News / Asia

NATO Commander Hails Afghan Army Progress

Admiral James Stavridis at Camp Blackhorse, outside Kabul, 27 May 2010
Admiral James Stavridis at Camp Blackhorse, outside Kabul, 27 May 2010
Jennifer Glasse

NATO's top commander, Admiral James Stavridis, is visiting Afghanistan after announcing a restructuring of NATO forces before a planned offensive in the country's south aimed at eliminating the Taliban's presence and influence.  Stavridis is also reviewing the progress of the new Afghan army.

On a dusty wind-swept military camp outside the Afghan capital Kabul, NATO's top commander, Admiral James Stavridis addresses hundreds of soldiers in the new Afghan army.

"I am the commander of 47 nations  who are together with you in this beautiful country," said Admiral Stavridis. "My job is to bring together the military capability to help you as you train to build your country."

One of NATO's big jobs in Afghanistan is training the police and army.  The police force is expected to grow to 134,000 officers in the next 16 months, a 35 percent increase.  By then the Afghan National Army should have 52 percent more soldiers, totaling more than 171,000 men.

British Brigadier General Simon Levey is in charge of army training.  He says the Afghan soldiers are learning well, but what he really lacks is mid-level officers.

"The one thing I have not got is experience," said General Levey. "I can give them training, but I cannot buy them experience.  That takes time and that is the biggest challenge."

Levey and his NATO forces basically run the whole training program.  Ultimately that is supposed to change.

"It is a long-term transitional process whereby the Afghan institutions themselves are able to do all their own training," he said. "At the moment we are training and mentoring them.  Over time, we will just reduce to mentoring, and finally just to observing."

Parts of the new Afghan army, along with thousands of U.S. troops, are moving into the southern Afghanistan Taliban heartland around Kandahar.  The intention there is for Afghans and NATO troops of the International Security Assistance Force to curtail Taliban influence in the province.

NATO military chief Stavridis is optimistic.

"By partnering together with the security forces in Afghanistan, ISAF, our military side, is making great strides in security and I believe with confidence the international community coming here together will create the strides in governance and economy and development that we need to move forward," he said.

Officials here say the mission in the south will be pivotal to the overall success in Afghanistan and a crucial test of the new Afghan army and police.   

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