Training, Investment Create Sustainable Afghan Army
By Ian Graham
Special to American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Mar. 8, 2010 Training and financial investment are critical to helping Afghanistan’s security forces become self-sufficient, a senior participant in the effort said.
Army Brig. Gen. Gary Patton, the deputy commanding general for programs with Combined Security Transition Command Afghanistan, shared his insights during a March 6 “DoDLive” bloggers roundtable on how U.S. and NATO forces are supporting the training and growth of Afghan security forces.
Patton has direct oversight of Afghan army programs and is responsible for generating and sustaining them. By integrating infrastructure construction, equipment procurement and training contracts, Patton said, he provides the Afghan army the tools it needs to reach self-sufficiency.
“What I’m doing is generating the new units with equipment, with basing, and combine that with the training piece,” Patton said.
Patton used his experiences in Iraq -- comparing his observations from deployments early in the war and deployments later in the war -- to illustrate the kind of growth he wants to see in Afghan self-sufficiency.
During a deployment in Ramadi, Iraq, Patton said, he didn’t have much support in the form of Iraqi military or police officers. While deployed to Tikrit during his second Iraq tour in 2006 and 2007, he said, he saw quite a bit more support from Iraqis. Now, he said, his mission is to help Afghanistan move to a point of self-sufficiency the way he saw it happen in Iraq.
So far, he said, significant progress is evident toward that goal. In eastern Afghanistan, 82nd Airborne Division soldiers are embedded with the 201st and 203rd Afghan army corps. The units live, eat, sleep and work together in the field as one combined force.
“The 82nd and their subordinate units literally are embedded and intermingled with their Afghan partners at every level, starting with the corps, the brigade and all the way down to the platoon,” Patton said. “It’s a pretty remarkable and efficient form of partnership. We’re generating Afghan army units at a pretty rapid pace.”
But no matter how well recruiting is going, Patton noted, growing the Afghan army will fall short of its goal without experienced officers. That’s where partnerships such as the one in which the 82nd is engaged come in handy, he said.
“What you don’t get when you generate units at such a rapid pace is leader development, because it takes a lot longer to develop a leader rather than a soldier from a recruit,” he said. “What you get from the partnership and combined action is the role-modeling of the U.S. soldiers and U.S. Marines. … You get leadership by example. A big part of leader development of our Afghans is just being connected at the hip with their coalition partner.”
A major way U.S. and NATO forces are helping to create a sustainable military in Afghanistan is to take an “Afghan-first approach” to supplying the Afghan army, Patton said. First, they’ll direct funds to Afghan industry to build the army.
“We’re going to invest about $1.5 billion in the local economy this year, in buying sustainment and equipment items for the Afghan army and police,” Patton said. “We’re buying [equipment] on the local economy, and what that does is create jobs.”
That money will buy things such as boots, poncho liners, blankets, web gear, socks and T-shirts. Patton said a recent review of contracts found that, for example, six out of seven U.S. and NATO boot contracts had required boots to be imported.
As a result, the general said, those contracts were eliminated and resources were directed to bolster the Afghan manufacturing industry. This assists in the mission, he explained, because it gives the local population confidence in the way their country is run.
“Now, all of the boots for the Afghan army will be made in Afghanistan by Afghans,” he said. “It’s important, because … that’s a lot of jobs. An Afghan that has a job is less likely to be an Afghan getting recruited by an insurgent or the Taliban.”
(Ian Graham works in the Defense Media Activity’s emerging media directorate.)