Extra help training Afghans welcome
Leaders of the American training command in Afghanistan expect the 4,000 extra advisers coming to the country to speed up important training and advisory duties that have been undermanned.
The troops were part of a revamped war strategy announced Friday in Washington by President Barack Obama. But, while the training command welcomes the new troops, they — like many of those affected by the new strategy — don’t know the details yet.
"With his announcement, the president has reaffirmed our commitment to accelerate the growth of the ANA to 134,000, and to accelerate the reform of the ANP force of 82,000," said Maj. Gen. Richard Formica, the commander of Combined Security Transition Command — Afghanistan.
"The decision to send 4,000 U.S. trainers is a demonstrable and significant commitment to the development of the Afghan National Security Forces," Formica said. "When coupled with the arrival of the additional U.S. brigades, which will have embedded mentor responsibilities, we will be able to meet most of the embedded training requirements for the first time. The president clearly left the door open for potential growth as we move towards the eventual transfer of security responsibility to the Afghans."
CSTC-A falls under U.S. Central Command’s U.S. Forces Afghanistan instead of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force.
Col. Bill Morris, the CSTC-A operation officer, said he doesn’t know the details about how the new soldiers will be deployed because the strategy is still in the planning stages, but he said he expects to learn more soon.
Regardless of the details, he’s already certain they’ll be put to good use. CSTC-A has been short of manpower for a while. It was initially supposed to train just Afghan army units, but was later assigned to train the police as well. Police training now takes up 45 percent of the command’s manpower, while both army and police training teams are undermanned.
"Do we have a plan for them? Yes. We’ve already had requirements all along that we are ready to fill," Morris said. "It’s not like: ‘Oh my God, what are we going to do with these people?’"
The extra manpower’s effect should be seen clearly in the command’s Focused District Development program, officials said. The program pulls a district’s entire police force off the streets, puts them in a regional training center and temporarily replaces them with a more professional Multi-ethnic Afghan National Civil Order Police unit. The local police then take over from the Civil Order Police once they finish their eight-week training and are paired with a team of advisers.
The idea is to train the police, teach the community what a professional police force looks like and use the advisers to help them continue to grow. But just 52 of the 365 police districts have gone through the program, and it would take eight to 10 more years to cycle all the districts through with the current manpower.
The 4,000 extra advisers, though, should allow all the districts to complete the program by December 2011. Even if many of the extra soldiers are assigned to the NATO training mission instead of CSTC-A, Morris expects that to free army advisers for police adviser duty.
Morris also warned against drawing conclusions from the initial statistical reports that could follow the increased troop levels. Afghan forces are now leading between 55 percent and 65 percent of deliberate combat operations, he said. The extra American units will likely make that percentage drop even if the absolute number stays the same or grows.
Casualties could go up as well because there will be more Americans in the country and many will be in places where U.S. forces rarely go, he said.
The same trend happened in Iraq after the "surge." American casualties grew as they came into increased contact with insurgents, but violence has since dropped to some of the lowest levels of the war.
Morris said the number of Afghan units trained and the number of combat operations they lead are better measures of the advisers’ progress.
"We’re not going to just build some shallow force here and then take off at some point in the future," he said.
"We have never claimed that we were going to make this some conscript army that we’re going to build up and then forget about."