Training Myth Takes a Hit in Afghanistan

Young Afghan policeman training with Polish Army officers. (photo: ISAF Media via Flickr)

One of the primary myths put forward to purchase more “Friedman Units” of patience from the American public on the war in Iraq was that we were training Iraqi troops and police forces to take over security responsibilities so that we could leave. In what may have been his first move into the world of blatant political advocacy, General David Petraeus, who then headed troops in Iraq and now is head of Central Command, wrote an Op-Ed piece in the Washington Post just prior to the 2004 elections. Here is the wondrous picture of progress that Petraeus painted in his effort to secure re-election for President George W. Bush:

Nonetheless, there are reasons for optimism. Today approximately 164,000 Iraqi police and soldiers (of which about 100,000 are trained and equipped) and an additional 74,000 facility protection forces are performing a wide variety of security missions. Equipment is being delivered. Training is on track and increasing in capacity. Infrastructure is being repaired. Command and control structures and institutions are being reestablished.

Despite these baseless claims in 2004, Petraeus still was staunchly defended by the press and politicians of all stripes when he returned in 2007 to deliver his “New! Improved!” plan for the surge in Iraq that would include (Surprise! Surprise!) training Iraqi troops and police forces.

Against this background of previous failures to achieve anything close to projected training rates and success levels, we now have the announcement last week on a new plan to phase the handover of security arrangements from NATO forces to Afghan forces:

NATO agreed on Friday on conditions to start handing over security responsibility in Afghanistan to Afghan forces this year, but the alliance said that would not mean a rush to leave the country.

Remarkably, though, this very announcement carried a warning not to expect the process to proceed quickly. . . .:

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said it would be a gradual process based on conditions, not a timetable, and stressed the need for allies to provide more personnel to train Afghan forces so they can take over security themselves.

/snip/

“What will happen is that we hand over lead responsibility to the Afghans and our soldiers will then move into a more supportive role, but I foresee that the Afghan security forces will need our supportive assistance for quite some time,” Rasmussen said. “So it will be a gradual process.”

Rasmussen even noted that forces in Afghanistan are short at least 450 trainers for the training that is needed and the article suggested that other officials claimed that a thousand more trainers are needed beyond the ones cited by Rasmussen.

Afghan officials paint an even bleaker picture for the readiness of Afghan security forces:

Afghanistan’s security forces will need four to five years before they are fully capable of taking over responsibility for the country’s security, its Defense Ministry said on Sunday.

That’s a lot of Friedman Units! The pessimism is based on the realization of facts such as the one pointed out in the first Reuters article above, where it is noted that only about 30% of Afghan police have any training at all.

Given this dismal state of the Afghan security apparatus, it is no surprise, then, that the much-heralded glorious victory in Marjeh was followed by a Taliban resurgence there in only a couple of weeks.

The myth of training clearly is being dispelled, given the cautionary notes now being delivered both by NATO and the Afghan government about the time expected to be required for handover of security responsibility. How long will it take for the US to admit that the entire concept of training to achieve a security apparatus in the Western mold is a concept so foreign as to have no meaning at all in Afghanistan?

Training Myth Takes a Hit in Afghanistan

Afghan policeman
A young Afghan policeman joins Polish Army soldiers in providing security during a patrol in the Giro District of Ghazni Province.
[ISAFMedia photo and caption.]

One of the primary myths put forward to purchase more "Friedman Units" of patience from the American public on the war in Iraq was that we were training Iraqi troops and police forces to take over security responsibilities so that we could leave. In what may have been his first move into the world of blatant political advocacy, General David Petraeus, who then headed troops in Iraq and now is head of Central Command, wrote an Op-Ed piece in the Washington Post just prior to the 2004 elections. Here is the wondrous picture of progress that Petraeus painted in his effort to secure re-election for President George W. Bush:

Nonetheless, there are reasons for optimism. Today approximately 164,000 Iraqi police and soldiers (of which about 100,000 are trained and equipped) and an additional 74,000 facility protection forces are performing a wide variety of security missions. Equipment is being delivered. Training is on track and increasing in capacity. Infrastructure is being repaired. Command and control structures and institutions are being reestablished.

Despite these baseless claims in 2004, Petraeus still was staunchly defended by the press and politicians of all stripes when he returned in 2007 to deliver his "New! Improved!" plan for the surge in Iraq that would include (Surprise! Surprise!) training Iraqi troops and police forces.

Against this background of previous failures to achieve anything close to projected training rates and success levels, we now have the announcement last week on a new plan to phase the handover of security arrangements from NATO forces to Afghan forces:

NATO agreed on Friday on conditions to start handing over security responsibility in Afghanistan to Afghan forces this year, but the alliance said that would not mean a rush to leave the country.

Remarkably, though, this very announcement carried a warning not to expect the process to proceed quickly:

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said it would be a gradual process based on conditions, not a timetable, and stressed the need for allies to provide more personnel to train Afghan forces so they can take over security themselves.

/snip/

"What will happen is that we hand over lead responsibility to the Afghans and our soldiers will then move into a more supportive role, but I foresee that the Afghan security forces will need our supportive assistance for quite some time," Rasmussen said. "So it will be a gradual process."

Rasmussen even noted that forces in Afghanistan are short at least 450 trainers for the training that is needed and the article suggested that other officials claimed that a thousand more trainers are needed beyond the ones cited by Rasmussen.

Afghan officials paint an even bleaker picture for the readiness of Afghan security forces:

Afghanistan’s security forces will need four to five years before they are fully capable of taking over responsibility for the country’s security, its Defense Ministry said on Sunday.

That’s a lot of Friedman Units! The pessimism is based on the realization of facts such as the one pointed out in the first Reuters article above, where it is noted that only about 30% of Afghan police have any training at all.

Given this dismal state of the Afghan security apparatus, it is no surprise, then, that the much-heralded glorious victory in Marjeh was followed by a Taliban resurgence there in only a couple of weeks.

The myth of training clearly is being dispelled, given the cautionary notes now being delivered both by NATO and the Afghan government about the time expected to be required for handover of security responsibility. How long will it take for the US to admit that the entire concept of training to achieve a security apparatus in the Western mold is a concept so foreign as to have no meaning at all in Afghanistan?