Flournoy: Afghan Forces on Track for Build-up
By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 22, 2011 Development of Afghanistan’s security forces is on track as a main element of the Defense Department’s strategy for eliminating terrorist safe havens in that country, Michèle Flournoy said today.
Flournoy, undersecretary of defense for policy, testified here before the House Armed Services Committee about improvements in the Afghan army and police.
“We are meeting our growth goals and are continuing to improve quality and performance, Flournoy said. Most importantly, she said, the Afghan national army and national policy “are stepping up to take more responsibility in the field, enabling both the transition process … and the drawdown of our surge forces to [proceed].”
The NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan, or NTM-A, established in 2009 under the command of Army Lt. Gen. William B. Caldwell, commanding general of the Combined Security Transition Command, is largely responsible for the improvement, Flournoy said.
Caldwell brought disparate efforts under a single command and established iterative, professional and standards-based training, she added.
Afghanistan’s national security force “is on track to reach its October goal of 305,600 soldiers and police, Flournoy said. Intense focus, she added, continues on raising Afghan units’ literacy and improving operational performance rates.
The training command estimates that the Afghan security forces will achieve 50 percent overall literacy rates at the third-grade level next year, she said, with more than 70,000 police and 55,900 soldiers receiving some level of literacy training.
That is a major accomplishment in a country where the literacy rate for 18- to -40-year-olds is 14 percent, she added.
Training and mentoring programs are reducing the shortage of trained noncommissioned officers, Flournoy said, and the Afghan national security force noncommissioned officer and officer corps grew by more than 20,000 new leaders over the past two years.
“Of equal importance has been the effort to improve the ANSF’s operational performance in the field,” she said, noting that partnering Afghan forces with U.S. and coalition forces on the battlefield has accelerated the effort.
In January, 124 Afghan battalions and headquarters elements were rated as effective with coalition advisors or assistance, the undersecretary said.
“As of August, there are now 147 units with these ratings out of 184 units assessed, and we expect that trend to continue, if not accelerate,” Flournoy said.
“These are not mere statistics,” she added. “We have seen progress where it matters most, which is on the ground in the campaign.”
Despite the Taliban’s stated intent to focus on transitioned provinces, Flournoy said, security forces are in the lead in those provinces and have been effective in areas like Helmand province’s Lashkar Gah, where violence in August was 60 percent lower than in August 2010, and where the ANSF have been responsible for defeating Taliban efforts to reverse the transition.
“During the attack on the U.S. embassy and NATO headquarters earlier this month in Kabul, the Afghan National Police … carried out a complex operation that involved clearing placed munitions from each level of a multistory building and killing all 11 attackers,” she said.
Five police officers and 11 Afghan civilians were killed in the attack, and Flournoy noted the “continuing sacrifices of thousands of dedicated Afghan army and police officers and their families.”
Afghan security force casualties over the past year have included more than 2,500 killed and 6,000 wounded, she added.
“The ANSF are increasingly on the front lines and bearing the brunt of the hard fighting that continues,” Flournoy said. “Their willingness to fight and die for their country is testimony to the determination we see in the new ANSF that we are helping to build.”
Challenges include attrition and sustainability, she said.
Monthly attrition in the army has averaged 2.3 percent since November 2009. Over the past 12 months, ANA attrition has ranged from 3.2 percent to 1.9 percent, the undersecretary said.
Actual attrition is less than what the figures reflect, Flournoy added, because many ANSF personnel who are taken off the rolls later return to their units.
“Working with the Afghans,” she said, “we continue to implement a number of programs to reduce attrition, including providing soldier-care training for leaders, extending leave policy and implementing predictable rotation cycles for units.”
Twelve new specialty schools also train Afghans in areas ranging from engineering and intelligence to logistics and human resources.
Sustainability is being addressed in several ways, she said, including reducing costs and finding efficiencies.
Afghan First initiatives, for example, promote the purchase of locally produced furniture, boots and uniforms. And NTM-A has found efficiencies in Afghan units by reevaluating equipment requirements based on lessons learned from the field, the undersecretary said.
“NMT-A has also adjusted building standards to a more sustainable local norm,” Flournoy said.
Examples include fielding wash basins and clothes lines in place of modern washing machines, and installing ceiling fans rather than air conditioners.
Such steps reduce procurement and maintenance costs and long-term demand for electricity and fuel, she said.
These and other savings efforts are responsible for a $1.6 billion reduction in the fiscal 2012 budget request for ANSF development funding, she said.
“But … I want to emphasize,” she told the panel, “there is no reduction in our commitment and no reduction in the quality of the training of the program. These are cost saving efficiencies that we believe are consistent with the sustainability that we all seek.”
Based on further efficiencies, she added, officials “anticipate a decrease in estimated future-year budget requests as well.”
The coming years will be critical for the ANSF, Flournoy said, “as they know that they will be in charge for providing security for the Afghan people in 2014.”
This summer the ANSF began assuming security lead for more than 25 percent of the Afghan population with the transition of seven provinces and municipalities.
“Later this fall, we expect President [Hamid] Karzai will receive the next set of transition recommendations from NATO and his Afghan ministers,” Flournoy said.
“The next tranche could result in as much as 50 percent of the Afghan population living in … areas where the ANSF is in the lead for security with our support,” she added.