The U.S. Army officer responsible for training Afghanistan's new security forces says he only has about half the number of U.S. military trainers he asked for. But he says the resulting delay will be measured in months, not years, and the Afghan forces should take on significantly more responsibility in 2008. VOA's Al Pessin reports from the Pentagon.
Brigadier General Robert Livingston says the U.S. military was not able to provide the additional 3,400 trainers due to other commitments, making it necessary for the trainers he does have to handle more Afghan troops and police districts. Still, he says, they can only cover about 80 percent of the need. The general spoke via satellite from a base near Kabul to reporters at the Pentagon.
"The ideal situation would have been to have about 7,000 U.S. military trainers, plus all the partners, which would give us a very heavy saturation of mentoring with the Afghans, actually give us a pretty much one-on-one with key leaders," he said.
Instead, General Livingston says, he has about half that many U.S. military trainers, plus several hundred American policemen who have volunteered to go to Afghanistan to help. The general says he expects to get about 800 more trainers from the U.S. army next spring, and another 800 in the fall. And he notes that NATO, which has the primary responsibility for security in Afghanistan, has begun to provide additional training teams of its own.
"I can't really say, time-wise, how much it's going to set us back, if it's going to set us back," he added. "It certainly has made it more challenging, but I can't really say it's going to set us back more than a year, probably much less than a year."
General Livingston says one reason is that while more trainers would have moved the process more quickly, by next year the need for trainers will be reduced as Afghan units, particularly the army, finish their training and conduct more independent operations.
"I think what we'll find is over the next year, as we work on focused district development, we continue certifying army units and they will actually start being able to stand on their own this spring, we'll start seeing a lesser need, plus NATO is starting to contribute more troops to the army training effort," he explained.
The general says that enables more American trainers to focus on the Afghan National Police, and he says the Afghan Ministry of the Interior is also doing more to try to help, using the Afghan Defense Ministry's experience in training and support. General Livingston says that experience means the training shortfall is "not going to have the same catastrophic effect that it would have."