Our guest blogger is LTG William B. Caldwell, IV, who is serving as the Commander of the NATO Training Mission in Afghanistan.
Despite significant challenges, progress is being made in Afghanistan. One of the cornerstones of the strategy employed to secure and stabilize the country is the development of the Afghan National Security Force, a task charged to the NATO Training Mission. Development of an enduring security force allows the Afghan Government to provide security for its people, a necessary pre-condition for the provision of governance and services.
Professionalism is the key to developing this critical and enduring force, and the Afghans will only be able to increase professionalism by developing individual skills and leaders within the Afghan National Security Force. To do this, we are increasing the quality of individual skills and improving professionalism through leader development, an increase in literacy, and basic soldier skills, like the improvement in weapons qualifications.
The enduring foundation of professionalism created in the Afghan National Security Force will be through leader development by inculcating an ethos of service and loyalty. Only when their leaders embrace a culture of service to others will the Afghan National Security Force truly be a professional force. The premier leader development facility in Afghanistan is the National Military Academy of Afghanistan. This institution is currently educating and developing 600 future leaders. To date two classes have graduated, providing the Afghan National Army over 400 of the best-trained leaders in that force, including a few female officers who are educated at NMAA and then sent to nursing, dental, or medical school. Today some of these officers are leading operations in the most dangerous areas of Afghanistan, as well as supporting them in the air as pilots in the Afghan Air Force. Simultaneously, these leaders are providing the example for their soldiers and enforcing Army standards. They are the catalyst for the professionalization of their security force.
In a country with astronomically high illiteracy, this vital skill, taken for granted in countries like the United States whose children grow up with Sesame Street and singing the ABC song, is not found within much of Afghan society. In order to professionalize the Army and Police, however, it is an essential enabler. Entry level soldiers and patrolmen have an average literacy rate of around 14%, creating a major challenge in training, education and even performance of the basic skills required by professional security forces. This is why we have instituted mandatory literacy classes in all basic entry courses, specialty courses following basic training, and when time permits in garrison for the Army and patrol stations for the Police. These classes have brought the number of students educated in these mandatory classes from 0 in training in 2009 to 27,000 at any one time in training today, and a goal of having 50,000 this December, and 100,000 next June.
Though the creation of mandatory literacy courses in the past nine months has shown progress toward the professionalization of the Afghan National Security Force and educated many students, it will take time and sustained effort to educate an entire generation of Afghans to a level necessary to create professional leaders and allow for the specialization of the force.
Finally, basic soldier skills like the increase in weapons qualification has been a sign of measured progress in the Afghan National Security Force. In March Newsweek authors Mark Hosenball, Ron Moreau, and Mark Miller pointed out that members of the Afghan National Security Force were a “gang that couldn’t shoot straight.” Today, this is no longer the case with graduates of the training program. Weapons qualification has improved from 35% to 97%. In a counterinsurgency environment, where protecting the people will invariably involve armed engagement, the ability to shoot accurately is a key measure of quality within the force. The increase in qualification is a tangible sign of progress in the professionalization of the Afghan National Security Force.
Significant challenges remain to developing a professional force that can generate and sustain itself without international support. Overcoming these challenges can and will be done. The measured progress that we see today, from leader development to literacy and basic soldier skills, are evidence that progress can be made. Thousands of Afghans join, train, and die for their nation every day, working and fighting to make a better future. We should endeavor to support their sacrifices by providing them all the tools, knowledge, and skills necessary to help them chart a new and better path for their people.
For more information on the NATO Training Mission and the progress of the Afghan National Security Force, visit www.ntm-a.com.