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Staff Sgt. Larel Bonner, left, of Training Assistance Group 5, uses a stick to show an Afghan army recruit how to pull the trigger on his weapon during a training session on a range at Kabul Military Training Center. The recruits were in their fourth week of basic training. Bonner is one of many coalition soldiers, including many Americans, who are mentoring the training at KMTC.

Staff Sgt. Larel Bonner, left, of Training Assistance Group 5, uses a stick to show an Afghan army recruit how to pull the trigger on his weapon during a training session on a range at Kabul Military Training Center. The recruits were in their fourth week of basic training. Bonner is one of many coalition soldiers, including many Americans, who are mentoring the training at KMTC. (Michael Abrams / S&S)

Staff Sgt. Larel Bonner, left, of Training Assistance Group 5, uses a stick to show an Afghan army recruit how to pull the trigger on his weapon during a training session on a range at Kabul Military Training Center. The recruits were in their fourth week of basic training. Bonner is one of many coalition soldiers, including many Americans, who are mentoring the training at KMTC.

Staff Sgt. Larel Bonner, left, of Training Assistance Group 5, uses a stick to show an Afghan army recruit how to pull the trigger on his weapon during a training session on a range at Kabul Military Training Center. The recruits were in their fourth week of basic training. Bonner is one of many coalition soldiers, including many Americans, who are mentoring the training at KMTC. (Michael Abrams / S&S)

"Fire in the hole", or the Afghan equivalent, is shouted out as Afghan recruits watch C-4 explode during a training session at the Kabul Military Training Center.

"Fire in the hole", or the Afghan equivalent, is shouted out as Afghan recruits watch C-4 explode during a training session at the Kabul Military Training Center. (Michael Abrams / S&S)

KABUL, Afghanistan

Coalition forces’ training of Afghans is shifting gears, with about 300 army trainers with a multi-national task force crossing over to work with the country’s national police.

About 500 police tutors now are involved in the training, or about half of what is needed, officials say. The European Union plans to contribute as many as 200 to the cause, but Army Maj. Gen. Robert Durbin, who overseas all training, is pushing for even more support.

Durbin estimates the Afghan National Police has only 35 percent of necessary vehicles, guns and communications gear. In contrast, the Afghan National Army is about 60 percent equipped.

If the ANP members “cannot defend themselves,” Durbin said, “we can’t expect them to defend their people.”

While the U.S. is the lead nation for Task Force Phoenix, other countries are pitching in, especially with the army. The task force, which consists of nearly 6,300 people from 16 countries, oversees a nationwide initiative to mentor Afghan army and police units.

There are two military trainers from New Zealand, about two dozen from Mongolia and a host of other contributors. The French, for example, are involved in officer training, while the United Kingdom focuses on noncommissioned officer training and the officer candidate school.

Sometimes the training is geographically based. For instance, the Italians, Spanish and Slovenians are out west. Sometimes the training is skills-based. The Mongolians teach artillery. The Romanians tutor Afghans in armored warfare. The Germans instruct the mechanized forces.

“It’s nice to bring people in that have different ways of doing things,” said Brig. Gen. Douglas A. Pritt, head of Task Force Phoenix. “There are a lot of different solutions, and ours aren’t always the best.”

Trainers work at more than 100 locations, from Herat in western Afghanistan to remote outposts on the Pakistan border. They guide the development of Afghan security forces from boot camp to base camp and beyond.

“It’s the Afghan army, not the American army,” said Staff Sgt. James Rader, a firing range mentor at the Kabul Military Training Center. “They do things differently, but that’s good. It is their army.”

While illiteracy in Afghanistan remains an impediment — estimates from instructors vary greatly, from 5 percent to 50 percent — Afghan soldiers seem to be quick and willing learners, task force members said. Sometimes what is taught is highly technical. Sometimes it is downright basic, like when an Afghan recruit recently had to be shown how to put socks on.

The Afghans “don’t know they are deprived,” Pritt said.

Until this year, Pritt’s people effectively dealt with just the army. There was some law enforcement training going on at the ministerial (federal) and provincial (state) levels, but it was limited, involving no more than 100 advisers. Work at the district (county/parishes) level mostly fell to Germany, the lead partner nation, and U.S. State Department contractors, but more was — and is — needed in the way of money, trainers and expertise.

Over the next month or so, about 20 percent of the task force will rotate home and a new batch of advisers will replace them. Pritt is leaving, and so is Rader.

Last week, Rader stood to the side with other instructors while a class of army recruits graduated from the KMTC. It was his last, and it wasn’t hard to tell his stomach was in knots.

“Every single one has adopted me into their family. They call me ‘brother,’” said Rader as he swallowed hard. “We’re progressing. It’s getting better. They are going in the right direction.”

Rader, from Salem, Ore., talked about the success of the center’s literacy courses, empowerment and an Afghan trainer — Afghans do most of the teaching now — whom he described as “one of the finest officers” he has ever met.

“I’m getting ready to leave, and I’m going to miss these guys,” Rader said, staring straight ahead. “I’m going home to my family, but I’m going to be leaving family here, too.”

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