Teaming, Transparency, and Transition in Afghanistan

When NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan (NTM-A) was stood up in November 2009, our mission was about teaming with Afghans to build a dynamic future for a secure and stable Afghanistan. With lessons from the Soviet experience and previous international efforts as our guide, NTM-A adopted a new mindset relying on teaming, transparency, and transition.

Initially challenged by trainer numbers, the unified approach under a NATO flag worked. The first 30 trainers grew to over 1,800 in two years; the original two countries were joined by 33 others (Ukraine and El Salvador are the latest). By March 2012, we anticipate an additional 600 trainers, with more to follow.

When combined with additional financial resources from NATO and non-NATO partners such as Japan and the United Arab Emirates, the benefits of a unified NATO command are apparent in a growing and professionalizing Afghan Army, Air Force, and Police.

During the first two years of NTM-A’s existence, the Afghan Army grew by 75,000 and the Afghan Police grew by 45,000. The combined force is on schedule to grow an additional 47,000 by November 2012 and Afghan air frames will nearly triple by 2016.

While still developing enabling capabilities such as logistics, counter-IED (improvised explosive devices), and human resources, the Afghan military and police are on track to assume country-wide lead security responsibility from ISAF (the International Security and Assistance Force) by the end of December 2014. As agreed between NATO and Afghanistan in Lisbon during last fall’s summit, the train, advise and assist roles will endure through NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan.

The depth of NATO’s commitment to training the Afghan army, air force, and police is clear throughout the 70 training sites NTM-A manages. At the Kabul Military Training Centre, for example, there are personnel from ten countries training between 8,000 and 12,000 Afghan soldiers in 40 different courses every day. This includes Basic Warrior Training for new recruits, non-commissioned officer training, female and male officer candidate schools, and specialty branch schools such as logistics, law, and communications.

NATO’s assumption of Afghan military and police training responsibilities in 2009 produced a marked quality improvement. This was noticeable in marksmanship, discipline, and retention. Additional NATO trainers brought key capabilities that were previously absent such as helicopter maintenance, medicine, and civil policing. They also improved the recruiter to trainer ratio.

Prior to the creation of NTM-A, police were often assigned duties before receiving the appropriate level of training. Moreover, the overall quality of training varied from region to region. Through an agreement with the Afghan Ministry of Interior, NTM-A, EUPOL (the European Police), and the German Police Project Team, there is now a common training curriculum.

Basic patrol training has been expanded from six to eight weeks. The new programme of instruction now incorporates more human rights and gender training, additional literacy training, and new transparency and accountability material. These improvements would not have been possible without a concerted international effort to unify action and make the most of scarce resources.

NTM-A has been able to oversee more civil policing. Over the last year, the number of civilian police assigned to NTM-A increased from 168 to 525. Whether they are at the headquarters at Camp Eggers or training sites throughout Afghanistan, civilian police are bringing their unique skill sets and professionalism to the Afghan National Police As NTM-A enters its third year, several areas require continued focus to enable security lead transition by the end of 2014. Among these are training Afghan trainers, leader development, building literacy and vocational skills, and developing enduring institutions and self-sustaining systems.

The success of NTM-A in the training base created over the past two years is evident in the quality of the fielded Afghan forces we see today. Increasingly, Afghans are assuming the security lead for their country and are gaining the trust of the people. To ensure these gains are enduring, a key priority is training Afghan trainers. Today, there are over 3,200 trained Afghan trainers and they are on track to be in the lead for basic-level training by December 2012. While coalition trainers will still be needed to provide oversight of the training base and conduct advanced training, the foundation has been laid to enable institutional transition.

Over the past two years, much progress has been made training and educating Afghan military and police personnel; officers and non-commissioned officers in the police grew from 42,500 to 61,850. Now that the schools are in place, the police leader ranks will grow to 83,400 by mid-2012.

The same is true in their army; over the past two years since 2009, officers and non-commissioned officers grew from 40,900 to 66,800 and will grow to 86,500. Training and education are essential in developing leaders, but experience is irreplaceable and requires time. To close the leader gap, continued emphasis is needed to support initiatives such as the National Military Academy of Afghanistan, the Afghan National Police Academy, and new efforts like “Sandhurst in the Sand,” which is a United Kingdom-led officer candidate school scheduled to begin in early 2013.

One key lesson of the past two years is the importance of literacy training to develop a capable and professional military and police. After decades of war and a decimated public education system, only 14 percent of military aged men and women are literate.

But in early 2010, NTM-A accepted illiteracy as a challenge and worked closely with international bodies and the Afghan Ministry of Education to educate “the lost generation” in the training base. For about $33 per person, over 125,000 Afghans have been taught to read, write, and count through a mandatory literacy programme. By 2012, about 50 percent of the military and police will be functionally literate. Literate soldiers can now verify security passes at entry control points, numerate police can inventory vehicles. And all can count their monthly salaries, helping to reduce predatory corruption.

Because of these efforts, Afghan recruits can now choose to attend advanced or vocational training to become engineers, artillerymen, and logisticians. With the establishment of 12 branch, or vocational, schools over the past year, NTM-A is beginning to train the skills and units that will enable Afghan forces to perform these critical functions themselves. This is part of a phased development effort that includes advanced training in logistics, finance, communications, human resources, intelligence, artillery, engineering, and other important functions. As the fielding of these support units and specialists continues, the ANSF will be carefully balanced with increased ability to support and sustain itself, leading to independent operations.

As we learned from the Soviet experience, without an indigenous training and maintenance base, the system will collapse when international assistance stops. Consequently, it is critical for the international community to provide only equipment and training that are capable, affordable, and sustainable for Afghanistan.

A part of this is supporting Afghan economic development through defence purchases under the NATO Afghan First programme, which has produced about 17,000 jobs and reduced costs. For example, the cost of producing boots in Afghanistan is half the cost of producing them in the United States and then shipping to Afghanistan. And the quality is as good because of partnering with US business and academic experts who assisted Afghan companies. Furthermore, supporting boot factories in Afghanistan has given rise to a fledgling Afghan footwear industry.

In 2011, U.S. Senators Carl Levin and Jack Reed wrote : “Thirty years ago the United States worked to help Afghans reclaim their country from Soviet invaders. With the departure of Soviet forces, we declared victory and turned away from helping Afghans build a stable country with effective security forces. On Sept. 11, 2001, we discovered the tragic consequences that such inattention can have. That is a lesson we cannot afford to learn again.” Through continued U.S. and NATO support beyond transition, partnering beyond 2014 will be critical to avoid repeating mistakes of the past.