August 1, 2011  

Return on investment

At the time NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan (NTM-A) stood up in November 2009, the security transition that began this July was not discussed. Instead, the focus was simply on reversing the negative growth trends of the Afghan National Security Force (ANSF) and producing soldiers and police to meet the needs of counterinsurgency operations.

Quality and quantity were then seen as mutually exclusive principles — you could either produce a small, professional force or a large force with limited training, but not both. However, given the size of Afghanistan and the fact that the army and police are a visible and real connection between the central government and the people, the army and police must have both size and quality.

Outside of trained and professional personnel, we also had to ensure that the investment was sustainable. The ubiquitous derelict buildings and abandoned armored vehicles that cover the Afghan countryside serve as a vivid reminder of previous efforts to build Afghan security forces. We did not want to repeat the mistakes of the past. Consequently, NTM-A has been charged with building Afghan capacity in four primary areas: training and equipping the Afghan National Army, Air Force and Police; developing the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Defense; improving the country’s human capital; and investing in Afghanistan’s physical capital. Only after Afghanistan’s security institutions are self-sufficient and self-sustaining will it be possible for the Afghan government to make geographic transition gains durable.


Far from being alone in the creation and construct of a proficient and lasting security force, the Afghans have received a significant amount of help from the international community. Today, the 33 countries of NTM-A are training approximately 30,000 Afghans, and the return on the investment means Afghans will be able to assume these responsibilities in the coming years. As the security force is being trained, functioning security ministries are being supported. It does no good to train, equip and professionalize capable police and fighting formations if the ability to manage the growth, training, sustainment and employment of these forces is lacking. To do this, more than 500 NTM-A advisers — military, law enforcement and civil servant professionals — go to the ministries every day to assist as Afghan leaders take the lead in such critical ministerial functions as strategic planning, programming, budgeting and execution. Recognizing that civil servants provide unique insight and expertise for running a large military organization, the U.S. has formalized the Ministry of Defense Advisers program and has scores of senior career civil servants working within NTM-A to help build the civilian capacity in the ministries.

Working shoulder to shoulder with our Afghan counterparts, NTM-A trains Afghan Army, Air Force and Police at 70 sites in 21 provinces throughout Afghanistan to build a truly national security force. Previous disparate programs of instruction have been unified now to create national standards for training. Recently, a long-standing objective for the training of Afghan Uniform Police was achieved, as police basic training increased from six to eight weeks to allow for additional training in such key areas as human rights and gender issues, transparency and accountability, and intelligence-led policing. Improving the quality of training is a continuous process that has been embraced by the international community. NTM-A has grown into a multinational command providing more than 1,700 army, air force and police trainers. These 33 nations represent one-sixth of the world’s countries and are a true measure of the international commitment to the training mission. In addition to the trainers on the ground, these countries have committed to another 700 trainers to arrive in the near future. Moreover, seven other nations support the training mission through monetary contributions to the NATO Trust Fund or the United Nations Development Program Law and Order Trust Fund for Afghanistan. The depth of the international commitment to Afghanistan is encouraging and epitomizes the Afghan proverb, “If you want to go fast, you go alone. … If you want to go far, you go with others.”

Significant investment has been made to consciously provide the army, air force and police with capable, affordable and sustainable weapons, vehicles, equipment and infrastructure. An item is capable if it meets the requirement to defeat the current threat and protect the people; it is affordable if it provides the best value over time; and it is sustainable if it is durable enough to withstand the harsh Afghan environment and is able to be maintained without international assistance. The U.S. has invested heavily in such capable, affordable and sustainable equipment as the Enhanced Armored Security Vehicle and up-armored High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle. These new vehicles will provide the necessary mobility, protection and firepower needed to fight the insurgents and protect their population.


Professionalism is a defining characteristic of any effective military or police organization. While manning and equipping the force is important, the quality of the force depends on the quality of its leaders. Although it is relatively easy to train a new soldier or patrolman, it takes much more time and effort to train, educate and develop leaders. Leader development in the institutions and fielded force is the essential element of a professionalized force that will help to close the credibility gap between the ANSF and the Afghan people. Institutions such as the National Military Academy of Afghanistan, the Combined Sergeants Major Course, the Afghan National Police Academy and noncommissioned officer leader development courses will soon be unified as part of a broader institution called the Afghan National Security University. This consolidated institution of professional education will educate officers and NCOs in professional values and a spirit of service, pride and patriotism.

Education and training will transform Afghanistan’s force, since it will simultaneously affect multiple generations of Afghans across the force — from cadet to colonel and recruit to sergeant major. In the first model of true intergovernmental professional education, police and military officers will train together wherever possible to ensure the training system is sustainable for the Afghans and to forge the critical relations and coordination that are so critical for the clear, hold and build phases of counterinsurgency. Recruiting personnel, training and education, logistics and medical systems are all required to ensure self-sustainment. Although these systems will eventually grow into a national network capable of sustaining the force, they are just now in their initial stage of development as the training mission shifts from the infantry-centric force to an independent force over the next several years. The soldiers and police that make up the force serve for finite periods of time, but systems and institutions last generations. They, along with quality leadership, are the keys to making the Afghan force enduring.

Although ravaged by decades of war, the potential of the Afghan people remains. An investment in Afghanistan’s human capital is vital to realizing its potential and for the ANSF to become an effective and truly proficient force. One of the ways to best develop this potential is to address the widespread literacy challenge among the Afghan recruits. Entry-level testing shows that only about 14 percent of the new police and army recruits are functionally literate. At the most basic level, this means that nine out of 10 police cannot read or write. Since literacy is the essential enabler for the professionalization of the force and is the key for unlocking the potential of the Afghan service members, NTM-A employs 2,600 teachers to ensure that every recruit receives literacy training in accordance with the Afghan Ministry of Education standards.


Building a capable and professional force to get to transition and ensuring that it can last is the ultimate return on investment that the international community seeks. While a long-term process, we are beginning to see an Afghan return on the NTM-A investment that has been made over the past 22 months. Although much attention has been paid to the U.S. surge of 2010, there is the untold story of the Afghan surge. The Afghan National Army and Police have grown at an industrial scale, which added 110,000 to their ranks. Furthermore, the force is on track to grow to the internationally approved strength of 352,000 by October 2012.

Growth is important, but only now can say that every new recruit is trained prior to being deployed. Prior to November 2009, police were recruited and directly assigned with some vague intent that they eventually receive training. Today, all police are recruited and trained before being assigned to their units. The Afghan National Army was deliberately built as an infantry-centric force and is dependent on coalition support forces to provide artillery support, route clearance, combat and construction engineering and other critical specialties. With the establishment of 12 branch or vocational schools over the past year, NTM-A is creating the foundation to ensure the army and police are self-sufficient. This is part of a phased development effort that includes advanced training in logistics, finance, communications, human resources, intelligence, artillery, engineering and other important functions. As the fielding of these support units and specialists continues for the army and police, the force will be carefully and deliberately balanced with increased capability to give the ability to support and sustain itself, which will lead to independent operations. For example, once the Mobile Strike Force is equipped with, and trained on, the Enhanced Armored Security Vehicle, Afghans will have the capability to close rapidly with and destroy an entrenched enemy.

This critical pillar in the strategy to achieve security transition is supported by a growing number of fully certified Afghan trainers, who are beginning to take the lead in training the Afghan recruits at numerous army and police training centers. These Afghan instructors are trained and certified in five satahs, or levels, of instruction, and represent the ability of Afghans to sustain an enduring training capacity. In addition to developing Afghan trainers, NTM-A is responsible for assisting in the building of permanent training commands within each ministry to develop the knowledge, expertise and systems required to make training an Afghan-led responsibility.

Finally, Afghans are responding to the opportunity of literacy training, with 87 percent of recruits achieving first-grade education standards. And as of the end of July, more than 100,000 soldiers and police will have achieved some level of literacy through this training effort, with another 80,000 in training. Just as it did for other nations throughout history, the ripple effect of a literate security force throughout Afghanistan will have a lasting impact on more than just the individual soldiers and police.


Although progress is visible, this would not have been possible without identifying challenges to force growth and professionalization. These include: attrition, the insider threat and leader development. In the fall of 2009, the Afghan National Army and Police were experiencing negative growth due to premature attrition. Over the past two years, however, police attrition has moved to acceptable limits and army attrition is trending downward. Through better training and pay, predictable rotation policies and better leadership, the challenge of attrition can be overcome.

Recent high-profile attacks on coalition personnel by serving Afghan service members due to combat stress or by impersonators wearing Afghan uniforms have placed the insider threat challenge into focus. In recognition of this, the security ministries and Afghan intelligence have developed an active and continuous multilayered defense consisting of an eight-step screening process, which is embedded in Afghan cultural practices and enabled by modern technology. The screening process creates barriers to the insider threat at the point of recruitment. Additionally, NTM-A is training and the Afghan Army is fielding additional counterintelligence personnel to increase awareness of the insider threat and to safeguard the fielded force. Finally, the coalition is supporting an Afghan effort to biometrically enroll all recruits and personnel serving with the army and police.

Prior to November 2009, the emphasis was on generating an infantry-centric force to provide security rather than developing leaders to ensure the long-term health of the force. Since effective Afghan leaders at all levels are the key to solving the most difficult challenges, NTM-A is continuously working with the ministries to close these critical shortfalls and provide competent and capable leaders as the force continues to grow. From the Police Officer Candidate School that was opened to the army noncommissioned officer course entering its second year, all of the professional development courses for the ANSF are critical. It is this new generation of Afghan leaders who will ultimately lead their forces to overcome the challenges and build an effective security force.

While there has been significant progress in the growth and quality of the Afghan security forces over the past two years, these gains are not yet irreversible and new challenges remain. In spite of this, there is a growing sense of pride, confidence and professionalism emerging throughout the ranks of the Afghan National Army, Air Force and Police. We are witnessing this in the seven areas that transitioned from NATO security lead to Afghan security lead in July. Developing this force to endure will continue to require strategic patience and commitment, but will reap a return on the investment — a capable and professional Afghan National Security Force that endures long after the last coalition combat forces have departed Afghanistan. AFJ

LT. GEN. WILLIAM B. CALDWELL IV is an Army officer who has served as the commander of NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan since November 2009. COL. KEITH A. DETWILER is an Army officer who served as the deputy for international security cooperation at NTM-A during 2010-11; he is currently a student at the Army War College.