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Afghanistan: A nation in transition

Village Store Gathering

Story and Photo by G. A. Volb


Back in 2008 when I touched down for the first time in Afghanistan I began spending quite a lot of time covering the coalition effort on the ground training the Afghan National Security Force -- the national army and police. The vast majority of that training was being conducted by members of the 3o-plus nations who provided trainers.

Regular visits to training centers throughout the Kabul area stressed, at the time, that in its infancy the ANSF was not prepared to provide instruction to soldiers and police by themselves. In fact, I was hard pressed to find any frontline trainers who wore the Afghan uniform. It simply wasn't a visual anyone would see regardless of the instruction being presented.

Today, however, some three years later and less than two years following the standup of NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan, the vast majority of trainers seen on ranges and in school houses are, in fact, Afghan. This is a major success story in itself as the NTM-A mission has been focused on ensuring the ANSF is self-reliant when it comes to instruction within its own ranks.

From a journalist's perspective it's actually quite difficult these days to find coalition trainers on the frontlines. It's more likely they are sitting back, observing the execution of training requirements by their Afghan counterparts and providing insight to help better professionalize delivery. This was made abundantly clear during my last trip to the Infantry Branch School in Darul Aman (Kabul). British, French and Mongolian trainers looked on as training -- planned and coordinated by Afghan officers and non-commissioned officers -- was handled without a hitch.

Again, this is less than two years since NTM-A stoodup here and as British Maj. Brian O'Neill told me as he watched SPG-9 and mortar students learning their trade, "The actual school itself has progressed quite significantly. When we arrived we were very much leading the ANA in how to conduct the practices. But now all that's happening is we're taking a monitoring stance as the instructors have really blossomed, and as a result, they conduct all the ranges by themselves and we just really take back and provide a bit of advice and try to professionalize the instructors to sort of take the weapons systems a little bit further and improve the quality of the training. It's quite impressive because some of these kandaks are over 120 strong for each weapons system, but the ANA very much organize the training by themselves, they set it up and they conduct it and then they conduct debriefs at the end before taking the students back to camp."

O'Neill, chief mentor for the heavy weapons wing at the school, had much praise for the Afghan soldiers and trainers -- and similar feedback has come my way at various other sites throughout the city. And this should not be lightly accepted as institutionalizing such training is one of the most difficult challenges any fledgling security force faces early. The fact that the ANA and ANP is doing so during an ongoing war is quite phenomenal, in my opinion.


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