DOD News Briefing with Lt. Gen. Caldwell via Teleconference from Afghanistan
COL. LAPAN: General Caldwell, it’s Colonel Dave Lapan here at the Pentagon. How do you hear me, sir?
GEN. CALDWELL: Dave, I’ve got you loud and clear. How are you tonight?
COL. LAPAN: Very well. We’re -- we have you loud and clear here at the Pentagon briefing room, so we’ll get started. Good morning to all of you here. Good evening, General Caldwell, in Afghanistan. I’d like to welcome back to the Pentagon briefing room Lieutenant General William Caldwell. General Caldwell is the commanding general of NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan and the Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan. General Caldwell assumed his duties in Afghanistan in November of last year, and he joins us from the headquarters in Kabul to provide an update on training the Afghan National Security Forces. General Caldwell will make some opening comments.
They are a bit lengthy, but they are very detailed. So we’ll try to get you a copy of those comments afterward. There’s good information in there. He also has a couple of slides, which you have paper copies of and will be projected here on the screen.
So, General Caldwell, with that, sir, we’ll let you get started.
GEN. CALDWELL: Okay. Well, to everybody, good morning, first of all, here from Afghanistan. And again, I am pleased to have this opportunity to provide you with an update from Afghanistan on the progress of the Afghan National Security Force.
I realize this is the first time that I’ve had the chance to speak with you since the activation of NATO Training Mission- Afghanistan about nine months ago -- in fact, nine months ago and two days. So I’d like to give you a brief idea of where we were, where we are and where we’re going to go.
We are a multinational organization that employs trainers and advisers to develop the ministries of interior and defense. We also do police, army and air force’s logistics systems, medical systems and all the institutions that train and educate them all.
Our mission is critical to ISAF’s overall strategy of transition of security to the Afghan government. In many ways, training the Afghan National Security Force is transition. Our efforts to build and strengthen the Afghan National Security Force are providing the professional force that is self-reliant and has the ability to generate and sustain their force to serve and protect the people of Afghanistan.
To understand the measured progress we have made, you have to stop and look back. From 2002 to November 2009, the development of the Afghan security force was hampered by a lack of resources, leading to understandably slow, halting and uncoordinated progress.
The focus was on getting as many soldiers and police into operations as -- as fast as possible. There was little time dedicated to building and developing the Afghan National Security Force as an enduring force. Meanwhile, key inputs that address the professionalism and quality of the force -- such as leader development, losses from attrition, and literacy of soldiers and police -- were overlooked.
If you would look at that first slide there on the historical annual growth of the ANSF, as you can see on this chart, even in quantity, the development of the Afghan National Security Force was inconsistent. From 2002 to November 2009, the average growth, if you look over to the far right there, was about 27,000. That was about 15,000 personnel in the Afghan National Army, and about 12,000 in the Afghan National Police. These numbers were below the requirement to meet both the ANA -- Afghan National Army -- and the ANP -- the Afghan National Police -- end-strength goals.
Today, this trend has been reversed. In the past nine months alone, the growth in the army and police has more than doubled the average of any previous year, with our numbers right now at 58,000 this year. This growth of the Afghan National Security Force in the first half of 2010 is larger than at any year in its history.
The growth has been so dramatic, both the ANA and the ANP have exceeded their 2010 growth goals about three months ahead of schedule. This turnaround is attributable to a dramatically changed approach to training that we’ve taken with the Afghan National Security Force, and a new sense of urgency within the Afghan Ministries of Defense and Interior.
The Afghan leadership has taken complete ownership to increase recruiting, reduce attrition and improve retention over the last nine months. This includes the creation of recruiting commands to oversee efforts across Afghanistan to measure -- to better tailor recruitment to the needs of the Afghan people.
While the Afghan security force has made measured progress in this past year, we must also confront reality. Significant challenges do remain. With sustained commitment by the international community and time to provide results, they are not insurmountable. Every day we witness the remarkable and resilient character of the Afghan people, and we see so many who earnestly and selflessly labor to make a better future for their families and for their nation. NATO Training Mission Afghanistan is committed to continuing our work alongside of our Afghan partners and tackling these tough issues.
Our greatest challenge to building a self-sustaining Afghan National Security Force is building professionalism within its ranks. Professionalism is the key -- key ingredient to an enduring force that can both serve and protect its people. The three elements that are required to build this professional force are leader development, literacy and addressing losses through attrition. The first and most important element to professionalism -- the Afghan National Security Force is leader development. It’s, in fact, the enduring foundation that’s so essential.
Our efforts to create professional officers and noncommissioned officers in the army and police are focused on quality training and developing experience and providing an appropriate education, all dedicated to creating an ethos of both service and loyalty.
It is only when leaders embrace a culture of service to others that the Afghan National Security Force will truly be a professional force.
The second element is the literacy of soldiers and policemen. It’s the essential enabler. If we want to develop a professional force, we must take that on. When you consider the average literacy rate for an entry-level soldier and policeman in Afghanistan is maybe about 14 to 18 percent across the entire force, literacy becomes a major challenge in training and education and even performance of the basic skills required by a professional security force.
This skill addresses three more pressing issues to professionalism.
First, literacy provides the ability to enforce accountability. If a soldier cannot read, how can he know what equipment he is supposed to have and to maintain? If a policeman does not know his numbers, how can he read and understand the serial number on his own weapon? Literacy allows personnel to provide oversight for all aspects of the force, from equipment to personnel, regulations to training.
The second challenge literacy addresses is developing branch competency through professional military education. Literacy provides soldiers and policemen the ability to attend these schools and learn enabling skills such as logistics, maintenance, military intelligence and communications, skills that are required in a professional force to sustain themselves in the field and throughout their career.
These are skills that must also be ingrained in junior and mid- grade officers and leaders that are the backbone of this force and that in fact will one day lead this army and police force.
And finally, literacy combats corruption within the Afghan National Security Force. Literacy prevents bad actors from preying on the illiterate. When the force is literate, standards can be published and everyone can be held accountable to adhere to them, up the chain of command as well as down. Literacy allows soldiers and policemen to prevent theft of their pay. And only when they read how much they are owed and how much have they received will they be able to prevent the theft of their own pay.
Through the creation of mandatory literacy courses in the past nine months, we have supported the professionalization of the Afghan National Security Force, and educated many students. But this will take time, and it is a sustained effort if we are to educate an entire generation of Afghans to the level necessary to create a professional force with leaders that allow for the specialization to occur that is essential to their future development.
The final element and the endemic enemy of professionalism are losses from attrition. These losses include desertions, deaths and low retention. They pose the greatest threat to both quantity and quality of the Afghan National Security Force. For example, based on current attrition rates to grow the Afghan National Security Force the additional 56,000 that is currently needed to meet the October 31, 2011 goal of 305,000, we will need to recruit and train 141,000 soldiers and police. Again, in order just to grow that 56,000, we’re going to have to recruit to train and assign 141,000 police and soldiers.
To put this in a context, in order to meet that 2000 [sic – 2011] goal, we’ll do -- need to do all of this over the next 15 months, approximately the size of the army that currently exists today.
This is a challenge that must be met with concerted action by the Afghan national security ministries, the Afghan National Security Force, NATO Training Mission - Afghanistan, and ISAF. Each of these organizations has a responsibility for attrition and retention, either in the fielded force, with IJC, or in the institutional base, with NATO training mission.
Developing an enduring and professional security force will take time. Each aspect, from facilities to leaders, institution and enablers, to systems are elements that provide the continuity and the endurance to build, develop and sustain leaders and soldiers.
These are -- these are things that, really, there are no shortcuts for. Facilities must be built and expanded to increase the throughput and quality of training. Leaders must have the education, training and experience to perform their duties. Institutions must be developed and staffed and trained to perform their functions.
Enablers like acquisitions, logisticians, communicators, intelligence and maintenance people -- these things must be created to support the ministries and the fielded forces. Systems must be developed to ensure the Afghan National Security Force, from the minister of interior and defense down to the police officer and soldier, can seamlessly fulfill their functions, each supporting each other.
This requires a comprehensive approach to building, developing and transitioning to the Afghan National Security Force, but most of all, it takes time. We must work to reinforce progress and reinvest in our efforts to ensure we are using time as wisely as we are using our other resources.
We have made significant progress this year in laying the foundation to professionalize the Afghan National Security Force beginning this year and well into next year.
We are realistic about the challenges that lie ahead, but we are also optimistic about what we can do, together with our Afghan partners, to begin the process of transition as the Afghan National Security Force takes the lead to protect and serve their people.
And with that, I’ll be glad to take whatever questions you all may have.
COL. LAPAN: Anne.
Q General, this is Anne Flaherty with Associated Press. When is your best estimate of when Afghan troops can take over any portion of the country? Gates has predicted by the end of the year. Is that going to happen? And if not, why?
GEN. CALDWELL: Well, you know, again, transition is a process that starts and continues on for a long time, and it -- and it happens in little segments. A great example is -- let’s take the sergeant major academy that we have up and running right now in the training institution. Currently today it’s being led mostly by coalition forces, but with the Afghan instructors there, who we’ve been putting through a train-the-trainer program, so that they can take the lead and be responsible for it.
With the class that just started about a month ago, our goal is, by the time it graduates in December, that -- when the next class starts in January 2011, they will have the lead, and we in fact, as the coalition force, will step back and remain over in what we call an overwatch as they take the lead for that course, you know.
And I think that’s real important to understand. It doesn’t happen in some big area at one time, especially in the training institution, you know, because training is transition. It’s going to continually occur, and we’re going to see it in many different areas.
So if you ask me when’s the timeline going to be, as rapidly as we can get the Afghans in there that are going to be the future instructors, that we’ve put through a train-the-trainer program, go through the validation of who they are, and then put them in the lead and observe them as they take that responsibility on, then that will enable us to transition that aspect of it to the Afghans. I mean, the whole thing will take time, but we are encouraged by some of the early signs we’re seeing in some of these Afghan instructors.
Q Follow up on that. Sir, I understand that it’s going to take time and it’s a process. But certainly the -- there has to be some prediction as to when Afghan soldiers will be in the lead in at least certain portions of the country -- northern Afghanistan, more peaceful parts. When will the Afghans start to take the lead in certain parts of the country?
GEN. CALDWELL: Well -- yeah, well, again, what I would tell you is I think most people realize we have not even finished building the Afghan National Army or the police forces or the air force at this point. And in fact, all the key enablers, as we call them in the military -- things like logistics, maintenance, transportation, intelligence -- none of those organizations have been yet built and brought on line and connected with the current fielded force.
You know, our focus was this was a COIN-centric force, so it was very infantry-centric up to this point. So although you may have elements out there today that can operate, you know, very much in the lead, they can’t operate independently yet because they don’t have the enablers that would support them; they still require that from the coalition forces. So what our intent is over the next about 15 months is to balance this force by bringing on all those kind of other capabilities.
So if somebody says ‘when will the security force have the lead in a particular area,’ we will not have finished building the entire army until October of next year.
It doesn’t mean, in small, isolated pockets, that they can’t have the lead, with coalition enablers supporting them. But to say that they’ll be able to do much more before October next year would be stretching it, only because we haven’t finished the development of their force.
COL. LAPAN: In the back.
Q Can you please update on the number of Afghans deserting after training or during service? Also, Afghans coming from faraway places have trouble going home and then coming back to join duty.
GEN. CALDWELL: I’m sorry; I had difficulty hearing the question with some of the interference here in the air. Could I -- could somebody please repeat the question for me?
Q Update on the number of Afghan soldiers deserting after training or during service. Also, Afghans coming from faraway places from Kabul have problem going back home and then coming back to rejoin the duty.
GEN. CALDWELL: If I -- if I understand, the question is, those soldiers that we’ve recruited from perhaps around Kabul that have been sent elsewhere to serve, how do they get back to take leave and see their families? Is that the correct question?
COL. LAPAN: Yes, General, I’ll take a shot here from the lectern, maybe. The first part of the question, about desertion numbers of Afghan soldiers, both during their service and during their training. And also, the second part of the question had to do with that -- again, having soldiers serve at distances from home, how are they able to take leave and then return back to their unit.
GEN. CALDWELL: Okay.
Yeah, well, obviously as -- you know, as we said a minute ago, our -- the endemic enemy, as we call it, of our ability to professionalize this force is, in fact, when we see losses through attrition. And so the desertions is a part of that factor -- you know, desertions, those being killed or wounded to where they can no longer perform, and, of course, those who have completed their service and elect not to continue serving. And so we do watch that very carefully. It is a concern to us.
And so leave is a great example. What we have just instituted about three weeks ago, on a two-year contract we have just put into place, is the ability for both the Afghan National Army and the police to request and schedule flights for units so that if they want to go from somewhere down in the south -- which is what we have been running mostly recently -- they can, in fact, charter an airplane that will -- commercial airplane that will go down and pick up soldiers or policemen and bring them back to Kabul. We’ve got a designated transition location here at the airfield now where we’ve received them and then let them go out on their leave.
And then when they come back at the requisite time when their leave is up again, once we assemble a certain number, we’ll get another charter airplane and return them back to their location. That had previously not been in effect. It’s very new, in the last three weeks. And we, in fact, are hoping that this will enable us to get at some of this -- attrition issues that we have seen in the past where soldiers have wanted to go home on leave and therefore have had a challenge getting there and back.
COL. LAPAN: (Inaudible.)
Q Michael from The London Times, General. How does your time line of October next year for reaching the total you want for Afghan security forces match up with President Obama’s wish to start reducing American forces by July?
And you mentioned the word "validation." How are you -- what steps have you taken to improve the security vetting of the recruits into the national security forces?
GEN. CALDWELL: Well, first of all, what I’d say is the growth development plan that we’ve currently put in place is based on a couple of factors that we’ve developed, and it’s based on what is the throughput capacity. And from November of last year to currently today, we have about doubled or tripled almost all the throughput capacity, both in the ability to train both army and police forces inside of Afghanistan here. So that was a major step forward which we’re -- has enabled us to move this process a little faster.
Additionally, the influx of trainers was critical. We had a very severe shortage of trainers last November. It’s been increased about three or fourfold since that time. We still need some additional trainers, but as we project out now, based upon the current growth plans of our training facilities and the trainers we have on hand and those that have been pledged by NATO nations that will come in over the next six to nine months, our projection is that by October 2011, 31 October 2011, we can -- we can make those growth objectives.
We’re very much aware that the president of the United States has talked about this. He wants to have the ability to look at and make a decision around July 2011. General Petraeus has been very clear, it’s the beginning of a process towards transition. Various aspects of -- you know, like I stated earlier, we’ve already started with transition occurring in small parts, in segments within the institutional base already. We’ll keep moving it forward. As we see them demonstrate that ability to take the lead in the institutional side, we will in fact pass that off to them, and then take those resources that were committed to that and reinvest them into other training aspects of what we’re doing inside the country here.
So we’re aware of the date. General Petraeus has said that is the start of the process based on conditions on the ground. We continue to say that by October 2011, the end of October, we can make the current growth objectives with our Afghan counterparts as we move forward, if that helps.
Q The second question: security investments.
GEN. CALDWELL: Again, if I caught the question right, what is -- how do we screen them before they come in -- is that what you’re asking about?
Q I mean whether your security vetting methods have improved, changed in any way following a number of incidents where Afghan soldiers have turned their guns on coalition forces.
GEN. CALDWELL: Well, here’s what I’d tell you. You know, one of the things we do with every new recruit coming in, both into the police and the army now, they go through a complete biometric test. You know, they -- when I -- you know, a biometric test includes, you know, the eye retina scan, the fingerprints, the visual picture taken, all put into a database. And then they also have to come with two letters of recommendation attesting to their good standing of supporting the government and the people of Afghanistan. Those are scanned in. And all that is kept into a database. And through that process, when they first come in, that’s how we initially screen them against, you know, anything else that might already be in the biometric database that here currently exists with several hundred thousand in it -- people already in that database.
And then the next thing we do is, we watch them very carefully in the initial phases of training. All of our trainers are very attuned to and understand that somebody might always try to infiltrate into their force. So between the Afghan instructors, who are far better at this than the coalition ones, you know, we all stay very attuned to it and look for that type of thing.
And then once they get into the fielded forces, General Rodriguez would tell you, that’s something they pay attention to also.
I mean, we’re in -- we’re in a war zone. And so everybody does remain vigilant all the time. It’s prudent to keep, you know, always looking around and be aware of your surroundings and situation.
I mean, just as recently as about three weeks ago, you know, we picked up a recruit at one of our police training sites out west, in Adraskan, who turned out to be a Pakistan Taliban infiltrator. And when it was finally all, you know, finished with the investigation, that has now been turned over to Afghan authorities.
So people are staying vigilant. And we are aware of the intent by people to try to do that type of infiltration.
Q General Caldwell, Viola Gienger from Bloomberg News.
Can you talk about where -- if you have such a high attrition rate, where are these soldiers disappearing to? Are they -- are you finding that any of them are joining the adversaries, the Taliban or other militant groups?
And does that also indicate that the compensation still isn’t where it needs to be, to be able to retain the soldiers that you need? And can you be specific about how much of a shortage you still have of trainers and mentors, please?
GEN. CALDWELL: All right, well, the first thing I’d say is, you know, if we knew where those who had left the force went to, you know -- I mean, we’d also go back and assist the Afghan authorities in bringing them back under, you know, their military control and their police control.
I mean, we really don’t know where they go to, to be completely honest. I mean, it’s not something -- that’s very, very difficult to -- just difficult to track over here.
Supposition-wise, you will hear very often -- as recently as this past week, the president of Afghanistan has stated that he thinks a lot of them are being hired off by private security companies and other elements like that.
There is no question, you take a young soldier who’s gone through 17 weeks of intense military training to become a soldier in the Afghan army, he’s developed some skill sets, he’s received some literacy training. He’s a far better person after 17 weeks than the day he entered. And so the president of Afghanistan may in fact be very accurate, and I -- and I would suspect he probably has much better information than we do in terms of where they may go to. And that was something we had all been working for several months, as to how to biometric everybody inside of the private security companies, just because then we could establish and work matches and see if there was something like that going on.
As far as the trainers go, what I would tell you is that currently, today, we have the requisite number of trainers we need to accomplish the mission, through many mitigating measures that have been taken. The secretary of Defense of the United States just last month in July gave us an additional battalion of soldiers -- that was about another 650 soldiers -- to assist us in this training mission.
However, our requirements are graduating and increase over time. As we bring on more branch schools -- these are the schools for intelligence, logistics, medical, transportation and those type of things, which are just starting to come on line, and will through March of next year -- that is going to require more specialized trainers. We have identified those numbers. There’s a conference, you know, at the end of next month, in September, at NATO, to specifically discuss those in greater detail and look for nations to pledge against those, to provide people starting from about January time frame next year, well into 2011, which is going to be really critical for us.
Q General, Yochi Dreazen from National Journal.
I’d like to ask you about the local village defense forces modeled on what was done in Wardak. The training for those forces as they expand, will that remain solely done by special operations forces? Or will your command be involved in training them?
Also, what is the growth estimate for how many of those village defense forces you would like to see? And finally, how will those forces interact with the existing Afghan National Security Force command structure with the existing police and with the existing army?
GEN. CALDWELL: Okay, it -- just to be clear, then, you’re talking about the Afghan local police, the decree that President Karzai just signed here in the past week or so? Is that the force that you want me to discuss?
Q Yeah, I mean, these -- I keep hearing them described in different ways, but these sort of village defense forces modeled on what were trained in Wardak.
GEN. CALDWELL: Okay. Well, the definitive name now is the Afghan Local Police. That will be the name of it. The decree President Karzai just signed will allow up to 10,000 to be recruited. Doesn’t mean there couldn’t be more later, but he has said up to 10,000 being recruited.
What we do know is that it’s really not going to change the face of security in the country on a national level, but it could have a real tremendous effect locally. Another key thing is it has the potential to thicken the security forces that are already currently operating out there in different areas, too, around the country.
Right now, the Ministry of Interior is, in fact, working the procedural guidelines that will stipulate how this force will operate. But here are some things that we do know. It’s going to be under the Afghan government control. It’s going to be paid for by the Afghan government.
There will be a deputy district police chief established in each of the districts where these things will be designated to be formed that will provide the oversight, management and direction to that force.
They will receive some communications gear and transportation gear. They will be purely defensive in nature and have no offensive capability. They will operate in the localized area from which they are formed and not outside of that area.
So those are some of the key critical steps that President Karzai has directed must be implemented so that he has assurance that his government and specifically the Ministry of Interior has absolute control over the formation of these forces.
There’s about 30 different districts they’re looking at right now, today, in the planning process, where these would initially go into and operate. And in fact they would, like I said, thicken any security forces that are co-located or in that approximate area because, since they’re under the control of the Afghan government, specifically a deputy police chief in each district, they’ll work together, you know, as one team.
Q (Off mike) your command be involved in the training of these forces. Will that be a Special Operations mission?
GEN. CALDWELL: Oh, yeah. Right now we are not going to be involved in the training that those forces will receive. Now, again, they’re -- the Ministry of Interior is still working through its final procedures, but the current plan calls for that to be handled by the Special Operation forces, who will in fact conduct that training for that little localized group, and not the NATO Training Mission.
Q Hi. Sue Pleming from Reuters. You said that you track attrition rates very closely. What is the exact attrition rate, please? And secondly, are you getting a handle on drug abuse within both the police and the military, which has been quite a big problem?
GEN. CALDWELL: Well, it’s interesting -- yeah, I can talk both attrition rates, numbers, and the drug use for you.
I’ll start with the drug use. Same kind of reporting, that there’s tremendous amount of drug use -- between January of this year until this past month, we conducted what we called a PAI, a personnel assets inventory, of all of the police in this country. And we literally sent teams out that did the biometric data collection on every single police person that exists in this force.
We’ve got about 97 percent of the force done at this point. And in doing that, when we go out and collect all the biometric data, what we also did was do 100-percent drug testing, too. And what actually came back -- and really was a surprise to us, too -- was that the actual drug use, on average, across the force, the police force, was about 9 percent. In certain areas it was much higher, and in other areas it was much lower; but the average across the force at the time we were doing this, which was about 100,000, came out to be right about 9 percent for drug use.
Obviously, it’s a concern of the Ministry of Interior. When Minister Atmar was still the minister, he set up one or two drug rehabilitation treatment facilities, which in fact have people in them today, because he also understood that there was a need to specifically address that issue.
Again, if we’re going to build a professional force, as we keep instilling within all the recruits from the day they come in, drug use is something that cannot be tolerated while they’re serving on duty. And so we instill it in the training base. And the more that units are partnered with both the police and the army out there, they also then are also help -- able to help with behavior modification, is what I can best call it, of those Afghan security force, either a soldier or a policeman, who may in fact have thought that drug use was something that was permissible from wherever they came from before; but in fact, in a professional force is not acceptable.
As far as the attrition rates go, I can get some numbers for you specifically. But generally in the army today, it was about 23 percent across the Afghan national army, for this last what-we-call solar year, which is a March-to-March time frame. And within the Afghan national police, it was about 16 percent.
Now, again to caveat that, within the police, you’ve got three major subcomponents. You’ve got the Afghan national police, the Afghan uniform police and your border police.
In the Afghan national police, the attrition rate is unacceptable. It right now this past month is about 47 percent. When we first started working at and addressing that specific attrition issue, it was about 70 percent.
And so for us to be able to assist our Afghan counterparts in continuing to grow and professionalize their force, they’re going to have to reduce the attrition within the Afghan national police.
And so there’s an ongoing effort there to in fact do that, from working their pay which -- generally between about the December-to- January time period, we -- as you all may know, we established what we called a living wage and brought pay period, both the army and the police, of $165 a month is the base pay. That will give them the ability to live at a basic level and take care of their family, without having to turn to other means to develop income. And then we also added pro pay in, which had not been there before, for areas that were considered hazardous duty areas to serve in. And we also added longevity pay.
So if you serve for so many years, each additional number of years, your pay would also go up.
Again, all pay modifications that -- have been done here since last December. Most recently for ANCOP, we also added a pro-pay. So if you’re just in the Afghan National Civil Order Police, you get an additional $50 a month, and then for each deployment when you go out and come back, there’s a bonus there that you also get from the Afghan government.
So we are working the pay piece pretty diligently. The next one was the partnering -- as we call it, the three Ps -- as much as possible, the more that we can partner with and work with our Afghan counterparts, we find that the attrition levels do go down in those units. And in fact, what CFSOC [Coalition Forces Special Operation Command], our special-ops guys who are currently partnered with the national police down in Kandahar, would tell you is they’ve brought attrition down to almost nothing. In those units serving there, where they have a coalition partner working day in and day out with them, it does have a real effect.
And then the last part is the predictability. And that’s establishing some kind of cyclical system for them; again, for the national police, so they have a time period where they train, prepare for deployment, then get employed around the country, and they go out for 12 to 15 weeks at a time, and then when they come back they have a period that they’re guaranteed to take some leave and have some down time before they go back into a training phase and start that again.
Again, all this ties back into, if we’re -- if we’re going to help them develop a professional force that is enduring and self- sustaining, it’s going to be critical to start building into them, you know, leadership. And to do that, we can’t have that kind of attrition. Because, you know, a key component of developing leaders is, in fact, that experience base that you get through having served in either the police or the army.
So what we find is we’re challenged with leader development every time the attrition rates continue to rise like that.
Q What is the -- just to follow up, what is the current level of national police?
And does that mean that half of the people you’re training are dropping out? I mean, how are you going to reach that 2011 figure when you have these incredible attrition rates?
GEN. CALDWELL: Now it -- and you hit on one of the biggest challenges that we’ve been dealing with since about the December time frame. What we did in, from about December to March is, we tripled the throughput capacity of how many Afghan National Civil Order Police we could train.
So the recruiting is still coming along well. We’re able to recruit the young men that come into the civil order police. We have about -- at any given time about 1,200 that are graduating on a monthly average now. Again, we did not have that before. We do now. So the input into the civil order police has been increased dramatically. We’ve got about 5,700 today in the force -- 5,700 in the force. By October 31st, 2011, the force is scheduled to grow to about 18,500. To make that, that is our most significant challenge of all the growth that the Afghan security force has to see occur over the next 15 months.
And so there’s an intense effort now to fully partner with each of the kandaks -- we call them battalions; there’s 20 of them out there -- and then also to ensure that we do establish some kind of predictability for them that has not been in existence before but is coming on line now at this point.
We do believe, and having watched our commando units -- we have nine commando kandaks/battalions who have a very low attrition rate, and they have a predictable schedule, even though they -- again, they’re deployable around the country also, because they’ve got about the same comparable pay. In fact, really we pay ANCOP a little more now. They do have the partnering with the Special Ops forces, and then of course they have a good predictability -- predictable schedule.
So as we bring that online for ANCOP, we would expect to see here in the next three months that level of attrition start to drop off far more than it is today. And again we’re watching it very closely, because we realize we’ve got to get to 18,000.
The key thing on ANCOP that everybody has kind of really -- they are the premier hold force in this whole counterinsurgency campaign. They also are the ones that, you know, when I was down in Kandahar last week and had a chance to talk to the police down there again, once again you know, the comments about what the ANCOP are doing are just, you know, they want more of them, because they find them to be the less corruptible, to be more there to protect and serve the people, the more attentive.
And of course, they’re the best well-trained force that we have. They literally go through about four months of training, whereas a regular policeman goes through about a month and a half of training.
So they’ve had about three months more of training. And so during that four months that we have with ANCOP in training, we really instill in them the ethos that they’re there to protect and serve the people of Afghanistan and not to profit and to be served, which is the key element in terms of professionalizing that force.
So the recruits that we get out are well-motivated and ready to go. And again we’ve just got to fix the final P of the three Ps, to bring that online, that we think will take care of that attrition.
COL. LAPAN: Kevin.
Q General, hi, this is Kevin Baron from Stars and Stripes.
I wonder if you can go back to literacy rates. Last December, you guys instituted new literacy classes as a big recruiting tool. So since then how are we doing? What’s the change in the rates for, you know, everything from the enlisted down low to Afghan commandos, officers up high?
Where do things stand today? And how has it improved, if it has?
GEN. CALDWELL: Well, what I’d tell you is, you know, what we have come to realize -- you know, had you asked me last November when we were starting the NATO Training Mission, "Hey, is literacy important?", which some people would ask me, my philosophy was, hey, look, we’re here to train soldiers and policemen; you know, if they want some literacy, they can do it on their own, but that’s not what we’re here to do.
But in fact, what we have found, if we’re going to professionalize this force, we have to take on literacy. So whereas last November there was literally nobody in mandatory literacy program, today we have about 27,000 recruits, army and police, at any given time, in literacy programs. It’s growing to 50,000 by this December. And by May-June of 2011, we will continuously have about 100,000 army and police recruits in full-time literacy training programs.
And again, we’re not trying to make high-school graduates. Our intent is to give them enough so that they have the ability to do certain key things for the professionalization of the force; bring them up perhaps to a first-grade, third-grade level. But we do know that literacy is an essential enabler of this whole professionalization.
If in fact you bring literacy on line and you start to give them the ability to be able to just read numbers and to write their name and do some basic reading, we start establishing accountability, and that’s critical. I mean, how do you expect a soldier to account for their weapon, if they can’t even read the serial number? And I know that’s really challenging for some people to fully appreciate, just how illiterate most of this population is. It doesn’t mean they don’t have street sense and they aren’t smart in many ways; but they don’t have the education which has enabled them to look at series of numbers and know what that series of numbers [means] and how to read it.
So if we want to establish accountability into this police force to ensure that the money that’s being spent on them in equipping them is well spent, is worth the investment, we have to fix their -- that literacy rate up to about, again, a first- to third-grade level.
So one of the things we’ve done to establish that accountability is to ensure that everybody coming in does come up to some general level. So they can at least read their serial numbers. If they’re issued equipment and told that you’re supposed to have four shirts, three pairs of pants and two pair of boots on a piece of paper, they can actually read that and then look at the equipment instead of being reliant on somebody else to do that for them. Because what we don’t want to do is have them be -- establish a dependency on somebody else.
The next thing we realized is, we bring on these branch schools that established the branch competency from military intelligence to logistics, to transportation, to maintenance. That requires a literate person. When in fact, we -- we’re bringing on line a three-month literacy program so that those who have some degree of literacy, we can even bring it up to a higher level so that we can assure if we’re going to professionalize this force, when we put the maintainers out there, the logisticians and all those other types, they can, in fact, do their job and do it in an independent manner so they became enduring and self-reliant and not have to look back to the coalition forces.
And then the third thing is, it eliminates corruption. Again, when I arrived last year, one of the big pushes that were going on was electronic funds transfer. There was systemic corruption occurring in the country, as we understood, when bags of money were being passed from the highest level all the way down to each individual soldier and patrolman. So the idea was, well, let’s set up an electronic funds transfer to eliminate that systemic corruption.
And so today there’s about 87 percent of every soldier and policemen have EFT, as we call it, electronic funds transfer, in place today and functioning. And many of us, including myself, around the January/February time frame were feeling pretty good about what we had been able to keep pushing and making happen that had already started previously.
But then what we found out was, that’s great, but all we did was set up another level of corruption that can occur, because 80 percent of these young men can’t even read. So when they would go to get their money from a teller or go to an ATM machine that we’ve been putting into the different military installations, they have no ability to understand the numbers. They don’t understand what they’re getting paid.
Our pay team just last week that was up in Mazar-e Sharif, in "Mez," reported that they had had a hundred soldiers they were interviewing, going through and checking, and 90 of them -- 90 percent reported they were not being paid. And of course that was a real concern to us.
So as they dug into it while they were up there, this pay team that -- we’ve got different ones running around the country now -- what they found out was that soldiers had, in fact, been paid; the money was, in fact, in their account; but they just had no ability to, in fact, look at a bank statement or read the ATM machine to understand they had been paid. So again, had they had some basic literacy training at some point, then they would have known that and, again, been much more reassured that this government, the Afghan government and the Ministry of Defense, was, in fact, taking care of them.
So again, it all goes back to, if we’re going to set up a professional force that has the ability to endure and be self-reliant, that sets the conditions for transition so that the coalition forces can start really reducing their presence, we’re going to have to take on and do some very, very basic levels of literacy within this country.
COL. LAPAN: General, we’re about 50 minutes in. I don’t want to impinge on your time too much, but we still have a good deal of interest here. How much time do you have to give us?
GEN. CALDWELL: I could take it about another five minutes, I think.
COL. LAPAN: Okay.
Q Elisabeth Bumiller from The New York Times.
General, I just wanted to go back and clarify these attrition numbers. I was unclear. You said at one point from March to March, for the army it was 22 percent, and it was 16 percent for the police. But then you used numbers of 40 percent and 70 percent. Could you just clarify the time -- the time frame of those attrition numbers?
GEN. CALDWELL: Okay. Yeah, I apologize if I confused you. Yeah, the attrition numbers I first threw out were for a 12-month period. But I was trying to point out that some of the elements of the police force have even lower attrition than that. But then there is another element like the ANCOP -- and again, because they’re only 5,700 people, you know, when you look at a police force, say, of about 115,000, it -- you know, it doesn’t really, you know, reflect well if you just look at the overall average of the police force.
The number I talked about the ANCOP was for a specific month, this past month. And then when I used the figure of 70 percent attrition, again, what I was doing, I was taking their monthly attrition and annualizing it, as if it remained there for a year then what would have been the annual attrition rate. So that when I said the 70 percent, that particular month, their attrition rate then was, you know, obviously fairly high. And then, this past month, when it was down to about 47 percent, it had -- it had dropped some more. And I just, I didn’t want that to be hidden by the overall Afghan National Police attrition figures, if that helps some.
Q (Inaudible) what is, right now, if you could do it, the attrition rate for the Afghan security forces, the ANSF?
GEN. CALDWELL: The current attrition rate for the Afghan police today? If we do the Afghan National Police in aggregate -- in other words, we take all of them -- we would say the monthly attrition this past month is about 1.2 percent attrition; which then, when you multiply it times 12, you know, you get the annualized figure, which will be about 14 percent or so.
Again, you know, I go back to -- we watch it very closely, because we know that -- you know, we call it our, you know, our endemic enemy of being able to professionalize this force, because we lose a lot of good leaders if in fact they’re attritting and not staying in, because then we don’t get that experience base.
Q (Off mike) clarify one more time, then, for the army, the -- what is -- is that -- was that the 23 percent you were talking about?
GEN. CALDWELL: The attrition rate for the army? Let’s see. It was -- it was about -- again, on an annualized basis, it would be -- it was about 23 percent this last month, is what the attrition factors were for the army. And again, that fluctuates a little every month. But for a monthly attrition number, you know, then obviously that’s about -- just under 2 percent.
COL. LAPAN: All right. Nancy, second to last.
Q Thank you. General, it’s Nancy Youssef with McClatchy Newspapers. I had a question for you about how much does it cost, on average, to train an ANA soldier or an ANP policeman? And how has that cost changed since you’ve added programs like literacy to the training program?
GEN. CALDWELL: Boy, that’s a good -- I’ve actually never been asked that question before -- how much does it actually cost to train a soldier or policeman. I’ve not ever attempted to really stop and figure out, because there would be all sorts of costs associated with it. So I don’t really have an answer for you on that one.
You know, we’ve kind of -- yeah, I just -- I don’t -- I mean, I guess we could try to figure out what it might be, but I -- I’m just not really sure, because you’ve got equipment, you’ve got bases. You know, I know what we generally spend every month as an organization, doing everything from building facilities to procuring equipment to doing the military training aspects to equipping the force with their equipment, but I don’t know specifically on individual ones. So I apologize I don’t have that for you.
I mean, I guess what I could tell you, I could tell you what’s the cost of not training them, though. And the cost of not training them is we’ll never be able to set the conditions for transition. And again, that’s so critical. And so as we move forward, you know, we recognized last November when we got here there wasn’t real emphasis on quantity. And quantity is important. I mean, it’s not something you can do without.
However, what we realized was that quality had to be brought into the force. It’s absolutely imperative that it was. And so that’s why we’ve done the things like bring on the literacy training. The literacy training and perspective is very, very, actually, inexpensive, relatively speaking. We’re hiring all Afghan instructors to do the literacy training. We’ve got about 250 that we’ve hired at this point that are -- that are working there, and the number’s going to increase to well over a thousand as we continue to move this program forward.
So, again, we’ve tried to not get carried away with those, but make it decent pay for those who are going to be involved in the education of the security force.
Q Another (inaudible) if I could. If I heard you correctly, it sounds like it’s being paid exclusively by the United States. And so my question would be, is there concern on your part or on ISAF’s part more broadly that the United States is building up an army and a training mission that the Afghan government eventually won’t be able to pay for itself?
GEN. CALDWELL: Well, I mean, clearly, right now, the entire, you know, gross national domestic product is about $10 billion a year here in Afghanistan. And out of that, when you look at what their expendable capability is to put into programs and different things for the people of Afghanistan, it’s obviously much less. So the current security force that is being built will require assistance from the international community for many years after the transition has been complete.
Now, there are those who will tell you these mineral deposits have all this great potential and could in fact change the entire, you know, environment here overnight. What I do know from the American side, speaking as an American officer, is that the U.S. has made an enduring commitment to be supportive of and establish a relationship with the government of Afghanistan and the people of Afghanistan. We call it a, you know, a strategic partnership.
So we are committed to some degree to continue to help them to sustain and maintain this force out in the future. Again, and I don’t know for how long, but there is a requirement that they currently will not be able to pay themselves out of their current GDP, that will require international assistance.
COL. LAPAN: General, we’ve busted the five minutes you gave us, so I’ll send it back to you for any closing remarks, as we close in on an hour here.
GEN. CALDWELL: Okay. Well, here’s what I would tell everybody. We do have a website. We spend a lot of time trying to put everything up onto our website that we’re doing. One of the decisions we made last November when we activated NATO Training Mission was we established three imperatives for ourselves. And one of them is that we’re going to always operate as a team with our Afghan counterparts.
The second one is transparency. So it’s very, very rare we do anything in a classified manner in this organization. I’d say literally 95 percent of everything we do, we do in an unclassified manner, and it’s available to whomever wants to see it.
So not that I’m trying to make a pitch for our website, but we post tremendous amounts of information on there very specifically so that we have that transparency taking place.
We have about 19 different nations currently today that have soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, all kinds of different service members who are part of our organization. We encourage them to go back to their host countries and tell them that if they, you know, if they go to www.ntma -- you know, ntm-a.com [http://www.ntm-a.com/], their host nations can look in there too. It’s -- I mean, it’s -- there is no -- it’s not password protected or anything else.
So that’s one of the key things we’ve tried to establish, so that the information of what we are doing and how we’re doing it, why we’re doing it is readily available to people.
But I do want to tell you thanks for taking the opportunity to share this time with me today. I -- you know, Afghan -- the Afghan National Security Force really has seen some, you know, real measured progress over the last nine months that I’ve been here. I’ve seen a commitment by the Afghan leaders that have decided that they’re going to ensure that the recruiting numbers are there and they’re to engage and they’re being involved in this whole effort, and they want to see this thing succeed and they want to see a professional force develop in their country, but they know too that it takes time to bring this completely on line.
So as we continue forward here in the future, you know, we’re looking towards October 31st, 2011, to have finished the build of the force, and then we’ll continue with the professionalization of it, recognizing there are certain aspects that we’ll continue to work with them on for several years beyond that, especially in certain aspects of their air force and some other things like that.
But if you have any questions, we’d be glad to take them. I don’t know, Dave, whether they would go through you. I’ve got a new director of communications that just came on board a couple weeks ago, a guy named -- by the name of Lieutenant Colonel Shawn Stroud. And Shawn now is in charge of all our communications here as we move forward. So we’ll be glad to share, respond to, answer whatever information you would want in the future.
So thank you very much, Dave, for everybody’s time.
COL. LAPAN: Thank you again, and between us and Colonel Stroud, we’ll get all those questions to you, so you can get answers.
GEN. CALDWELL: Okay, Dave. Yeah, however you all set that up. I’m not quite sure how you do it. But we’ll be glad to respond to anything anybody would like to know further about.
COL. LAPAN: All right. Thank you, sir.
GEN. CALDWELL: Okay. Thank you very much, everybody.
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