U.S. Senate Armed Forces Committee Chairman Carl Levin called on the United States' NATO allies on Monday to fulfill their commitments to provide more military trainers to Afghanistan. The Democratic senator also briefed reporters on his recent trip to Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Senator Levin said he saw signs of distinct progress in Afghanistan since his last trip there in September. He said recent opinion polls and conversations he had during his visit confirm that the people of Afghanistan are increasingly optimistic about their future.
"About 70 percent of the Afghan people feel that they are headed in the right direction; 60 percent think their kids will have a better life than they do, and the Taliban remains extremely unpopular," he said.
Levin said there is also good news on a surge in recruits for the Afghan army. "The number of recruits - Afghan recruits that are in training - went up from 3,000 in November to 11,000 in January. That was a dramatic surge in recruits for the Afghan army," he said.
Levin said this might be due in part to a pay increase for Afghan soldiers. But he said U.S. military leaders there told him that it is also because of President Barack Obama's plan to begin withdrawing U.S. combat forces from the country in 2011. Levin said the Afghan people realize that they will have to take responsibility for their own security. He also said he is pleased that international forces are more closely partnering with Afghan army and police units.
The Michigan senator said the most disappointing aspect of his recent trip was the shortfall in the number of NATO trainers who were pledged to provide training to Afghan forces, but who have not been deployed. Levin said only about 1,574 trainers, most of them American, of the planned 4,200-person training force, are in place.
"This is totally unacceptable," said Levin. "This is the part where surely our NATO allies, who have fallen 90 percent short of their commitments, can do an awful lot better. And hopefully at the conference in London this week, they will do better in terms of trainers."
NATO foreign ministers are scheduled to meet in London on Thursday for a major conference on Afghanistan. They are expected to discuss troop commitments and international aid for the Afghan government.
Senator Levin has repeatedly said that he believes training and equipping Afghan forces is the most important part of the mission, and the best chance for the United States to end its combat operations there.