The U.S. Navy admiral who commands all NATO forces worldwide says he and the alliance secretary general are pressing each member to fulfill a specific part of the shortfall in military trainers in Afghanistan. The admiral spoke at a U.S. Senate hearing, where senior members from both parties criticized NATO allies for the shortage.
Admiral James Stavridis gave the Senate Armed Services Committee specific numbers. He said the NATO-run command in Afghanistan needed 1,278 trainers for the growing Afghan Army and Police forces, but it has so far received only 541 - a shortfall of 737.
"It is absolutely correct to say that NATO has fallen short in providing these vital trainers. What we are doing about it is taking further steps in terms of contacting each of the nations individually and going one-by-one through the precise requirement for each of the nations in terms of where they could most effectively fill in the trainer mix," Stavridis said.
The shortage of trainers comes at a time when Afghan Army recruiting is sharply up, due in part to a significant salary increase the Kabul government implemented late last year.
The committee chairman, Democrat Carl Levin, said the training commander in Afghanistan told him some of the Afghan recruits cannot enter the army immediately due to the lack of trainers.
"That is totally unacceptable, almost unbelievable to me, that we can not get NATO allies to carry out that kind of commitment, which is not the most dangerous. There is obviously danger anywhere, but compared to being in combat it falls well short of that," Levin said.
Admiral Stavridis said he and NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen are working hard on the issue.
"We will continue to hammer away at this until we fulfill that commitment. And I will continue to place it, as I told you Senator Levin, at the top of my priority list," Stavidis said.
The admiral said overall the NATO effort is "on track," and that member nations have committed 9,500 of the 10,000 additional troops they were supposed to provide, to fight and train Afghans alongside the 30,000 more U.S. troops heading for Afghanistan.
But the senior Republican on the Senate committee, former presidential candidate John McCain, challenged the admiral's numbers, because 2,000 Dutch troops are scheduled to withdraw by August.
"So, we are really not on track then. I mean, it is nice to say but if you are going to lose 2,000 Dutch troops, who are, by the way, great fighters from my visits, it is not 9,500. It is closer to 7,500," McCain said.
And the senator said even some of those NATO troop pledges are have "not been firmed up yet."
Admiral Stavridis indicated the need for NATO trainers in Afghanistan is not likely to end soon. He said the goal is for the Afghan Army to reach 300,000 and the police force to grow to 100,000, and he said he expects recruitment to remain strong for at least several more months. The admiral said a key focus now is to convince those recruits to stay in the army after their initial commitments end.
Building the Afghan forces is a key element in the effort to reach President Barack Obama's goal of starting to transfer security responsibility to the Afghans by July of next year.
At the hearing, Admiral Stavridis also acknowledged that 20 of the 42 countries with troops in Afghanistan continue to put restrictions, or caveats, on their activities, in spite of years of U.S. pressure to end that practice. Stavridis said some of the caveats are "very restrictive" and he is continuing to press the countries involved to reduce or end them.