Caldwell again presses NATO nations for Afghan trainers
BRUSSELS, Belgium — The general in charge of NATO’s training mission in Afghanistan said Tuesday that efforts to transfer more security responsibility to Afghan soldiers and police in 2011 hinges on the willingness of alliance members to offer up more personnel for the nine-year-old military campaign.
Without more troops, “transition would be delayed,” said Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, who was at NATO headquarters in Brussels this week to update members on the progress of the training mission.
NATO needs about 1,000 more personnel in the year ahead to focus on developing skills required to build a self-sustaining Afghan military, according to Caldwell.
While much of the past year was focused on training infantry-style units, Caldwell said attention now must turn to bolstering logistical and medical units. More police trainers and personnel capable of training Afghanistan’s air force — set to double in size this year — also are needed.
Of the 1,000 trainers required, Caldwell identified 442 as critical. In the meantime, schools are under construction to support those efforts.
“The question is whether we can find the trainers to work inside those facilities,” Caldwell said.
But the demand for additional trainers, which comes at a time when defense budgets across Europe are tightening, is just one of the challenges facing Caldwell’s team.
Afghan soldiers continue to quit at alarming rates, which means that recruitment efforts must continue to accelerate. To increase the Afghan force from 256,000 to 306,000 by October 2011, an additional 133,000 Afghans must be recruited and trained after taking into account attrition rates, Caldwell said.
Still, “over the last 10 months we truly have made measured progress,” Caldwell said. “But now we need to sustain the momentum.”
Since Caldwell took command in November 2009, NATO has begun paying more attention to the quality of the Afghan troops it trains. For instance, now all troops must undergo literacy schooling as part of basic training. Before, no such training was required for new recruits, roughly 85 percent of whom are illiterate when they join the army or police.
Illiteracy means police can’t do basic tasks such as writing down arrest reports or tracking the serial numbers of weapons in a unit, Caldwell said. Marksmanship qualification among recruits also has jumped from an embarrassing rate of 35 percent to 97 percent.
“If you want to endure over time, you have to have a professional force,” Caldwell said.
Recruitment rates, meanwhile, have exceeded expectations. For example, an October 2010 goal of 134,000 Afghan soldiers was reached two months ahead of schedule. During the past 12 months, NATO received a few thousand more trainers to work with those recruits.
In November, there were 1,200 NATO trainers in Afghanistan, far short of what Caldwell needed. The total number of trainers now stands at 3,500, the general said.
“It was those (extra) trainers that have made a difference. This mission was not doable, but we were resourced,” Caldwell said.
Now, Caldwell is back and asking for more.
“We cannot meet our goals without these resources,” he said.