Afghans’ basic training improving with time
KABUL, Afghanistan — Basic training for Afghanistan’s four-year-old military is steadily but slowly improving, say American and Afghan leaders who are training legions of young recruits in the nation’s nascent military.
At the Kabul Military Training Center, a sprawling site east of Kabul where Afghan soldiers have conducted basic training for decades, American and Afghan instructors say today’s Afghan soldiers are flourishing under American-designed, Afghan-led training.
American and Afghan officials say that recruits’ technical skills — and their attitudes and mentality toward training — have measurably improved under the oversight of Training Assistance Group 4, a U.S. Army reserve unit from Nebraska.
“Each year, each element brings something new to the (training center),” said Sgt. 1st Class James Rice, a Lincoln, Neb.-based reservist who trains Afghan drill sergeants at the center. “We had to change their way of thinking.”
Capt. Robert Ford, also a member of the training group, said that the shift has had tangible results. For example, new teaching methods have lifted marksmanship scores from 72 percent to over 98 percent.
“A lot of their senior leaders learned Russian methods,” Ford said. “When we got here, instructors would talk, students would listen. There wasn’t much interaction.”
That’s changed, he said.
“We’re trying to teach them American and NATO methods,” he said. “It was just through simple changes such as starting them doing (basic American training drills) to teaching them how to adjust the sights on their AK-47s.”
“We started setting standards that they’d never had before,” Rice said. “And we started holding them to the standards.”
Afghan National Army trainer Maj. Khalil, who, like many Afghans, only has one name, said the instruction has improved in his four years at the center.
“We’ve improved our training,” the 38-year-old soldier said, in English. “When we first started, there were a lot of problems in the economy and military. We didn’t have a professional military.”
These days, however, “the discipline is good,” he said. “Day by day, it has gotten higher.”
He said that American leadership has been integral to success in the six-week basic training course.
“During the four years, they have helped us with the training, with the ammunition, with the weapons,” he said. “We want to continue this. We need this for the (Afghan National Army).”
However, both sets of trainers say that hurdles remain. Among them: funding from the Afghan government, logistical issues, language and cultural barriers, and a lack of education among the ranks of 18- to 27-year-old recruits.
“We find that some of them can’t even speak Dari,” Rice said.
When asked if he could change one thing that would make training more productive, he was quick to answer.
“Education,” he said. “If you can educate the people prior to them coming into the military, they’ll be able to be taught.”
He said he considers a lack of education the single biggest impediment to the creation of a successful army.
“In my personal opinion, I think the whole country just needs to grow up,” he said. “Once they get the education (system) back up, they should be OK.”
However, he noted, there’s no lack of enthusiasm among the ranks of aspiring soldiers.
“They’re unable,” Rice said, gesturing at a row of soldiers, “but they’re willing.”