General Caldwell wants us to know how well the ANSF build-out is going:
Volunteering by the thousands, Afghans continue to answer the call to serve their nation. Like the American “Greatest Generation,” this group of more than 79,000 (and growing) Afghans will be changed by their experience in the Afghan army and police, which will, in turn, allow them to become leaders of their communities. With only a 14 percent literacy rate among new recruits, every Afghan soldier and police recruit now undertakes mandatory literacy education. By October 2011, a projected 128,000 Afghans troops will be literate to at least the first-grade level, further enabling the Afghan security force to professionalize and become self-sustaining and enduring. While army, air force and police training provides invaluable life lessons for all who enlist, a good percentage of others will also receive specialty training (vocational skills) in logistics, maintenance, human resources, engineering, finance, and other fields. The literacy combined with the vocational skills will change these young Afghans, who, after their service to their country, will return to their towns and villages as leaders. What was once a matter of darkness and despair is now a matter of hope and opportunity for members of the Afghan National Security Force.
That sounds lovely, doesn’t it? But while General Caldwell talks about how great it is to bring these thousands of men up to a child’s literacy, and the heroic efforts of NTM-A fund and support it all, he doesn’t actually address the performance of the ANSF. Put differently: he’s described building a widget (e.g. a functioning security sector) but hasn’t actually said whether it performs its functions or not. This is where things get tricky.
Yesterday, the Ministry of the Interior said something worrying: Interior Ministry Spokesperson Zemarai Bashari complained that the 2-4 month training the police get is woefully insufficient to build an effective force. As Jean MacKenzie has been documenting, efforts to train other ANSF programs have faced similar challenges: the focus, like with Caldwell, is in simply getting people out the door, and not necessarily on what those forces are capable of doing once they’re out.
That doesn’t mean the ANSF are a total loss. There are units out there, and I’m sure the commenters will explain which ones, that are quite effective. On the other hand, I’ve had some distressing conversations with people coming back from provinces in the Southwest, and they are universally downbeat on the prospects of having even an effective Afghan Army to work with. Calling the ANA a “wash” overall seems fair, in other words: there are some effective units and some ineffective units. The ANP, on the other hand, remains an embarrassing failure. And don’t get me started on the constellation of local security groups, some of which show promise if given the space to function, many of which are terrifying to contemplate.
So General Caldwell isn’t really selling a line. The metrics he noted in his op-ed really are encouraging. I just wish he’d spoken to their actual capabilities. That will tell us if those metrics are meaningful—that is, if they really mean anything when it comes to the war, or if they’re just pretty to think about.