Afghan instructors training Afghan National Army recruits
While he wouldn’t say it outright, Maj. Gen. Gary Patton, the departing Deputy Commander for the NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan (NTM-A)—the organization tasked with recruiting, training, and fielding Afghanistan security forces—hinted broadly that more sorely-needed trainers are coming soon from a NATO partner country.
In a call with reporters on Tuesday, Patton said that the contribution will “make a significant difference” to the fight—but he declined to say how many trainers may be coming, or what countries are pledging them, only that “in the weeks ahead we’ll likely see some additional international contributions. I’ll just leave it at that.”
One of the big issues plaguing the NTM-A has been the lack of international trainers for the Afghan forces. As part of its year-end review, the organization identified 900 unfilled training billets across the country, a deficiency that flies in the face of growing Afghan forces as rapidly as NATO plans—growing it to over 300,000 by the end of this year. To get there, and to train additional forces in the years ahead, more trainers will be needed.
To fill that need, Patton’s office has identified 3,500 Afghan-staffed training positions that need to be filled, calling this new train-the-trainer program “our ticket home.”
As of right now, NTM-A has only managed to run 136 Afghans “through our premier trainer program” which is the highest level of certification available. At a lower level of certification are 1,309 currently serving Afghan trainers out of a total of 2,061 fielded Afghan trainers, meaning that there are 700-plus Afghan trainers who haven’t been through the formal program just yet. By the end of this year, there will be 2,700 Afghan trainers working with their own troops, the general said, and he hopes to reach the 3,500 number some time in 2012.
While all this might seem to be pretty deep in the weeds when it comes to American strategy in Afghanistan, Patton hit upon something when he called it “our ticket home.” Standing up a trained Afghan force that can generate and train itself is not only crucial to keeping the proposed American withdrawal date of 2014, but it also builds a foundation for the budding institutional strength of the organization.
Last month, Afghan President Hamid Karzai announced that Afghan forces are slated to assume security duties from NATO in a total of three provinces and four provincial capitals by July—a big test of how ready Afghan forces are to take over the security mission in 2014. Granted, most the areas are far away from the heavy combat zones of the East and South—save Lashkar Gah, the capital city of Helmand province—but how these units stage themselves, run supplies, etc. while on their own is critical to the overall readiness of the force.
The United States has spent $27 billion on training the Afghan Army and Police over the last several years, and while a competent Afghan force in the field is a way out of a war without end for the NATO alliance, finding and training Afghans who can generate that force is just as critical.