For two years, NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan (NTM-A) has partnered with the Government of Afghanistan to develop the Afghan National Security Force (ANSF). NATO leadership had the vision in 2009 to establish NTM-A to assume lead for the development of the ANSF. When they did so in November 2009 they provided it with the right strategy, the right organization, right resources and the people with the right skill sets necessary to accomplish the mission. The investment is now demonstrating the desired return on investment – an ANSF capable of taking the lead for security throughout Afghanistan by December 2014.

It has been a privilege and honor to be a part of such a tremendous team (NTM-A) for these past two years. This time period is a remarkable story of progress made by the Afghan National Army, the Afghan Air Force, and the Afghan National Police. Their significant progress represents an incredible journey – a journey not yet complete, one still with many challenges ahead, but one that is achievable.

For some, the perception of the ANSF is two years old – a perception formed before NTM-A. Today, improved quality – with quantity – has developed an ANSF that is well-led, well-trained, well-equipped, well-paid, and increasingly more literate. Many believed quality and quantity were exclusive – however, the past two years have demonstrated they are mutually inclusive. To enable this significant improvement, NTM-A focused on five areas: Enhancing Leader Development, Training Afghan Trainers and Instructors, Improving Literacy and Vocational Skills, Inculcating an Ethos of Stewardship, and Developing Enduring Institutions, Systems, and Support Forces. Advancements in each of these areas enabled us to accelerate the momentum gained during our first year.

With just three years until the transition to ANSF-led security, challenges do remain. There is still a leadership deficit, albeit much smaller than a year ago, and we must continue to develop leaders of character to serve Afghanistan. Attrition will, with time, need to be further reduced, and transparency throughout the ANSF needs to be reinforced. The most significant challenge facing the sustainability of the ANSF is the development of enduring institutions and sustainable systems.

We are surrounded by “echoes of the past” — reminders of the need to build enduring institutions and systems to ensure the long-term sustainment of the force. The foundation is being laid; now the Afghan Government, with the assistance of the international community, will need to sustain the ANSF. To quote an old Afghan saying, “If you want to go fast, you go alone….If you want to go far, you go with others.” NTM-A and its partners are committed to continue assisting the Afghans as they build these enduring institutions and critical systems.

Today, we see an ANSF being sufficiently trained and equipped, developing people with the right vocational skills and literacy, and building the institutions to make this an enduring force. There is no shortfall of recruits with the desire to serve Afghanistan. We are optimistic that, by the end of 2014, the Afghan National Security Force will be able to assume the lead for security and protect its people, thus providing an opportunity for all Afghans and hope for the future of Afghanistan.

Lieutenant General William B. Caldwell, IV., United States Army, has served as the commander of NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan since November 2009.