The NATO Training Mission in Afghanistan (NTM-A) is about to launch a big build-up that will supply the embattled country's military with both skilled combat engineers and leaders.
The training will be accompanied by construction projects that include the Afghan Defense University, which will house eight separate training schools.
A separate engineers school at first won't be training builders of buildings so much as combat engineers – known as sappers – who are skilled in demolition and detecting and defusing roadside bombs.
(Photo by Staff Sgt. Rachel Martinez, USAF)
"The engineer schoolhouse will be focused on sapper skills. It will be focused specifically on route clearance and mobility,” says U.S. Army Col. Mike Wehr, director of NTM-A's Combined Joint Engineer Office. Wehr told a recent defense bloggers' roundtable that the engineers' school, which is slated to start next month, will have bulldozers, loaders and other earthmoving equipment to help build forward outposts, but the initial focus will be on combat engineering skills like road clearance.
Meanwhile, Afghan engineer trainees are working side-by-side with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other engineering units from the Air Force to build facilities for the rapidly expanding Afghan National Security Force – which includes both soldiers and police.
Currently, the Afghan Army stands at 125,694 troops with plans to increase the size to 171,000 by October 2011.
The Afghan National Police is slated to expand to 109,000 by this October. To house them all, engineers are building housing that ranges from permanent buildings to tent cities, says Wehr. And the Afghans are involved in every step from planning and site selection to maintenance. A big part of the training plan is to teach the Afghans how to maintain the permanent buildings, he adds.
The Afghanistan Defense University – under construction just outside Kabul in Qargha – is slated to open the first school, the National Military Academy of Afghanistan, in March 2011, although construction isn't expected to be completed until 2012.
The Obama administration plans to start withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan in July 2011.
Eventually the 105-acre campus will also house the Afghan National Army Command and Staff College, the Afghan War College, the Legal School, the Foreign Language Institute and the Counter-Insurgency Training Center. In addition to classroom buildings, a library, post exchange (PX), gymnasium, medical center and barracks, the site will also feature family housing units and apartments for visiting faculty.
“It's an Afghan educational institution that focuses on developing leaders,” Jack Kem, deputy to the NTM-A's commander, told another bloggers' roundtable, adding: “It's an investment in intellectual capital for the future of Afghanistan.”