BRUSSELS, Belgium — The number of Afghan army recruits is overwhelming NATO’s training staff on the ground, the mission’s top general told an alliance gathering Wednesday.

Lt. Gen. William Caldwell was in Brussels to provide an update and add impetus to NATO’s call to member nations to volunteer more trainers.

“We are looking for some additional pledges,” Caldwell told reporters. “As the number of instructors increases, quality improves.”

NATO and its 3,200 trainers are racing to train surging numbers of Afghan recruits, Caldwell said. Indeed, the recruits — more than 7,800 in December compared to 880 in September — are pouring in, he said.

With more trainers, the alliance will be able to focus more on its main objective, leadership development, Caldwell said.

NATO military trainers represent just 2 percent of the foreign force operating in Afghanistan, but they are “the light at the end of the tunnel” and the key to transitioning more responsibility to the Afghans, NATO Secretary- General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said at the monthly alliance meeting.

Last week, NATO officials succeeded in eliciting pledges for 600 more trainers to augment the 1,000 promised by allies late last year. But that is still short of what NATO needs. About 400 contractors will be used to fill part of the shortfall, according to NATO officials.

Leadership development aimed at reducing corruption in the ranks, expanding Afghan National Police training and reducing attrition rates within the ANP all are areas of focus, Caldwell said. Of particular concern is maintaining the ANP’s civil order police, which has a 60 percent to 70 percent dropout rate.

Caldwell said that during a recent visit to Marjah in Helmand province, the site of the largest joint offensive since the start of the war in Afghanistan, he was pleased with how the Afghans fought.

“Overall, the forces performed better than most expected them to,” he said.

The offensive in and around Marjah, which included some 15,000 American, British and Afghans, is the first in a series of similar missions that will unfold around Afghanistan in the months ahead, according to Rasmussen.

“The operation in Marjah is the first test of the new NATO approach,” Rasmussen said, referring to a strategy that centers on clearing areas of insurgents and then holding the areas to provide the Afghan government with the space needed to deliver services to the population.

“We will stay in Marjah to finish the job,” he said.

But uncertainties about manning the training mission, coupled with the potential departure of some 2,000 Dutch troops who will likely withdraw following the country’s recent elections, means NATO must continue to press war-weary allies for more.

“It is clear we will have to replace [the Dutch] in one way or the other,” Rasmussen said. “I’m not able to present any solutions today.”

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John covers U.S. military activities across Europe and Africa. Based in Stuttgart, Germany, he previously worked for newspapers in New Jersey, North Carolina and Maryland. He is a graduate of the University of Delaware.

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