Afghan Force Development Director Outlines Priorities
By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Aug. 1, 2012 With Afghanistan’s army and police forces working more independently at the kandak, or battalion, level and below, coalition efforts increasingly are aimed at developing Afghan capabilities at higher unit levels, a senior NATO International Security Assistance Force officer said today.
Brig. Gen. Thomas Putt of the Canadian army, director of Afghan national security forces development for ISAF Joint Command, briefed Pentagon reporters today via video teleconference from the Afghan capital of Kabul.
Putt -- who also is deputy commander of the U.S. Army’s 5th Corps as an exchange officer -- said his job is to work with all of the coalition’s development and field advisory teams working with Afghan forces in ISAF’s regional commands. As the security transfer to Afghan lead in 2014 approaches and that nation’s troops increase their combat skills, he said, developing a self-sufficient security framework is essential.
The general said he has visited most of the regional commands and their partnered Afghan corps and sees a big difference in the Afghan forces since he was deployed to Kandahar six years ago.
“Frankly, I have been impressed with the remarkable improvement since 2006,” he said. “Today, we are witnessing [Afghan national army] corps like the 205th in Kandahar conducting independent brigade- and multibrigade-led operations. … This was considered unthinkable not 24 months ago.”
Most members of the ISAF Joint Command staff have served multiple tours in Afghanistan, the general noted. “This depth of professional knowledge and leadership experience at the operational and tactical level is critical as we work together with our Afghan partners on the road to 2014,” he added.
Afghan forces now are capable of fighting and winning at the infantry battalion level, Putt said, but challenges remain.
“As veteran Afghan combat commanders are promoted into key command and staff positions at the brigade and corps level, … [we] have adjusted our collective efforts on mentoring this new generation of Afghan warrior to be able to plan and execute more complex missions and operations at [that] level,” he said.
Putt said his particular focus is on developing “key enablers,” including command and control, supporting fires, intelligence, logistics, and countering roadside bombs. The last two are his top priorities, he added.
The general said the logistics challenge isn’t as simple as moving basic combat supplies.
“They don't have a problem in that area,” he said. “What we're looking at now is how we can do things like enhance our ability in the … field of maintenance and looking after other enablers such as artillery and the higher functions that are … expected of an army that is evolving.”
All Afghan soldiers receive counterbomb training, Putt said. “Our specialists, the Afghan road-clearance companies, which are doing remarkable work, are obviously the experts in that area,” he told reporters. He added the Afghan Defense and Interior ministries, as well as the ISAF Joint Command, are conducting “a major, major push” to develop Afghan counterbomb capabilities.
“These are important pieces as we move forward, and they'll take the better part of my tour, at least, to make sure that they're in place for 2014,” he acknowledged. “But I am confident that they will be there, based on my circulation of the battle space.”
Putt said the third priority in Afghan force development is the air force.
“They're really just getting going in terms of what we're looking for down the road,” he said. “But the equipment that's been provided here for training and … operational purposes, including the helicopters, will remain and, in fact, grow.” The Afghan air force will grow from its current strength of 4,000 members to about 8,000 members by 2014 to 2015, the general added.
Putt said the number of women serving in the Afghan army is just beginning to grow, with 379 female soldiers now in the ranks, and that 1,409 women are serving in the police forces.
“In Kandahar last week, [Afghan uniformed police] were conducting the first in a series of community-based foot patrols, … because the situation has gotten better there,” he said. “And I think at least a dozen AUP female police officers are now intermixed with their male colleagues out on the battle space.”
Overall, Afghan army and police forces are on track to be at full strength by October, Putt said.
“The schoolhouses are full of new recruits; as you know, it is a voluntary system,” he noted. The general added that literacy training is both a strong draw for recruits and a central requirement for successful security transfer in 2014.
Literacy training also is “a bit of a secret weapon that the insurgents can't provide, and that's one draw … that we think will pay huge dividends as we go forward,” he added.
Considerable efforts are under way in both the army and police forces to introduce literacy as a “chief enabler,” he noted.
“In fact, we probably won't be able to go forward in some of our enabler objectives if we don't increase literacy,” the general said. “So we're working very hard at it.”