May 4, 2010
To finish strong in Afghanistan - where's NATO??
The Way Out
New York Times
May 4, 2010
President Obama made a convincing case last December for sending an additional 30,000American troops to Afghanistan. Most of those new forces, plus 58,000 already in country, would fight the Taliban. A smaller number would mold Afghan recruits into an indigenous Army and National Police force that could in time assume responsibility for protecting their country so the Americans and NATO allies could go home.
That handoff, so central to Mr. Obama’s strategy, has little chance of succeeding unless NATO gets more military trainers on the ground. Of the 5,200 trainers the United States and its NATO allies in January agreed were needed, about only 2,700 are there. All but 300 or so are Americans.
Illiteracy, corruption and other problems are not unexpected in a country as poor and undeveloped as Afghanistan. But a disturbing Pentagon report to Congress last week acknowledged that one of the “most significant challenges” to fielding qualified Afghan security forces is a shortage of “institutional trainers.”
The training effort — like everything else about Afghanistan — was shortchanged for years under President George W. Bush. It has received more attention and resources under President Obama. In November, the United States and NATO opened a new integrated training mission. Its leader, Lt. Gen. William Caldwell IV, who previously led leadership schools and training programs at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., was a West Point classmate of Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top American and allied commander in Afghanistan.
General Caldwell has brought a new coherence and purpose to the mission by revamping the Afghan Army leadership program and standardizing police instruction, among other innovations. And he has managed to double his number of trainers from 1,300 when he started to roughly 2,700 today. But he — more to the point, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and General McChrystal — is having a very hard time getting the rest of NATO to deliver on commitments.
NATO agreed that non-American members would provide half of the 5,200 trainers. Since December, those capitals have pledged to send only 1,000 trainers, and they have been very slow to deliver. Mr. Gates is now expected to send Americans to cover 600 of these slots for 90 days.
While the Americans are close to complement, General Caldwell also had to fight hard to secure enough troops to fill the American slots as well as management positions on his staff. For all of the talk about new missions and new thinking, there are still a lot of brass — and those who want to become brass — who don’t consider training a warrior’s job or a path to promotion. That culture needs to change.
American and NATO officials also need to look seriously at creating a standing corps of combat advisers who are trained and equipped to develop indigenous national security forces in overseas conflict zones.
The hurdles in training even a minimally effective Afghan force are daunting. There has been some progress. New initiatives like pay raises and mandatory literacy training should begin to improve professionalism and competency. None of these efforts have a chance if there are not enough NATO trainers to teach the Afghans how to defend their country.