U.S. set to train Afghan army

Green Berets to lead instruction of initial force of 2,400 troops

A goal of peace and security

Recruit training to start this spring

allies to share costs

March 26, 2002|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - U.S. troops will soon begin training recruits for a new Afghan army, with the goal of boosting security and safeguarding Afghanistan's borders, Pentagon officials said yesterday.

The mission will be led by Army Green Beret troops who will start the training in late spring, officials said. They said the U.S. troops would use a series of 10-week training cycles to create a projected total of 2,400 Afghan soldiers.

"Training the Afghan army will serve as a positive step to help ensure that there is a better chance for peace and security in Afghanistan and that the country is not used as a terrorist haven in the future," Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said yesterday.

Though details are still being worked out, the plan calls for several hundred Green Berets to spearhead a multinational training course in the capital city of Kabul that would include basic infantry tactics and patrol duties.

Officials said the U.S. trainers will be drawn mostly from troops already in Afghanistan, though some could come from bases in the United States.

"We're going to start with a small number of people to begin the process of getting an Afghan army going," said Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. "There's also the technique of training [Afghan] trainers to do it themselves."

That separate effort, "Train the Trainer," will use U.S. and allied personnel to instruct a cadre of Afghan officers and noncommissioned officers - 120 to 150 initially - over 18 months. Defense officials said those Afghans would eventually take over responsibilities from the U.S.-led training force.

An international peacekeeping force in Kabul, led by British troops, has begun training the first Afghan battalion of a new national army.

The United States and other countries expect to share the training expenses, Rumsfeld said, but he was uncertain how much the effort would cost. Additional money will be needed for the continued operation of the multinational peacekeeping force in Kabul.

While the United States is not about to become the world's policeman, Rumsfeld said, it "will actively prepare other nations for the battles ahead."

Defense officials were uncertain how long it would take to recruit, train and equip an Afghan army, saying that the size of the force is under discussion. Some Afghan officials have said that they envision a 50,000-soldier army at some point.

The plan under consideration would train about 4,000 soldiers by the end of September and 12,000 by September 2003.

Within the 10-week training period, one plan calls for creating three 600-soldier infantry battalions along with two 300-soldier border battalions, said Army Maj. Gen. Charles Campbell, who was part of a U.S. delegation that visited Afghanistan to help determine how to build an Afghan army. Up to 150 Green Berets would oversee the initial training, officials said.

A senior Pentagon official said building a new army is "the single most important thing" to enable the country's interim leader, Hamid Karzai, to maintain security and create a national identity encompassing the various Afghan factions.

The United States believes that the formation of a new Afghan army is the surest way to prevent the country from again becoming a haven for terrorists, the Pentagon official said.

Rumsfeld has balked at having the United States take part in the peacekeeping force, preferring that U.S. troops focus on their central role: killing or capturing the remaining al-Qaida and Taliban fighters in the country.

Some analysts are concerned, however, that regional warlords thought to control some 200,000 troops will maintain their militias even as they send recruits to join a new national army.

Campbell said a policy of disarming and reintegrating local militias would have to begin soon.

"You'll see numbers of the armed factions reintegrated into the civilian side or, alternately, integrated into the national army," he said.

Rumsfeld said all of the representatives of Afghanistan's interim government support the formation of a national army.

"To the extent that they end up being sufficiently influential in the country, then it's likely there will be a national army, as opposed to all of the multiple armies that we see in different sectors of the country," Rumsfeld said.

There is concern, though, that nearly all of Afghanistan's top defense leaders and military officers are being selected from among the Tajiks and Uzbeks, even though Pashtuns are the country's largest ethnic group, representing about 38 percent of the population.

S. Frederick Starr, head of the Central Asia Caucus Institute at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, said he fears that such lopsided numbers could produce a "Pashtun backlash" in the near future.

Pentagon officials say they are aware of the imbalance and that it could be destabilizing.

"Its something that's going to have to be resolved to universal satisfaction," an officer said.

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