An Afghan policeman provides security from a rooftop during the security transition ceremony in Panjshir July 24.(Photo by Staff Sgt. Brandon Pomrenke)
WASHINGTON (July 28, 2011) — Before 2001, Afghanistan had a lot of warriors, but few disciplined soldiers or police.
Coalition forces came into the country and took on al-Qaida and the Taliban, but the long-term plan always has been to train Afghans to secure their own country.
The NATO training mission has made tremendous progress over the past two years to train Afghan security forces, and this month Afghan forces began taking over security responsibility for seven areas of the country covering roughly 25 percent of the population.
There is much more to training an army and police force than simply passing out rifles and pistols to willing personnel, said Dr. Jack D. Kem, the deputy to the NATO Training Mission Afghanistan commander, Army Lt. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, during a recent interview here.
Trainers speak of the Afghan police and army as one force, rather than separate entities, Kem said. Going forward, he explained, the army and police must work together to guarantee security in the country.
Building the Afghan security force is more than simple training, Kem said. It includes dealing with literacy problems, leader development, gender integration and human rights, as well as acquisition issues and Afghanistan’s ethnic mix.
Roughly 295,000 personnel serve in the Afghan security force. “We’re building to 305,600 this year, and growing to a force of 352,000 – 195,000 in the army and 157,000 in the police, by Oct. 31, 2012,” Kem said.
Two years ago, the army, which was the only semi-effective Afghan security force, was at about 90,000 members. With the training mission’s focus, the gains over the past two years are in quality, not just quantity, Kem said. “In October 2009, 35 percent of recruits qualified with their weapons,” he said. “Today, 95 percent do. Literacy rate is up to 50 percent in the army.”
On the police side, officers now train to a common standard, which was not the practice when the NATO training mission stood up two years ago. “The army is ahead of the police across the board,” Kem said. “But the Afghan Civil Order Police is a very good force, too.”
The army is built around infantry, and kandaks – the equivalent of battalions – remain the basis for the service. But over the past two years, the coalition has helped to build enablers – engineers, signal corps, intelligence and logistics forces, the deputy said. “It is a force that primarily is to respond to external threats and secure the borders, and to respond to disasters as needed,” Kem said.
The police have a number of pillars. One is the Afghan uniformed police, which is the typical community police force that operates in each of the districts or provinces. There is the Afghan Border Police, whose mission is self-explanatory. And there is the Afghan Civil Order Police, which is a quick-reaction, gendarmerie-type force, along the lines of Italy’s Carabinieri. They provide a higher level, paramilitary type of force.
The typical recruit is “physically fit, clear-eyed and they want to work,” Kem said. “They are survivors and highly motivated.”
But they also are illiterate. “About 86 percent come in and can’t count to four,” he said. “They have not lived in wealth, so many have never seen running water or driven a vehicle. There are a lot of things that we have to do that wouldn’t be typical in the West.”
NATO trainers had to establish literacy classes, because while the younger generation now is in school and the oldest literate generation pre-dates the Soviet invasion, the current generation lived through the Taliban regime, which denigrated reading and counting and absolutely forbade women from getting an education. This generation can’t write their names.
“They want that,” Kem said. “The No. 1 motivator to join the army and police is literacy. The No. 1 motivator to stay is the literacy classes.”
Literacy is a huge issue that crosses all boundaries. Security requires a literate force if only to take down license plate numbers or write reports. From a governance standpoint, there are not enough literate people to provide the services that are needed and put in place the rule of law. The long-term economic issue requires literacy to put in place the human capital needed to prosper.
“We have 110,000 people in literacy courses,” Kem said. “In 10 years, school enrollment has gone from 800,000 to 8 million. Some of that is from our assistance.”
Leadership requires literacy – and experience, Kem said. “We always say it takes 10 years to make a major or a master sergeant,” he said. “We don’t have 10 years, so you take the literate and give them a combination of education, training and experience, and you provide some of the assistance to bring them up. Then you watch them to identify the leaders, and you encourage them.”
Continuing education for the police and the army is crucial, and the NATO mission is taking a page from U.S. professional military education. Afghan military and police leaders must take classes throughout their careers.
Corruption is an issue, and even in that, literacy has a role. “If you can’t count to four, you don’t know how much money is in your pocket or how much you are paid,” Kem said. “You depend on other people, which leaves you open to be the victim of corruption.”
Most Afghans are honest and want to be treated fairly, he said. The coalition needs to help the Afghans create the structures to enforce the laws so everybody follows the laws.
Gender integration is an important issue for the Afghans, and a “red-line” issue for the United States. The Afghan constitution guarantees equal rights for women, and the security force is doing its part to cement these rights in place. The Afghan National Police want 5,000 women police officers by the end of 2014. Today, there are about 1,200, Kem said.
Next year, 10 percent of the Afghan military academy class of 600 will be women. Some of the Afghan pilots now training in the U.S. are female. “We are looking at areas where we can open the aperture for women,” he said. “The Border Police is a classic area where gender mainstreaming will work, and will serve as an example.”
The NATO training effort has been successful to the point that few NATO personnel are actually involved in hands-on training of Afghan forces. They have trained the trainers and the Afghan master trainers, and now are in an overwatch position.
“I think the Afghans are impatient about exerting their own sovereignty,” Kem said. “I think they would be more than happy for us to leave, but I don’t think they want us to leave before things are ready, and there is tension there. They’d like to have a long-term relationship with us, but not be dependent on us.”