MELISSA BLOCK, host:
Now, we're going to hear about what it will take for American troops to leave Afghanistan. Ultimately a withdrawal depends on Afghan forces, both police and army. Once they can provide security for their own country the U.S. war effort can wind down.
But as NPR's Tom Bowman reports, the mission to train those Afghan forces is in trouble.
TOM BOWMAN: Training Afghan soldiers and police is a top priority. NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said as much at a meeting last week.
Secretary-General ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN (NATO): Today I have once again urged allies and partners to contribute to our training mission.
BOWMAN: A mission that hopes to create enough Afghan soldiers and�police by the fall of 2011 to begin taking responsibility for security. That's the exit strategy - the way the U.S. and NATO forces can begin to leave the country.
Sec.-Gen. RASMUSSEN: We will hand over responsibility when the Afghans are actually capable to take responsibility. And this is also a reason why I attach such strong importance to our training mission.
BOWMAN: Not important enough. NATO still hasn't sent its promised number of trainers. The key word here is pledged. NATO has pledged hundreds of trainers, just under 800, but they're not in Afghanistan yet.
Lieutenant General WILLIAM CALDWELL (Afghan Security Forces Trainer): A pledge is a pledge. It's not a person on the ground yet, performing a mission, making a difference, improving the quality of the police and the army over there.
BOWMAN: That's Lieutenant General William Caldwell, the top American trainer for the Afghan security forces.
Lt. Gen. CALDWELL: The challenge, of course, we have in Afghanistan is it's not boots on the ground yet.
BOWMAN: NATO nations have said they will make good on those pledges of 800 trainers sometime this year. That's not good enough for Caldwell. He has to fill in those gaps now. Already, he's more than 2,000 trainers short.
Lt. Gen. CALDWELL: Some of that 2,325 we mitigated by going out and hiring some private contractors.
BOWMAN: Contractors mostly from the U.S. are handling most of the training mission in Afghanistan now. In fact, there are some 3,000 of them, compared to 1,000 American military instructors. All other NATO countries combined have contributed about 300 trainers. For years, Defense Secretary Robert Gates has urged his European counterparts to send more forces to Afghanistan. Here he is last month at a Pentagon briefing.
Secretary ROBERT GATES (Defense Department): My view is there has been a significant increase in trainers. We have gotten additional trainers from the Europeans, not as many as we would like.
BOWMAN: Without a bigger NATO contribution, General Caldwell still needs more help. So he went to the Pentagon with this question.
Lt. Gen. CALDWELL: Is there a possibility of getting some temporary instructors?
BOWMAN: Temporary instructors basically means American soldiers. Pentagon officials tell NPR that Secretary Gates has agreed to send hundreds more U.S. troops to Afghanistan to serve as trainers. So, a battalion of the 82nd Airborne Division, some 800 soldiers, will be heading to Afghanistan in the coming weeks. They'll be there at least several months. And those soldiers are above and beyond the 30,000 troops that President Obama is sending to Afghanistan this year.
Here's a deadline General Caldwell's working against: by October 2011, Afghanistan is supposed to a field a force of 300,000 soldiers and police. Without more trainers, that won't happen. And that could delay plans to bring home American troops.
Tom Bowman, NPR News, Washington.