U.S. Military Falls Short of Afghan Training Goals

Afghan National Army soldiers march during a graduation ceremony in Kabul. i

Afghan National Army soldiers march during a graduation ceremony from a U.S.-backed training camp at the Afghan National Army base in Kabul last month. Massoud Hossaini/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Massoud Hossaini/AFP/Getty Images
Afghan National Army soldiers march during a graduation ceremony in Kabul.

Afghan National Army soldiers march during a graduation ceremony from a U.S.-backed training camp at the Afghan National Army base in Kabul last month.

Massoud Hossaini/AFP/Getty Images

A dispute over the number of Western troops in Afghanistan has provoked sharp exchanges in recent weeks between the Pentagon and its NATO allies.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates backed off criticism of NATO for not sending more troops, saying the two sides needed to work together. But tensions remain.

And NPR has learned the United States itself is falling short on the number of trainers it has pledged for Afghanistan.

The country needs more of its own soldiers and police, and training them has become a major job for the U.S. and its NATO allies.

U.S. Response Adequate?

Defense Secretary Robert Gates says it's a struggle to find trainers.

"I think that the principal shortfall — continuing shortfall — will be in having as many trainers as we would like for the security forces, but we have responded," Gates says.

The United States calculated that to help build the Afghan Army it would need more than 1,600 American military personnel. So far, it has come up with less than half that number.

For the Afghan police, the United States has sent 860 trainers — or one-third of what it promised to field.

The Pentagon announced last week that it will deploy 1,000 Marine trainers to Afghanistan this spring to help fill that gap. But even with those added Marines, the Afghan training effort will still be hundreds of trainers short.

Afghan Efforts Taxed by Iraq

Brig. Gen. Andrew Twomey oversees the training effort for Afghan soldiers and police. He says the lack of police trainers means a year-long delay. Now, it won't be until sometime in 2009 before the full 82,000-member Afghan police force is trained.

The general says it's critical to build a strong Afghan security force.

"I think they're essential to the long-term U.S. interests and the long-term stability of the region," Twomey says.

The Americans are having trouble meeting their commitments in Afghanistan. The Pentagon's top military officer, Adm. Mike Mullen, told lawmakers recently it's because of Iraq.

"It is simply a matter of resources, of capacity. In Afghanistan, we do what we can. In Iraq, we do what we must," Mullen said.

That wasn't good enough for Rep. Joe Sestak, a Pennsylvania Democrat and a recently retired admiral. The congressman reached into another wartime era to sound the alarm.

"I would think that the better approach might be what Winston Churchill said: 'Sometimes it's not enough to do our best. Sometimes we have to do what's required,'" Sestak said.

Two Views of Growing Taliban Attacks

Sestak worries about a growing Taliban threat — a view shared by retired officers and defense analysts. Besides trainers, they say, more U.S., NATO and Afghan combat troops are needed. Taliban attacks have increased over the past year.

But the top NATO commander in Afghanistan dismisses those concerns.

"I don't see the insurgents as a resurgent force as some people give them credit to be," said Gen. Dan McNeill from his headquarters in Kabul.

McNeill said the reason for increased attacks is that American and NATO troops are taking the fight to the Taliban.

"We're pushing our noses into some areas where the force has not been in Afghanistan before," the general said.

And McNeill said he will soon be getting more help. Besides those 1,000 Marine trainers, another 2,000 U.S. Marines will deploy for combat duty this spring — pushing their noses into the Taliban stronghold of southern Afghanistan.

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