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A Broken Training Strategy In Afghanistan

Posted by on September 29th, 2010

From our partners at

By Steve Hynd

Here's an amazing admission by Lt. General Bill Caldwell, the guy in charge of training Afghans so "we can stand down as they stand up": there are 1,200 less soldiers in the Afghan National Army than there were a year ago. (hat tip: @petulantsage.)


Caldwell went on to try to spin this as "momentum" and "progress", saying that over 100,000 young Afghans had been recruited into the Army and Police in the last ten months. However, Caldwell also said that to continue that recruitment and meet targets the training mission needed 1,500 additional trainers he's been trying to blackmail out of other NATO members – after the U.S. has already refused to provide them.

Caldwell has been saying, loudly, "no trainers, no transition to Afghan control", but so far other members of NATO remain as reluctant to add to their troop presences in Afghanistan – even trainers – as they have been since at least the London Conference in January. And even if those trainers arrived, all they'd be doing would be giving some instruction to thousands of Afghans who are going to desert with their weapons and new expertise anyways.

Back in August, Caldwell made the amazing admission that to reach targets, 86,000 more people would have to be recruited to the ANA because 49,000 will walk away for a net gain of 37,000 troops. The desertion problem was just as bad for the police: to meet targets the US and its allies would have to train 56,000 men, of whom 37,000 would desrt for a net gain of only 19,000. Even the ones that remain have a 90% illiteracy rate and drug use rates approaching 100% if you include using marijuana and hashish, which the US military doesn't for it's Afghan recruits.

Now it seems attrition rates are even worse than Caldwell admitted back then. Any additional trainers would therefore be training even more sub-standard recruits with an even higher desertion rate so that Caldwell can hit his targets some day – and he's already preparing the ground for his boss, General Petraeus, to say the US will have to extend it's timetable for withdrawal beyond 2011.

But what happens then? Even the recruits that pass training – at horrendous expense which the Afghan government wouldn't be able to afford in its wildest dreams if US taxpayers weren't footing the bill – have a desertion rate of around 12-17% annually or more. The day after those trainers stop training new cannon fodder, it all begins to fall apart again – which is why I say that the current strategy is not sensible, is all about face-saving for careerist generals and politicians, and amounts to papering over the cracks long enough to head for the exits.

Meanwhile, the West will have spent another $1 trillion or so and another 1,000 or more soldiers will have died on this face-saving exercise. We could pack up and leave right now and nothing essential would change in Afghanistan compared to the future of that nation as determined by current US strategy. So why don't we?

(But whether we do or don't, can someone on the Hill please ask questions about Lt. General Caldwell's competence? He was Bush's hand-picked spinmeister to get Petraeus' back in Iraq in '07 and he certainly seems to be more about style than substance in Afghanistan too.)

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