KABUL, Afghanistan – More nations are pledging support, yet NATO still faces a shortage of 740 trainers needed to get Afghan soldiers and policemen ready to take the lead in securing their nation, the coalition's top training official says.
Needed most are 290 police trainers, including those to work in new training centers opening in Afghanistan this year, U.S. Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, the commander of NATO's training mission, told The Associated Press in an interview Saturday.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai wants his nation's police and army to take the lead in protecting and defending their homeland by 2014, a deadline that will be reached only if the training effort — already on a fast track — gets even more support from NATO and other nations. Caldwell said the coalition wants to have the additional 740 trainers in place by this summer.
"The NATO secretary-general has said, 'No trainers, no transition,'" Caldwell said. "He is exactly right. If you don't have sufficient numbers of trainers, then we can't set the conditions for transition in 2014."
The Afghan security force added more than 70,000 police and soldiers last year and now is 270,000-strong. It is well on its way to meeting Karzai's goal of reaching 305,600 by the end of October. Karzai is expected to announce his next target for growth in coming weeks.
Besides filling training slots, however, the training mission faces challenges. Corruption within the ranks has been eased, but not eliminated, by raising salaries, issuing paychecks electronically and awarding promotions based on performance, not cronyism or favoritism. Increasing numbers of policemen and soldiers have been enrolled in literacy courses, but the inability to read and write continues to stifle efforts to professionalize the force.
The Afghan army and police still need thousands more officers trained. And there still is a critical shortage of trainers who can teach specific skills, such as how to manage military hospitals and clinics or fly and maintain Mi-17 aircraft.
At a ceremony Saturday at Camp Eggers in Kabul, Latvia and Lithuania together pledged up to 23 trainers to mentor the Afghan Air Force in southern Afghanistan. Their commitment raised to 32, the number of nations involved in the training mission.
"Down in Kandahar the Afghan Air Force has five Mi-17 helicopters and we desperately needed an air-mentoring team to work with them to help them continue to grow and professionalize the air force down there so that by December 2014 they are clearly in the lead," Caldwell said.
Capt. Didzis Veidenbaums, Latvia's senior national representative in Kabul, said that with just one rotary wing unit in all of Latvia, it was tough to find trainers to send. "It was a challenge for us just to find additional people who would be able to work here as trainers," he said.
The 740 shortfall exists even though 764 extra trainers, pledged by countries such as Romania and Bulgaria, are already making their way to Afghanistan.
Caldwell said the Netherlands and a nation in Latin America were considering sending trainers and that he was eagerly awaiting the details of Canada's pending commitment.
In November, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper decided with some reluctance to keep troops in Afghanistan in a noncombat training role after his nation's combat mission ends this year. Harper said he wanted to see a complete pullout of Canada's 3,000 troops. But he said Afghan forces needed further training and he didn't want to risk the gains that exiting Canadian troops had fought to achieve.
William Crosbie, Canada's ambassador to Afghanistan, said Sunday in Kabul that his country was finalizing plans to commit nearly 1,000 personnel, including 200 support staff and possibly 50 military police trainers and 45 civilian police trainers.
"Canada has said we're committed to doing it," Crosbie said, adding that details about where the trainers will be deployed and what they will be doing will be finalized in coming weeks.
Caldwell said Canada's contribution would be an "enormous uplift" for the training mission that would fill the need for army trainers, but would not completely satisfy the demand for police trainers.
"We have had sufficient numbers of trainers to get where we are today, but we know that we need to accelerate this in 2011," Caldwell said. "We're going to open up five more major police training centers in 2011 and that's why we need those 290 more police trainers."