednesday, Afghan intelligence officials said they had disrupted two major terrorist plots in the past 20 days, including a plan to assassinate Vice President Mohammed Fahim.
Latifullah Mashal, a spokesman for the Afghan intelligence agency, said at a news conference that five people had been arrested in a plot to send a suicide bomber to Fahim's house in Kabul. The other plot involved a bombing near the presidential palace, he said.
Special correspondent Habib Zahori contributed to this report.