Afghan trainers to get short boost
STUTTGART, Germany — A battalion of U.S. soldiers is on the way to Afghanistan to help fill the gap in the number of trainers of Afghan security forces, but it’s only a temporary measure, military officials say.
With an overall requirement of 2,325 institutional trainers, the NATO training mission as of March 31 had a shortfall of 759 personnel, according to the Pentagon’s congressionally mandated Report on Progress Toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan, released last week.
About 600 soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division will soon be on the ground in Afghanistan to serve a 90-day rotation, buying more time to win additional troop pledges from European allies, the NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan confirmed. A total of 150 Marines, who also are serving a three-month rotation to train the Afghan forces, arrived last month.
"Somebody has to step forward. If nobody does this, the training doesn’t get done and we don’t accomplish our mission," Col. Gregory T. Breazile, a spokesman for the NATO training mission, said Thursday. "These are drastic measures. The Army and Marines have stepped up."
The 750 additional soldiers and Marines will work at various schools around Afghanistan, teaching Afghan National Army and police recruits fundamentals in patrolling, marksmanship and basic combat skills, Breazile said.
Another plan to send 700 troops to replace the soldiers of the 82nd Airborne also is being looked at, though the hope is that additional NATO contributions would make such a step unnecessary.
In its report, the Pentagon stated that a shortage of trainers is limiting the effectiveness of the mission to bolster local security forces.
"Without these critical mentors and trainers, our ability to effectively grow and develop the ANSF is at risk," the report stated.
Trainers are the linchpin of the American exit strategy of handing off security operations to a capable Afghan army and police force. By October, the Afghan army aims to grow from 119,338 to 171,000 personnel. As for the police, the goal is to increase from 104,459 to 109,000.
Afghanistan is on target to reach those troops level goals, though recruiting could become more challenging in the months ahead as fighting season starts and alternative forms of employment, such as farming, become available, officials said.
"We’ll see how the rest of the spring and summer play out," Breazile said. "Traditionally, those are the harder recruiting months."
NATO’s training command says important reforms have been made in recent months as trainers attempt to professionalize the much-maligned Afghan National Police, which has a reputation for corruption and incompetence across the country.
Last month, a new Afghan police recruiting and training command was launched which is expected to transform how police officers are sent out into the field. In the past, new recruits were simply issued a uniform and put out on patrol without any training. Indeed, more than half of the Afghan police force has never received any formal training.
"Now, you don’t ever have untrained cops going out on the beat," said Breazile, referring to reforms following the start of the new recruitment and training command. "We think this is going to change the dynamic of the police within the country. It’s something that’s been a mess for years."