Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Obama, Cameron Tout Afghanistan Exit Plan, but Will Afghan Troops Be Ready?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Obama, Cameron Tout Afghanistan Exit Plan, but Will Afghan Troops Be Ready?

Article excerpt

In the Rose Garden, Obama and Cameron say local forces will take 'full responsibility' for Afghanistan's security in 2014, but their readiness is not assured despite years of training.

US and NATO troops in Afghanistan will be "shifting to a support role in 2013, in advance of Afghans taking full responsibility" for the country's security in 2014, President Obama and Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain announced Wednesday in the Rose Garden.

Some argue that such a move - US defense officials say ideally by the middle of 2013 - is long overdue. But is there any indication that Afghan troops are ready and able to handle security throughout the country come next year?

Although US forces have been at war in the country for a decade, training Afghan troops has been a notoriously slow-going process, as US military commanders routinely acknowledge.

Today, the training effort is at the heart of the Pentagon's strategy on the ground. Get Afghan soldiers and police ready to defend their country, so that US troops can leave, the reasoning goes.

In the past 18 months, the uniformed ranks of the Afghan national security forces have doubled to some 300,000. Yet, according to a January assessment by the Director of National intelligence (DNI), these troops rely on US and NATO forces in order to operate. "In terms of security, we judge that the Afghan police and Army will continue to depend on ISAF [International Security Assistance Force] support."

What's more, sheer size does not necessarily equal quality. "Will they be at the standard that we have for our soldiers?" asked Lt. Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, commander of the ISAF Joint Command, at a Pentagon press briefing in February. "No. Not, at least, the conventional force."

While many might argue that few soldiers in the world are up to the standards of US troops, the problem is how few Afghan soldiers - even after years of US training - can currently operate independently of their NATO military mentors.

Indeed, those figures remain "very low," Scaparrotti conceded in his briefing. In total, the number of Afghan kandaks, or Army battalions, that can currently operate "independent with advisers" is 29. …

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