It has been my honor to defend democracy and the foreign policy of the United States for more than 35 years in the U.S. Army. The vast majority of the time, I am humbled by the extraordinary professionalism of journalists even when the articles written are difficult for the military and our civilian leadership. The key component of those articles is up-to-date, accurately presented information. However, a piece written last week by Dr. Thomas H. Johnson and Matthew DuPee on the AfPak Channel featured out-of-date information and lacked appropriate context.
Undoubtedly, the challenges the international community faces in Afghanistan are large. From 2003-2009, the international community built an Afghan security apparatus that faced many challenges and some of those are reflected in the article. Towards the end of that time, the international community assessed that something had to change; the result of the assessment was the creation of the NATO Training Mission – Afghanistan (NTM-A) in Nov. 2009. NTM-A subsumed several separate training endeavors and synchronized those efforts across both the Ministry of Defense (building the Afghan National Army, or ANA) and the Ministry of Interior (building the Afghan National Police, or ANP).
The road has been long and winding. There have been numerous potholes along the way. Today, we look back at that journey and take pride in the fact that all those who continue to serve the nation of Afghanistan are volunteers with no consideration of conscription. The Afghan National Security Force (ANSF) grows more literate by the day and will double the national literacy rate by the end of 2011. The graduates of basic training, officer candidate school, and the National Military Academy of Afghanistan speak of serving Allah, their Nation, and their families.
While initial build-up of forces was infantry-centric in order to have an immediate impact against the Taliban and al-Qaeda, in 2010, we built branch schools (for the engineer, logistics, and signal corps), a mandatory literacy program, and an aviation school, all to build a modern security force capable of securing Afghanistan from aggression. By the end of 2011, there will be more than 100,000 students in literacy training each day – all taught by Afghan instructors. Starting this summer, the first four female officers to be selected as pilots will attend flight training at the U.S. Army Flight Training school at Fort Rucker, AL.
There are still challenges to overcome. Although the piece by Dr. Johnson and Mr. DuPee highlights recent comments regarding attrition, it failed to cite the plan to rectify that challenge. The plan is in place and focused in three key areas: pay, predictability, and partnering. Pay was increased to a living wage. The ANSF instituted organizational predictability which provides a regulated deployment cycle and leave time for soldiers and police to go home. Partnering is about leadership and instilling an ethos of stewardship, stewardship of their soldiers and police, their equipment, and their funds.
The attrition issue today, while difficult, must be viewed within the context of Sept. 2009. That month, the ANA had a net decrease of 1200 because more people left than were willing to enter. Since Nov. 2009, ANSF has averaged just under 7,000 recruits with an average net growth of 5,300 per month, when attrition is taken into account. And while there are undoubtedly attempts by the Taliban to infiltrate the Army, we have a strong vetting program that starts the day the individuals enter the security force and continues through initial training and into the fielded force. None of that vetting includes any query as to ethnicity, another example of Afghan leadership ensuring an open, transparent, and equal opportunity for all Afghans to serve their nation if they choose.
Leadership is the key element to fixing the attrition issue, and the Afghans are working on that each day. Leaders ensure soldiers and police have an opportunity to visit family, receive their proper pay, and have basic necessities. Some leaders spend time daily reading with their troops. Leaders who learn to steward both their troops and their equipment will solve the attrition problem, and we already see the attrition trend diminishing in most of the units of the ANSF. Where leadership issues appear to have a negative effect on attrition, the ANA and ANP assess the situation and make appropriate corrective actions.
In sum, the piece by Dr. Johnson and Mr. DuPee highlights many issues that were causing the international community concern in 2008-2009. Those concerns forced a re-assessment of the situation and resulted in the establishment of NTM-A. Today, there are 33 nations contributing to this effort – that’s fully one-sixth of the world’s countries who recognize the need to prevent Afghanistan from falling into the hands of extremists. Today, the international community works with the ANSF to defeat the Taliban and al-Qaeda. As President Karzai announced at the National Military Academy of Afghanistan graduation on March 22, 2011, the Afghan security forces will assume responsibility for securing seven areas of the country starting this July. By the end of 2014, the Afghan Army and Police will take full responsibility for securing their nation and its people.
As of March 29, 2011, the Afghan National Army has over 159,000 of its 171,600 authorized end-strength, and the Afghan National Police has over 122,000 of its 134,000 authorized end-strength. Both are on-track to achieve their combined end-strength of 305,600 by November of this year.
I personally extend an invitation to both of the authors to visit Afghanistan and NTM-A when their schedules permit. I am certain their experience will demonstrate the great strides the international community has made over the past 17 months. More importantly, I am secure in my unequivocal belief that they will be truly impressed with the pride, professionalism, and passion of Afghanistan’s growing security services.
Lieutenant General William B. Caldwell, IV, is the commander of the NATO Training Mission – Afghanistan and Combined Security Transition Command – Afghanistan.