Mike Klein Online

During Talk About Quest for Peace, A Reminder Violence is Never Far Away

Mike Klein

“Security inside Kabul today is provided by the Afghan security forces.  You’re going to have the occasional suicide bomber.  You’re going to have the occasional suicide vehicle get through.”

When he addressed the Atlanta Press Club on Tuesday the United States three-star general who commands the NATO Training Mission in Afghanistan almost certainly could not know about events that would unfold thousands of miles away.  Within an hour of his presentation militants attacked the Hotel Inter-Continental in Kabul. At least 19 died, including the militants.

Again, there would be reason to question whether Afghan military and police forces will be capable to defend their country when all U.S. fighting forces are withdrawn in December 2014. More than 30,000 will leave before next year ends, as announced by President Barack Obama.

Lt. General William Caldwell commands the multi-national NATO Training Mission.  His job you don’t want: Create an army, an air force, a police force and install government and economic infrastructures into a country in which fewer than three in ten people can read or write their own name. This initiative is the job that you don’t read or hear about in most accounts.  This money — 92 percent funded by the United States — is being spent to bring a country from backward, illiterate ways into something akin to modern society.

Lt. General William Caldwell, Commander, NATO Training Mission - Afghanistan (U.S. Military Photo)

“When I first arrived there in November ’09, the late Ambassador Richard Holbrooke told me, hey, General, you’re going to need to take on this literacy thing,” Caldwell said.  “Here I am a three-star General, I’m a fairly senior guy, and I’m sitting here telling the Ambassador, you’ve got it wrong, that’s USAID or State Department or somebody else, but that ain’t my mission.  In about 60 days, I was eating my words, telling him, Ambassador, you were exactly right.

“I can produce the greatest army, the greatest police force but it will never endure if they don’t have the education, basic level, I’m not talking about college level, I’m talking about basic level education to account for equipment, to maintain the equipment. We’ve taken that on full force.”

When the literacy effort began 14 percent of Afghan military and police recruits could read.  That will improve to one-in-two by year’s end.  The NATO Training Mission currently employs 2,600 teachers, more than any entity in Afghanistan other than the Education Ministry.  One hundred thousand Afghans have been taken from illiteracy to some literacy in twelve months.

Caldwell is a former Columbus, Georgia native whose many worldwide U.S. commands included the 82nd Airborne Division when it evacuated more than 6,000 New Orleans residents after Hurricane Katrina.  He served as the Multi-National Force-Iraq spokesman before 28 months in command of the U.S. Army at Fort Leavenworth.  That preceded his NATO assignment in Afghanistan.

Afghan National Army 9th Kandak Storm Commandos (U.S. Air Force Photo)

“If you go back to December 2009 when our president made the announcement about putting additional surge forces in one of the three things that he said he wanted to do was help set the conditions that would enable the Afghan security forces to grow and develop so they could take on this responsibility for security inside their country and not be reliant on coalition forces,”

“We also understand there are still challenges ahead of us as we move forward.  All we have to do is look around Afghanistan.  We call it seeing the Echoes of the Past.  If you look at what the Soviets did when they were there they in fact did build an incredible army and air force and a government that was functioning, well-equipped, well-trained and yet within two years after their withdrawal it fell into complete disarray, disintegrated, did not work.”

Afghanistan, like any conflict zone, is an imperfect place.  Incidents like the Hotel Inter-Continental attack this week are likely to be repeated.  Militant forces sympathetic to the Taliban, al Qaeda and ethnic groups that often do not share values will no doubt continue to test coalition forces and the internal government that many Westerners believe is inept if not corrupt and you can find support for those views inside the country as well.

Caldwell described the Afghanistan state of mind as being “thirty years of civil war where all they did was worry about survival. There was no nationalistic view.  There was no idea of serving others.  It was about survival for 30 years.  Now we’re trying to change that to serving something greater than yourself.   That’s taking time.”

Support for this 10-year war and the two-year NATO Training Mission is waning at home, especially with Osama bin Laden now killed.  Sixty-two percent who answered a CNN poll oppose continued U.S. forces in Afghanistan.  Fifty-one percent answered the same way in a CBS News poll.  Just 45 percent told the Pew Research Center that the United States will “probably succeed” in Afghanistan.  NATO’s Training Mission will be on the ground until at least the year 2016 because it will take that long to install a capable Afghan Air Force.

“I recognize there is some weariness back in the United States about the ongoing efforts,” Caldwell said.  “Our job is to make this thing last.  It has to endure. We have to receive return on our investment that we have made both in terms of human life and in monetary resources.”  Additional source:  NATO Training Mission website.

July 1, 2011 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , ,

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