The attention of the United States military and its government has shifted back to the fighting in Afghanistan. With new leadership and new troops, the hope is that NATO and its Afghan allies can create conditions that result in a rejection of the Taliban by the people of Afghanistan.
The Afghan National Army (ANA) is a major part of this new strategy. The ANA has a long and proud history that it is struggling to reclaim after its dissolution in 1992.
I was among a group of reporters that interviewed Brigadier Simon Levey, British Army, commander, Combined Training Advisory Group-Afghanistan and Maj. Gen. David Hogg, deputy commander-Army, NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan. We discussed the status of the ANA and the training programs that NATO is providing to the force.
MG Hogg told us that the current number of ANA troops is about 104,000 and the goal is to have 134,000 by October 2010. Another Corps, the 215th, is being created. All units from the platoon on up are being given more soldiers than the table of organization calls for to enable the growth of the Army and to allow for attrition within the ranks.
Over 17,000 Afghans are currently in basic training. Brigadier Levey described that training as consisting of a two week literacy course in Dari, eight weeks of basic training, on to advanced training in one of eleven disciplines, and then an additional eight weeks of collective training.
Literacy is an issue with the soldiers of the ANA. About 11% of the enlisted are literate, at the NCO level about 30% are literate and all officers are literate. Literacy training is included as part of the coursework at every rank in the Army according to Brigadier Levey.
The Afghan National Army is an infantry heavy force at the present time, due to the security situation in that nation. Plans are being made to rebalance the force and by December 2010 the ANA should have artillery, armor, military police, etc., the specialties of a modern army.
MG Hogg talked about the Afghan Military Academy. It operates a four year course and on March 16, 2010, it will graduate 213 new Afghan Army officers. The entry class has 600 openings and the new class will enter March 22. Levey described future plans for the Afghan Defense University, to house the Military Academy, Command and Staff College, the COIN training center, the NCO Academy and the Foreign Language Institute.
There are women in the ANA. Levey describes them as having been in the military before the Taliban. The ANA is about to begin an officer training course for and the first class of 60 will be selected March 4.
Hogg discussed the Afghan National Army Air Corps. They are flying the MI-17 and the MI-35 helicopter, and transitioning to fixed wing operations with the C-27A.
In Afghanistan, the recent pay increase has helped retain troops as well as attract new recruits, according to Major General Hogg. Their base pay is $165 a month, with it increasing to $230 in an area with moderate security issues and to $240 in those provinces where there is heavy fighting. Many of the troops are paid via electronic fund transfer, but some are still paid in cash. ANA troops and their families also have access to government provided medical care, a benefit that Taliban recruiters cannot offer.
He also described an effort to attract former Afghan freedom fighters, the mujaheddin integration course. These are not Taliban but those who fought the Russians. He told us that there are 2-3,000 potential mujaheddin recruits, and around 900 have joined the ANA.
Both officers talked about how Afghans are doing much of the training at this time. In many classes, the NATO advisers support the ANA trainers which is a change from several years ago.