What to Watch in the Afghanistan War: Training the Afghan Army

Article excerpt

The US cannot simply emphasize the numbers. It has to focus on quality training for the Afghanistan National Army.

How many new Afghan soldiers have you recruited and trained today,

General McChrystal?

It's a question that President Obama and Congress may soon be

asking the top US military officer in Afghanistan now that his

commander in chief has set down a plan for US troops to start exiting

that war in July 2011.

Afghan Army building, more so than nation building, is the key link

- and a weak one - in Mr. Obama's strategy to hand over

security of Afghanistan beginning in only 18 months. To help gauge

whether the plan is on track, Gen. Stanley McChrystal should be

giving regular updates on this crash training of Afghan forces.

If the plan is succeeding, a pivotal moment will arrive when the

Afghan National Army wins a critical battle against the radical

Islamist Taliban forces with only minimal backup from the US

military. In Iraq, that moment came in the spring of 2008 when Prime

Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, sent the Iraqi Army to the city

of Basra to end an uprising by the Shiite Mahdi militia.

Afghanistan is still a long way from its Basra moment. After eight

years and $19 billion spent on training, the Afghan Army is only some

95,000-strong and barely battle-hardened. A force of at least 250,000

is needed to keep the Taliban in check in the largely rural,

mountainous country.

And the Army remains rifted by desertions, graft, cowardice,

illiteracy, low pay and, most of all, an ethnic mix dominated by

minority Tajiks rather than the majority Pashtuns. …