Eight hundred more U.S. military trainers will be sent to Afghanistan by March to help with logistics, maintenance, medical care and other areas in which the Afghan army is short on skills, Lt. Gen. William B. Caldwell, commander of NATO’s training mission there, said Monday.
“That will better help us start getting at some of these specialty skills,” he told reporters in a teleconference from Kabul.
Caldwell said training in these areas was needed to enable Afghan army units to be better prepared to operate without U.S. support by 2014, when American combat troops are scheduled to leave.
Caldwell said that only two of 126 Afghan army battalions are currently operating “by themselves.” But he later said that even those two needed logistics, maintenance, medical and intelligence support. Other battalions operated “very effectively with minimal coalition support,” he said.
He said that training programs once were led by contractors but that Afghans increasingly are taking control. About 3,100 Afghans are assigned to training instruction, and half of those “have been certified through a very deliberate process,” he said.
Caldwell said Afghan police played a key role in protecting civilians during the attack on the U.S. Embassy on Sept. 13.
In another attack that day that was not as well-publicized, a group of students at a high school were saved when an Afghan police officer “did a bear hug around a suicide bomber when he blew himself up and there in the process obviously killed himself,” Caldwell said.
He told of another senior police officer who also ran up to a bomber who got close to Afghan National Civil Order Police headquarters, again giving the assailant a hug as the bomb went off, killing himself but saving the lives of nearby officers.
Caldwell also said that attrition rates within the Afghan military, though higher than desirable, have not kept Afghanistan’s security forces from growing. They are on track to reach 352,000 personnel by 2012.
Literacy remains a problem. But the recruitment of about 3,000 Afghan literacy teachers has eased it somewhat. Caldwell said that about half of all Afghan army and police personnel have gone through the literacy program. Only 18 percent of those currently serving were literate when they joined, he said.
The Afghan security forces program overall costs about $6 billion a year for a country whose government income is estimated at just over $1 billion. Caldwell refused to predict how long it will take for the spending to decrease. He said he is looking for “sources from the international community to help pay for it in the long term,” as well as contributions from the U.S. and Afghan governments.
Caldwell said some savings are already being realized through the purchase of local products. Boots once bought for the Afghan army at $170 a pair from the United States are now bought for less from Afghan factories. A similar approach is being taken when buying uniforms, sheets and pillowcases. The overall savings amount to $168 million a year.