Rolling Stone reporter Michael Hastings has just put the NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan (NTM-A) in the news in a big way by reporting the story of several U.S. Army Information Operations officers who claim to have been ordered by NTM-A chief Lt. Gen. William Caldwell to try and influence the opinions of members of Congress. The allegations are so serious that Gen. David Petraeus has ordered an investigation launched. I’m not going to get into the details of the story here, but it’s a bit ambiguous as to what actually happened since the sources Hastings uses really only tell one side. But decide for yourself.
NTM-A’s mission is a tough one: trying to find, recruit, train and field Afghan soldiers, cops, border patrol, paramilitaries, criminal investigators, and counternarcotics forces while operating in a combat environment with a pretty strict time frame—Afghan president Karzai and president Obama have tagged 2014 as the year when Afghan forces take the lead and U.S. and NATO forces start pulling out.
I’ve got a story in DTI’s March issue looking at the challenges of standing up a police force in Afghanistan, and it’s a pretty complex portrait. The United States has poured $29 billion into the Afghan security forces over the past 10 years, with another $11 billion slated to be spent this year. While the Afghan army has been making strides, the police still lag far behind, as evidenced by comments made in December by Lt. Col. Brian Lamson, Chief Police Strategist for the NTM-A, who told an audience that “we are right now just at the starting gate of the professionalization of the [police] force.”
Until late 2009, the police training effort was decentralized, disorganized, and made up of a mishmash of contractors, military police, infantry from several NATO countries and international police units from around the world. But Maj. Gen. Stuart Beare, who serves as the Deputy Commander – Police for NTM-A, told me recently that “a year ago you could have gone to different police training centers and you would have had national variations of [training]. Today there’s one program of instruction developed by us with the Afghan Ministry of Interior (MoI), which is the standard against which we train.”
But while there is now some much-needed structure, plus better pay and literacy training for Afghan cops, the pre-2009 years are a huge drag on the force. Until 2009, police were for the most part recruited, assigned, and then given some training in the field when possible. The NTM-A has flipped it, making sure that police are now recruited, trained, and then assigned. But there are still anywhere from 10,000 to over 40,000 untrained cops out there, though Beare says actual real number isn’t known. About 13,000 of them have received some training under district development programs since late 2009, however.
One of the big knocks on the training program for both the ANP and the ANA has been the issue of attrition—in August 2010, Gen. Caldwell estimated that to grow the police from the current 115,000 officers to the goal of 134,000 by October 2011, NATO would have to recruit, train and assign almost 56,000 men to make that 19,000 growth figure—the remaining 37,000 would melt away at some point during the process.
Beare says that attrition rates are getting much better. He estimates that 15 percent of the force is expected to desert, be wounded or killed this year, with the higest numbers coming from the Border Police and the Afghan National Civil Order Police (ANCOP), who are expected to average 26 percent and 35 percent attrition rates this year. While those numbers are huge, they actually represent a success for NTM-A: last year, a staggering 75 percent of ANCOP melted away.
US Army pic of soldier trainign Afghan police