We often hear of the difficulties our troops face trying to get Afghan forces to fight their own war, but less often are we told what those difficulties actually are. This piece at Strategy Page gives us an idea. Essentially they are two: Not enough military trainers supplied by our allies and a largely illiterate pool of Afghan recruits:
Efforts to expand the Afghan army to 134,000, hopefully by 2011, are running into a lot of problems. One of the key ones is a shortage of foreign trainers. The government wants a force of 200,000, but first foreign allies must be convinced to donate enough money and trainers. The training center NATO has set up is reorganizing so that it can up the number of soldiers trained from 4,000 a month, to 5,000. This is being done by condensing the training and cutting the course length from 10 to 8 weeks for enlisted troops, and 25 to 20 weeks for officers. But there is a persistent shortage of foreign trainers. There should be about 8,000, but there are only about half that many.
The shortages are made up by using (often inexperienced) Afghans, which lowers the quality of the training. Then there is the illiteracy problem (most recruits, like most Afghans, can't read). Afghanistan is finding that illiteracy is a growing problem in the army. Only about 25 percent of recruit are literate. While this can be ignored for the lower ranking troops, NCOs need to read. Illiterate recruits also take longer to train, and more effort to work with. The U.S. has provided an intensive literacy course for troops, which gets most of them to basic ("functional") literacy within a year.
In addition to being able to read signs and maps, the newly semi-literate troops are taught to sign their names, and write out the serial number of their weapon. Illiterate troops selected for promotion to sergeant (NCO), are given more literacy training. That's because being able to read and write has long been a critical asset for any army. The Roman Empire, at its height 1800 years ago, had an army over 100,000 troops, a third of which were literate. But with modern armies, an abundance of technology makes literacy even more necessary. The Afghans can get by without it, but can do a lot better with it.
The article mentions a third problem as well:
The shortage of foreign trainers has meant that many troops get sub-standard training. But by Afghan standards, it's a pretty effective force. Nearly tripling its size will take several years, if the same training methods are used. That's because of the high desertion rate. Most Afghans see their tribe as their highest loyalty, while recognizing Afghanistan as something they are part of, but not necessarily fond of. The Afghans want a larger force to deal with the Taliban insurrection, the growing power of the drug gangs, and possible trouble with Pakistan or Iran. None of these issues are of any great concern to most Afghan soldiers, unless they are problems that affect their own tribe.
Afghanistan's a mess, and how President Obama handles it will largely decide how historians judge his foreign policy.RLC