STUTTGART, Germany — As Afghan forces lead more missions, they are increasingly the victims of roadside bombs, NATO and Afghan military leaders said Monday.
On average, 110 Afghan soldiers and 200 policemen are killed each month with the majority of those casualties the result of roadside bombs, Maj. Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi, a spokesman for the Afghan Army and Defense Ministry, said during a news conference at NATO headquarters in Brussels, where he appeared via teleconference from Kabul.
Afghan security forces are working with their coalition partners on tactics to better avoid Improvised Explosive Devices and acquiring more protective gear. “Afghans do not have the same capability” as NATO forces, Azimi said.
Appearing alongside Azimi in Kabul was Canadian Maj. Gen. Jim Ferron, deputy commander of NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan.
“When you lead operations, there are risks,” said Ferron, who added that Afghan forces are in the lead on operations between 75 percent and 80 percent of the time.
Ferron said the NATO training mission is focused on getting Afghan forces more protective equipment as NATO prepares to end its combat role at the end of 2014.
On Tuesday, NATO foreign ministers will arrive in Brussels for two days of talks, where post-2014 plans for Afghanistan and security concerns in Syria will be on the agenda.
Armored vehicles continue to get pushed into the field for Afghans, many of whom remain in need of a full set of body armor, according to Ferron. In the year ahead, the goal is to get all Afghan forces outfitted with armor, personal weapon systems and boots, he said.
“We’re looking at standardization right across the board,” Ferron said.
Meanwhile, the Afghans are close to their goal of 352,000 security forces, which should be reached by early 2013, according to Ferron. After a brief “pause” for the re-vetting of Afghan troops amid concerns earlier this year over a spike in so-called green-on-blue attacks, recruitment of Afghan troops continues at a steady pace, he said.
The Afghans also are putting in place an eight-stage vetting process to weed out problem solders. The new system calls for more intensive interviewing of prospective troops and a biometric system for keeping track of them, Ferron said.
“The vetting process is being planned, organized and led by Afghan security forces,” Ferron said. “We’re relatively confident these steps will support the mitigation (of insider attacks).”
Still, there are problems with the vetting process, including a lack of integration within the Afghans’ biometric monitoring systems, he said.
“That is a work in progress,” Ferron said. “The intent is that all the systems in the country will be interoperable, but we are not there yet.”
In response to a question about reports that the U.S. is considering a post-2014 force between 7,000 and 15,000 U.S. troops, Ferron said the precise size would likely depend on what allies were willing to dedicate to the mission.
“That’s a question right now that’s being looked at by any number of staff,” Ferron said. “Some of the considerations that make that answer very difficult is what other nations are willing to apply to the mission.”