MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
NPR's Quil Lawrence reports from Kabul.
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LAWRENCE: It took some persuading to make it a priority for NATO officials eager to stand up the army and police as soon as possible. But the need for soldiers to know their numbers and letters quickly becomes obvious, says British Army Major General Jeremy Burnan, who made the case recently before an audience of Afghan and NATO officials.
JEREMY BURNAN: I can count my ammunition. That's life and death. I can read my commander's orders, or I can account for my equipment. That could be life and death, couldn't it?
LAWRENCE: Burnan says for the police, it's even more important. Illiterate police can't read an ID at a checkpoint or recognize a car's license plate number, let alone write a report about a crime scene. Still, it's taken nine years of international involvement here to begin to come to grips with the problem.
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LAWRENCE: Observers say officers sometimes skim from the salaries of illiterate troops or fill rosters with the names of soldiers who don't exist.
BAZ MUHAMMAD: (Foreign language spoken)
LAWRENCE: Baz Muhammad, a 40-year-old soldier from Kunduz in the north, gets at another positive side effect.
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LAWRENCE: Quil Lawrence, NPR News, Kabul.
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