Afghan Security Forces Learn to Protect, Serve
By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 14, 2011 Two years of intense education and training have turned members of the Afghan army and police into a national security force that is learning to protect and serve and that is producing a new breed of leaders, the NATO Training Mission commander said yesterday.
Army Lt. Gen. William B. Caldwell, who also commands Combined Security Transition Command in Afghanistan, spoke with reporters at NATO headquarters in Brussels about the training program that seeks to support a lasting transition in Afghanistan.
“In November 2009, there really were some reasons to be skeptical about what was going on inside Afghanistan. We saw that firsthand when we stood up this training mission,” Caldwell said.
“But today, … you will find a security force that is being well trained, that is being properly equipped, [and] where leaders are being identified and put through a rigorous program,” he added.
In the last 12 months, the last of 12 specialty schools opened to train members of the army and police force in human resources, maintenance, logistics and other skills “that are absolutely essential for any enduring police force or army,” the general said.
“We’re bringing on more of the institutions and systems,” Caldwell said, “like the logistics system and the maintenance system -- not developed yet, but coming online -- that will be critical to the long-term sustainability of these two forces.”
The international community’s growth objective for the Afghan army and police was 305,600 members for both by Oct. 31, he added.
“That was achieved officially [Oct. 12],” he said, adding that the next objective, for Oct. 31, 2012, is 352,000 members total. “So we’re already 2,000 [members] into that number, moving toward that objective,” the general told reporters.
Last month, 8,000 men wanted to join, and 1,600 of them were turned away because of a deliberate, methodical screening process that identifies applicants as unsuitable for service, he added. Of the 8,000 applicants, the Afghan army gained 6,400 new recruits.
More than 114,000 men have joined the army, police and air force over the past two years, Caldwell said, and the mission has established internationally recognized and certified programs of instruction to train them.
“On Oct. 1 we implemented the new eight-week police training program,” the general said. The program, previously six weeks long, was extended by the international community, he said, which included the NATO Training Mission, the European Union Police Mission, the German Police Project Team, several nongovernmental organizations and the Afghan interior ministry. With the two extra weeks, human rights training went from 14 hours to 32 hours, and more training was added on the rule of law, transparency and accountability.
The training mission also is making sure that equipment purchased for the Afghan army and police is necessary, affordable and sustainable by Afghan standards.
Leader development has been the mission’s No. 1 priority since 2009, Caldwell said, and it has since trained nearly 50,000 officers and noncommissioned officers for the army, the police and the air force.
“We recognize that if we have the right leaders, we can take on any challenges that are out there,” he said. “But leaders take time and … effort to develop, and so we’ve continued to build more capacity inside Afghanistan to train leaders.”
Educating a population that is 75 percent illiterate is another priority, the general said, but the young people in Afghanistan are eager to learn.
Today, just over 3,000 Afghan teachers work full time as part of the NATO Training Mission, he added.
“To date, we’ve educated just over 134,000 young men and some women inside Afghanistan who were completely illiterate and brought them to some level of literacy,” Caldwell said. “That’s a phenomenal undertaking that we started about 18 months ago, and it just keeps ramping up as we go. It’s absolutely mandatory that every single man and woman coming into the army, police and air force must attend literacy training and be brought up to some level of education.”
Over two years, the NATO training mission has gone from two nations to 37, he said. The mission started with 30 trainers, and today has 1,800 and another nearly 500 that have been pledged or are inbound over the next six months.
“In November ’09, … I had one professional police officer in the entire NATO training mission in Afghanistan,” Caldwell said.
Today more than 525 civilian police voluntarily serve in Afghanistan, he said, and include Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Australian Federal Police, City of London Police and the European Gendarmerie Force.
“These are true police professionals, … and they’re making a significant difference in how we get at and help with the police training,” the general said.
Such partnerships, he added, are helping to professionalize the Afghan army and police force.
The next transition will be to put Afghans in the lead for training, Caldwell said.
“Our goal is that by December 2012, about 16 months from now,” he said, “Afghans will be in the lead for all basic training inside Afghanistan for the police and the army.”
Caldwell acknowledged that challenges remain and difficult days lie ahead. “But I’m also very encouraged by the growth and development that I’ve seen,” he added.
The Afghans have reason to be hopeful about their future, Caldwell said. “We really are starting to see a security force there that understands they are there to protect and serve, and not to be served themselves,” he noted.