In an interview with journalist Zeinab Badawi for BBC News’s HARDtalk television programme, which aired earlier this week, General Caldwell, speaking from Kabul, said he was initially shocked by the lack of ability shown by Afghan recruits when he took up his current post in 2009, but that there had been a vast improvement since then:
They are continuing to improve,” he said. “Their quality gets better all the time. We are still growing their forces. We are not complete, but by December of 2014, when they need to be in the lead for security, our assessment is that they will absolutely be able to do that.
It is very deliberate, and we want it to be enduring, so what we are aiming to do in the first 18 months here is grow about 100,000 new, additional, security forces for Afghanistan.
The second part is training leaders - and training leaders really takes time. Leaders’ development is a time-consuming process that just doesn’t happen overnight.
Asked whether the Afghan security forces were up to the job of providing security, he insisted that they are:
The ones out there today serving their country - the police and army forces - are vastly different than they were two years ago,” said the General.
There has been significant progress made here in that effort. I was just down in Lashkar Gah last month, and what I found was the police forces down there, compared to just a year ago, have been significantly upgraded because they have now been finely trained, they are better equipped, and we have been able to provide more junior leaders for them that didn’t exist just a year ago.
On the issue of transition, General Caldwell made it clear that coalition nations within ISAF were committed to the longer term training mission, and would stay to ensure the Afghan forces had the support they needed:
What your Prime Minister [David Cameron] said is that he is committed to the training effort, and very recently, in the last couple of months, made an announcement that [the British] are going to provide trainers to help stand-up the Afghan officer academy here that is going to be modelled after Sandhurst.
We call it ‘Sandhurst in the Sand’, and we plan to stand it up in the spring of 2013. It will train about 1,200 young Afghan officers every year, and the commitment to that, which he [Mr Cameron] stated publicly, goes through to 2023. So I think there is a real commitment on his behalf to see through the training mission.
I think everyone understands that combat forces - the lead effort and the fighting itself - does have to be turned over to the Afghans, and I am comfortable with the progress we have made, with the path that we are on, that they will have the ability to take the lead for security with the backing of coalition forces behind them.
General Caldwell said he was not being rushed and felt no pressure to speed up training. He said there would still be challenges to reach the target by 2014, but he was confident they would be ready.
He said they are now shifting to ‘train the trainers’ with Afghans themselves as primary trainers to other Afghan troops. And, by 2014, the General said numbers of ISAF personnel in NTM-A would be reduced by half: 5,000 down to 2,500.
On ANSF illiteracy, General Caldwell said he was shocked when he arrived in 2009. However, he said that he recognised very quickly that, if they were to create an enduring army and police force, literacy would have to be a priority.
To attempt to rectify the problem, he said that NTM-A has hired almost 3,000 Afghan teachers, who run literacy programmes with the ANSF. They recently passed the 100,000 mark of those who have some level of literacy.
NTM-A is responsible for the ANSF’s institutional training, education and professional development activities, as set out by the Afghan Ministries of Defence and Interior. It is run by personnel from various nations that are contributing to the NATO effort in Afghanistan, including Britain.