What to Watch in the Afghanistan War: Training the Afghan Army
the Monitor's Board, The Christian Science Monitor
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,
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,
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. …