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Outside View: Afghan army

NATO ministers back new Afghan strategy
NATO defense ministers at a meeting in Slovakia voiced their support for a new counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan that would focus on protecting civilians and boost the number of troops on the ground. The strategy laid out by U.S. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top NATO commander in Afghanistan, calls for hunting down Taliban and al-Qaida fighters while at the same making sure population centers are protected. It also includes a commitment to accelerate the training of Afghan armed forces and police to increase the domestic manpower available for the counterinsurgency campaign. Observers say the new strategy won't work without a significant boost to NATO's military and civilian personnel on the ground. McChrystal presented that strategy to NATO defense ministers Friday at their meeting in Bratislava, Slovakia, and they seemed to agree with the general's assessment.

"I have noted a broad support from all ministers of this overall counterinsurgency approach," NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen was quoted by The New York Times as saying. That only increases the pressure on Washington and Europe's capitals to finally send more troops to Afghanistan. McChrystal's strategy includes a troop surge without being specific on how significant that would be -- but media reports have estimated it to be anywhere between 30,000 and 80,000. NATO won't decide until next month on such a surge, the request for which is currently being discussed by U.S. and NATO chains of command, the Times reports. Britain has already promised to send an additional 500 troops, but elsewhere in Europe the mission is becoming increasingly unpopular.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has called for an exit strategy for Germany's 4,000 troops, and the Netherlands and Italy are debating whether to reduce their commitments or leave for good. French President Nicolas Sarkozy has said Paris would not send a single additional soldier to Afghanistan on top of its 2,800 there. But Rasmussen, in comments made on the eve of the meeting, said greater efforts now mean a timely exit later. "We need other international actors to redouble their efforts to help with reconstruction and development. We have to do more today if we want to be able to do less tomorrow." The United States has about 68,000 troops in Afghanistan, and NATO nations have 36,000 more. The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force is fighting an increasingly uphill battle against the Taliban.

by Lawrence Sellin
Washington (UPI) Oct 23, 2009
On May 21, 2002, U.S. Army Gen. Tommy Franks, commander of U.S. Central Command, said to reporters, "I am pleased that our forces have begun training the Afghan National Army."

Franks also stated that training the Afghan army will "certainly be one of our more important projects in the days, weeks (and) months ahead, because the national army of Afghanistan is going to be an essential element of their long-term security."

On Sept. 21, 2006, U.S. Marine Corps Gen. James Jones, now President Barack Obama's national security adviser, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, "By far, the Afghan National Army is the most successful pillar of our reconstruction efforts to date."

According to U.S. Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal's Aug. 30 recommendations for a new strategy in Afghanistan, one of the four main pillars to accomplish the mission and defeat the insurgency is to increase the size and accelerate the growth of the Afghan National Security Force and radically enhance partnership at every level to improve effectiveness and prepare them to take the lead in security operations.

After almost eight years of effort, the Kabul Military Training Center reports that the Afghan National Army now numbers between 88,000 and 92,000 soldiers.

McChrystal admits that after eight years of recruitment and training, the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police are not sufficiently effective to take ownership of Afghanistan's security. He said, "The Afghan National Army must accelerate growth to the target strength of 134,000 by fall 2010, with the institutional flexibility to continue that growth to a new target ceiling of 240,000."

Even Franks in 2002 did not delude himself into thinking that training and integrating a force comprised of tribal and factional members into an Afghan National Army would be easy.

In her superbly written article "Meet the Afghan Army," first published by TomDispatch, Ann Jones provides personal and direct observations on this subject. She places her first fly in official Washington's ointment by noting, "Afghans do not think or act like Americans. Yet Americans in power refuse to grasp that inconvenient point."

Based on years of experience in Afghanistan, Jones said she believes there is little trust among these units composed of various tribal factions and that "these impoverished men in a country without work have joined the Afghan National Army for what they can get out of it (and keep or sell) -- and that doesn't include democracy or glory."

She notes that many recruits do not return for duty after their 10-week basic training and others "re-enlist" under a different name to get an additional 10 weeks' pay. Some may be Taliban gaining valuable insight into tactics, techniques and procedures. Furthermore, Jones raises the inconvenient question of where the 90,000-strong Afghan National Army was when 4,000 U.S. Marines went into Helmand province with only 600 Afghans in support.

Similar views are expressed by individuals inside the training program. A retired American senior non-commissioned officer and a contractor training the Afghan army wrote in an August report that the United States is spending too much time building relationships rather than building capability. We continue to shoot ourselves in the foot by discarding without consideration observations made and insights gained through working with the Afghans locally and continually miss opportunities to integrate Afghan resources and build confidence in coalition capacity.

Either by setting expectations too low or not effectively partnering, the United States and the International Security Assistance Force prime themselves for failure. According to the senior NCO we have built a welfare state within the Afghan National Army instead of a committed and competent coalition partner.

It is clear that we will not defeat the insurgency and accomplish our mission of a stable and secure Afghanistan without a viable and effective Afghan security force.

On Jan. 16, 2007, U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry, now Obama's ambassador to Afghanistan, told a press gathering in Kabul, "We can help train an army, we can help equip an army, we can help build facilities for the army, but only the Afghan people can breathe a soul into that army."

By not adequately understanding the Afghan culture and adjusting our efforts accordingly, perhaps we are unintentionally sucking the soul out of that army.

(Lawrence Sellin, Ph.D., is a colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve and a veteran of Afghanistan and Iraq.)

(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)

earlier related report
NATO's long-term exit strategy: building Afghan security forces
Whatever strategy NATO uses to fight insurgents in Afghanistan, its exit strategy is centred on building the Afghan army and police until they can ensure security, top officials and officers say.

Even if NATO takes a concerted counter-insurgency approach to try to steal the initiative away from the Taliban, Al-Qaeda and their backers, building up national security forces will take at least four years.

"There are some basic physical limitations as to how quickly you can recruit, educate and train Afghan soldiers, so it makes sense to expect a four or five year time perspective," NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has said.

During that time, as efforts are made to build the Afghan army from around 94,000 troops today to 240,000 and the police from 92,000 to 160,000 officers, international personnel and hundreds of trainers will be needed.

The plan is to achieve those goals at the end of 2013 but growing public opposition to NATO's most challenging mission ever is weakening political resolve and it is unclear how many allies will want to commit long-term.

"We recognise there are challenges and risks with making even that kind of timeline," said US General Richard Formica, who leads the "transition" effort from international dependence to stand-alone Afghan security.

"It's going to require trainers, dollars and infrastructure to build the Afghan security forces," he warned, in a video-conference from Kabul.

Once their basic training is completed, Afghan army recruits are supported by NATO trainers and mentors -- teams of up to 30 international soldiers who deploy with units for a minimum of six months, when possible.

More than 50 teams are currently deployed, but almost 70 will be needed to get the army up to 134,000 soldiers by October 2010, with scores more required to hit the final 240,000 target by late 2013.

Police training is even more complex and time consuming, especially in a country where up to two in three people are illiterate.

"Police officers have to learn how to read, to write, the legislation, they have to learn the constitution, they are not under command all the time, they are alone on the street," said the head of the EU police mission.

"The tasks of the police go from helping with dogs, to crossing the street, to arresting people, to act on a crime scene, to know how to act on a case with suicide bombers," said the EUPOL chief, Kai Vittrup. "It's a huge, huge task."

Typically training takes eight weeks, but EUPOL officers say at least four months are needed to bring recruits up to the point where they can read enough to carry out the most basic tasks.

While policing is tough -- scores of officers have been killed by suicide bombers or at check points -- finding international trainers is a whole other obstacle.

The United States uses the military to teach police to protect themselves, while private security contractor Dyncorp handles law enforcement training using retired US police officers.

EUPOL had around 245 international staff in Afghanistan in July, around the time its numbers were meant to stand at 400, while half a dozen European nations have decided to use paramilitary gendarmes to do the job.

But progress here has been slow. The gendarmes have only begun arriving in Afghanistan, and Formica said this month that his team had still not been in contact with them.

And police officers just can't be plucked off street corners in European capitals. Few want to go, and processing of those that do takes time.

As NATO defence ministers meet in Bratislava Friday to debate the new approach to Afghanistan, Rasmussen said he would be urging them to focus on the training operation.

"I will be pushing ministers hard to fully resource it with trainers, equipment and money," he said.

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Afghanistan will unravel NATO, says Canadian general
Ottawa (AFP) Oct 22, 2009
Almost eight years on, a continued lack of focus and resolve in Afghanistan will be NATO's undoing, Canada's former top general warns in a new book. Retired general and former Canadian chief of defense staff Rick Hillier wrote in his autobiography to be published next week: "Afghanistan has revealed that NATO has reached the stage where it is a corpse, decomposing" and in need of "lifesaving ... read more

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