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Weapons and Boots: Growing the Afghan Army into a Fighting Force! DoD Roundtable

Imagine an Army centered on an infantry fighting force with only 35% of its soldiers qualified with their weapons! That is what Brig. Gen. Gary Patton described to the DoD Roundtable today as the situation in Afghanistan in November 2009 before standing up the NATO Training Mission Afghanistan (NTM-A)! He gave us a very open and frank discussion of the challenges and successes they have seen during the 180-Day Assessment of NTM-A. General Patton is the deputy commander of NTM-A and I enjoyed his very thorough update of where the Afghan Army stands and he said marksmanship and weapons training was their biggest success for several reasons!

Since November the number of Afghan trainees qualified with their weapons after basic training has grown to 65% with two training centers nearing 80% (and it continues to significantly improve). He said the improvement is based on improved trainer ratios and NCO training. In November they had one trainer for 79 soldiers and now they have one for 29 soldiers. The increase in focus on Afghan officer and NCO training and a Train the Trainer program centered on ANA (Afghan National Army) NCOs skills have been key to the continued efforts to improve the standards of the ANA.

The NATO forces (37% of the trainers are from NATO countries other than the US) are working on themes to improve ANA forces and reach manpower goals of 134,000 (October 2010) and 171,600 (October 2011). Presently, ANA forces are at 125,694 and “above the glidepath” according to the general. The highlighted themes from General Patton included:

1) Changed approach to training – now standards based training.
2) Reversed growth trend (negative) with recruiting, retention and re-contracting (re-enlisting).
3) Building the foundation of the Army – Infantry in 2010 and Sustainment in 2011.
4) Meeting the challenges of leadership development. Critical shortfall in officers and NCOs but new schools are preparing for the future.
5) Quality of Life improvements to make better base facilities for the soldiers and families.
6) Leadership – has a large impact on attrition and will continue to impact the issues of retention, recruitment and attrition.

General Patton said the Afghans want to be self sufficient but are very grateful for the NATO help in their training programs. The training baseline is expanding. For example, prior to November, the annual production of officers was 1,600 but this year it will be 4,500. NCOs will go from 1,900 to 15,000 and one job skill example, truck drivers will go from 1,000 to 9,500! Significant changes for sure and difficult to achieve as well! Changes being made have reduced the losses due to attrition from 3% a month to 1.2% today! A pay raise had significant impact but leadership development is the biggest factor.

But an Army needs to be able to shoot and lives on its feet! So what about those boots? The Afghan commercial efforts had produced below standard quality boots for their Army. New standards and testing have produced better boots! Significant for the country as a whole are new producers getting involved and competition and quality are becoming part of their vocabulary! Many products can be locally produced for the ANA! Improvement in the Afghan commercial life will increase ANA opportunities to win this war and allow Americans and NATO allies to come home!

If you would like to listen to this Roundtable or read a transcript please go to DoDLive! For other articles please go to Reading Room!

Photo Credits: NATO Training Mission Afghanistan Seal DoDLive

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