There has been a dramatic fall in the number of trained Afghan soldiers leaving the Afghan National Army (ANA) over last couple of years, according to top military training officer in Afghanistan.
Addressing international journalists in Brussels through a video link-up with Kabul, Robert W. Cone, the commanding general of Combined Security Transition – Afghanistan said, “Probably 18 months to two years ago we had an AWOL (Absent Without Official Leave) rate that was over 20 percent, which is totally unacceptable in a modern army. Today, as we speak, I think that number is actually below eight percent and the Afghans continue to work this very hard.”
Stressing the strong ties Afghan youth have with their families, the General said that during the leave programme there are delays, explaining a new pragmatic approach to address the problem.
“We call it a managed leave programme where every Afghan soldier, just like every western soldier, knows when his next break is going to be and then can take it - it’s complicated here, of course, because the banking system is not that mature and often they have to carry that money home to their families.
“A large number of Afghans will go on leave during the Eid period, and a significant number will come back. It’s normally a transportation delay that they can’t get back from where they went home to and they can’t get back in time, so they’ll show up several days or a week late because of transportation problems.
“In many ways, they’re very much like western soldiers in terms of their expectations of care by their chain of command.”
Outlining an optimistic future for the ANA, he said, “Their goal and objective is to assume responsibility for their own security as quickly as we can get them properly manned and equipped.”
General Cone told journalists, “They have been under development now for over six years and they are now at a strength of about 51,000 troops in the fielded force, and another 10,000 that are currently in training, in the training centres across this country.”
Coming to the police department, General Cone minced no words in admitting the tough challenges faced by that sector now and ahead. “The police development lags behind the army some number of years. The police problem is much more complicated in its nature because it’s constantly in interaction with the people and frankly there are many more opportunities for corruption and inappropriate activity. “The history of policing in Afghanistan is problematic. And many of the police in the past have been members of former militias and had not had the kind of training and professional education that we as westerners find acceptable in a modern police force.”
Pointing out ways to root out corruption, the General said, “Things like pay reform, ensuring that the police are paid adequately so they are not prone to what is known as one-handedcorruption, which is that they don’t make enough money and so therefore they must attempt to gain money illegally.”
Making repeated stressed requests for “police trainers,” the General said, “We need additional police trainers to assist us to broaden this programme. Fifty-two districts in a nation where there’s 364 is where we require additional assistance... some of them have already stepped forward, for instance, Great Britain, Canada, have stepped forward and offered on a bilateral basis police trainers to assist in this programme.”
“We currently have some 1,300 police trainers that are employed in the field.” Explaining the need for the large number of police trainers, the General said, “The number of police trainers we currently need is a number of about 2,300. That includes about 800 actual police trainers, policemen who go to the field, but because it’s dangerous here in Afghanistan they require a security force that goes with them.”
Highlighting the aptitude of Afghans to fight, General said, “The challenge with them is not in this willingness to fight, it is in the higher level skills of things like command and control, logistics, applying close air support; the professional military skills.”
Predicting the Afghan army growth to surpass 80,000, the General said, “That is the internationally- agreed upon number from the Joint Coordination and Monitoring Board. That will be some 14 brigades and six commando battalions with associated logistics support, aviation support, artillery support, and that force - that number will be achieved, we predict, in March of next year.
“And things like, for instance, the air-force capability will not be fully online until 2013 and so that - again, because it takes much longer to teach them English to fly an aircraft, to teach them to fly, for instance, the C27 which we’re buying from Italy will be their primary airlift aircraft, and so that will take longer.
With the international clamour growing for more international soldieries, there was a very candid admission from the General on the frontlines saying, “... We would like to see and that is the Afghans taking the majority of the fight, taking the fight to the enemy, because they know the ground, they understand the language, they know the people, and again, using ISAF forces as reinforcement.
“That is the emerging model and I think all can see the value of this that the Afghans are on point and provide the majority of the combat forces engaged in the operations,” added General Cone. Reflecting on ethnic-balancing employed in the country’s armed forces, General Cone said, “For instance, the 209th corps is commanded by a Hazara, his chief of staff is a Pashtun, Uzbek, Tajik, and what I think is interesting having watched Afghan operations in the countryside is the amazement of the Afghan people looking at this army as a model of ethnic integration.”
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