Creating a River

Article excerpt

there is an old Afghan proverb: In Dari, Qcitra, Qa tra Davy ah Mesiia and in Pashtun, Saskai, Saskai, Danya Jorawe. It means "drop by drop, a river is made."

That proverb has been our rallying cry as we have worked together to build the Afghan national army (ANA). From building infantry kandaks (battalions) and support units, the officer candidate school and flight training, to Uteracy and leader training, the ANA, with NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan (NTMA) in support, is building an army that will be able to provide security for the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (GIRoA) and the Afghan people.

To many, Afghanistan is known only as the bloody crossroads of world powers from ancient times through the present. Yet as one looks at the history of this beautiful land, there have been great leaders who loved their fellow Afghans and had a vision for a better life - a life of liberty, security and freedom that afforded them the opportunity to provide for themselves and their families.

In November 2009, NATO established NTM-A to support GIRoA and train the Afghan national security forces (ANSF) including the ANA and the Afghan national police (ANP). At that time, there were two nations providing 30 trainers to build the ANSF; not only was there a shortage of trainers, there was also a severe attrition and recruiting problem that resulted in a net reduction in the ANA of 1,200 soldiers the previous month. Today NTM-A has 33 countries contributing more than 1,300 trainers, which means one-sixth of the world's nations is supporting this mission. Now the ANA is adding as many as 7,000 soldiers each month as it builds to a force of 171,600 by November.

Those numbers tell only half the story, however, because they do not reveal the pride the soldiers have in serving their nation. Perhaps more importantly, the families of these soldiers beam with pride as their soldiers graduate from training. The soldiers' children sit quietly as their family members come home and read to them. In the past, the Taliban denied education because an educated populace is the true enemy of tyranny and despotism. Today these young recruits proudly display a pen in their pocket - a testament to literacy. Our job is far from done, however. Why?

In truth, this mission was underresourced for many years until NATO established NTM-A and the Afghan "surge" sent more than 30,000 U.S. and coalition troops here to fight the Taliban. At that point, resourcing was significantly increased to allow for a more rapid buildup of both the quantity and the quality of the ANA. In fact, the "surge of Afghans" who volunteered added more than 82,000 new forces to the ANA and ANP. Had the international community chosen to end that resource stream too early, we would now be fulfilling a different adage: "Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it."

Three Challenges

Although quantity is important, quality is imperative. There are three overarching quality challenges we are focused on addressing: literacy, leadership and losses (through attrition). These three challenges - we call them the three Ls - are intertwined, as is their resolution.

Mandatory literacy training has now been instituted for all initial entry soldiers. In the United States, it seems incredible to know an adult who cannot read, write or count with at least a working capability. Imagine receiving your monthly salary and not having the ability to count the pieces of paper given to you or not being able to read the serial number on your weapon. After years of tyrannical control by the Taliban, 28 percent of Afghans are literate, while only 14 percent of ANA recruits are literate in both words and numbers. Yet, upon graduation, almost every soldier is able to read at the first-grade level, with a goal to achieve the third-grade level in the future. Through this aggressive literacy effort, more than half of the ANSF will master the basics of reading and writing by December, which will be twice the national average. …