Afghan border patrol facing more training courses
January 26, 2009
KHOST, Afghanistan — The U.S. military has launched a major overhaul in the training of Afghan Border Police, a move that mirrors larger changes in the way U.S. and Afghan units will interact in the coming year.
The effort, coming amid continued violence along Afghanistan’s rugged 1,200-mile boundary with Pakistan, will increase joint operations and see large U.S. combat units take a more active role in training Afghan units, officials say.
The military has primarily relied on small teams of embedded advisers to train Afghan security forces, but those teams have been in short supply, especially for the border police and Afghan National Police. The embedded teams will remain, but with the ranks of both Afghan and U.S. forces expected to grow here considerably in the next year, officials are moving toward larger-scale efforts.
“We can expect a greater focus on partnering efforts in the future across the board, from ISAF partnering with ANA Corps, to incoming brigades partnering with police districts,” said Lt. Col. Christian Kubik, a spokesman for the U.S. command that oversees training efforts in Afghanistan.
Already, Task Force Currahee, an American-led combat brigade in east-central Afghanistan, has begun the process of assigning each of its battalions to work with a battalion of border police. Joint operations are expected to begin this winter.
“We’re able to provide the enabling capacity for those operations,” such as artillery and air support, said Col. Pete Johnson, the commander of Task Force Currahee.
U.S. units will also work to improve coordination between the border police, the Afghan Army and Pakistani units across the border, officials said. Johnson said he hoped the border police units would “be where we want them” by late summer.
The border police has about 12,000 troops but an authorized strength of nearly 18,000. A recruiting drive is under way to fill the ranks, but the border police is not the only Afghan force with plenty of openings. The Afghan Army was recently almost doubled to an authorized strength of 134,000 and is recruiting to fill roughly 60,000 empty slots.
“We have experienced no problems in recruiting in the past and don’t expect any obstacles in recruiting more Afghan Border Police,” Kubik said.
Meanwhile, the military has launched a 6- to 8-week basic training-like course for the border police similar to an effort launched last year for the Afghan National Police. Besides training, troops who attend the course receive an issue of weapons and gear and are entered into an automatic pay system.
Officials hope to train and equip about 4,200 border police members at a cost of $70 million over the next year. The U.S. is also building 165 outposts along the border, 18 of which have been completed.
So far, almost 600 border police troops from the area controlled by Task Force Currahee have attended the course at two sites that are run by the contractors Blackwater International and Dynacorp. Officials say the course has a dramatic effect, but acknowledge some problems.
Roughly one in 12 of the Afghan troops who have attended were thrown out after failing drug tests, and officials have heard scattered complaints of troops being issued cheaply-made Pakistani or Egyptian made assault rifles, rather than the Hungarian models promised in the contract.
Border patrol commanders who attended a conference with U.S. officials near the city of Khost in early January also complained of a lack of heavy weapons and few development projects in their areas, which they said made it difficult to win over the local population.
Border patrol Gen. Mullakhel, who commands Afghan border forces in the area, said cross-border insurgent activity had increased recently, which he attributed to Pakistani military operations further north.
Though winter traditionally brings a lull in fighting along the moutainous border, violence has continued in some areas amid relatively mild weather this year.
A U.S. unit killed 22 militants in rural Khost province on Thursday after it came under ambush, the military said. That came two days after nine rockets were fired at a U.S. base in the city of Khost, which has seen several recent suicide bombings. But in a twist, Pakistani officials said a group of roughly 600 Taliban militants crossed from Afghanistan and attacked a Pakistani Frontier Corps base earlier this month.