The first tranche of geographic transition is now complete in Afghanistan; geographic transition is a positive step, but it will not be risk-free. As recent media accounts have made clear, the Taliban, Haqqani Network, and other insurgent groups seek to regain lost territory. Over the past two years, approximately 2,800 Afghan police and 1,050 Afghan soldiers have been killed. In spite of the losses, there are no shortages of Afghan volunteers to serve their country. But this has not always been true.
The Afghan military went from negative growth of 1,200 soldiers in September 2009 to adding more than 6,000 per month since December 2009. Where there was once a disparate Army of 97,000, a much more unified and ethnically-balanced force of 171,000 stands today. During the same period, the police grew from 94,000 to 130,000. Over the next year, an additional 47,000 will be added to the Army and Police tashkil or rolls. U.S. Senator Carl Levin welcomed this. “For years, I have strongly and repeatedly advocated for building up Afghan military capability because I believe only the Afghans can truly secure their nation’s future.” The Balkh provincial governor Atta Mohammad Noor agrees, “We truly understand that putting the security and military burden of our country on our international friends forever would not be rational.”
The growth is not only a testament to Afghans’ willingness to heed the call to defend their country and determine their future, but also the strength of partnership between the international community and the government of Afghanistan. Through NATO, the international community has given Afghan recruits opportunities that make military and police service during a time of war attractive. Beyond pay, NATO provides Afghan soldiers, airmen, and police with sufficient training, modern equipment, and support. When Afghan forces partner with NATO forces, the effect is dramatic. Afghan forces provide their NATO counterparts with knowledge of local languages, experience in cultural traditions, and unmatched understanding of the terrain. Likewise, NATO forces provide their Afghan counterparts with superior intelligence, reliable logistics, and precision air support. Together, the combined Afghan-NATO team conduct patrols in Helmand, interdict insurgents in Paktika, and recover weapons caches in Khost. To be sure, ISAF forces are essential to these efforts today, but it is with Afghans that combined operations protect the population, build institutions, and deprive insurgents the support they need.
Through partnership, Afghanistan is building a capable Army, Air Force, and Police. This would not be possible without international support and commitment to realize Afghans’ goals for a sovereign country with the capabilities to defend its borders, protects its people, and respond to man-made or natural disasters. International support was on display at Sivas, Turkey last week. There, Turkey, Afghanistan, Japan, and NATO officially opened a police officer candidate school. The 6-month course will train 492 Afghan police officer candidates and is made possible through Japanese and NATO funding, Turkish Police trainers, and the support of the Turkish government. Almost all training of Afghan forces is done inside Afghanistan, but given the Afghan Security Ministries’ and NATO’s emphasis on developing leaders to close officer and NCO shortfalls, the program in Turkey is a necessary investment to accelerate leader development and to professionalize the Afghan National Police.
A proverb heard in Afghanistan is “if you want to go fast, you go alone…if you want to go far, you go with others.” Far from being alone in supporting a lasting Afghan force, four countries came together in Sivas to help Afghanistan go far.
Lieutenant General William B. Caldwell, IV., United States Army, has served as the commander of NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan since November 2009.