Training Afghanistan National Army

3rd Special Forces Group†(Airborne)

Green Berets prepare to begin 

Training Afghanistan's National Army

By Rick Scavetta, Stars and Stripes
European edition, Tuesday, April 16, 2002

Rick Scavetta / S&S
A German Army soldier and his explosive-sniffing hound searched the barracks Monday at the Kabul military academy, where U.S. Special Forces are preparing to train Afghanistanís national army.

Rick Scavetta / S&S
Afghan Army Col. Habib-u-Rahman watches as local workers clear rubble from the Kabul military academy.

Rick Scavetta / S&S
Much of Kabulís military academy was destroyed by U.S. air strikes.

KABUL, Afghanistan ó In two weeks, U.S. Special Forces begin the daunting task of training a national army for Afghanistan ó an uphill battle against funding, discipline and doctrine.

While Green Berets prepare Kabulís former military academy to receive the first batch of 600 Afghan troops May 5, international leaders are still searching for ways to pay the new soldiers.

"The biggest need is money to pay the salaries," said Brig. Gen. David Kratzer, a military adviser to the U.S. Embassy. "Then itís equipment. Anything from uniforms to boots, sleeping bags to Ö you name it."

On April 3, international leaders met in Geneva, Switzerland, to discuss funding an Afghan army. Chaired by U.S. Ambassabor James Dobbins, the conference outlined Afghanistanís needs for a structured fighting force, but did not include specific pledges of money or equipment, Kratzer said. Several foreign countries offered assistance at an earlier conference in Tokyo, but had not offered to train a new military.

Afghan ministry officials suggested paying a foot soldier $30 per month, and up to $300 for officers. Another plan, based on suggestions from Afghan soldiers, calls for enlisted troops to earn $150, sergeants to earn $250, and officers to earn $300.

A May 10 meeting, at an undisclosed location, will focus on how the international community plans to pay Afghan soldiers, Kratzer said. Norway already donated some uniforms and equipment for the first 700 troops.

The U.S. Department of Defense budgeted about $4 million for training, which will pay for repairs to the training site and for transporting and paying U.S. troops, said Col. Mike Weimer, a U.S. Army officer who works with the Afghan Ministry of Defense.

The basic infantry training will be similar to what American soldiers go through at Fort Benning, Ga., said a U.S. Special Forces soldier, who agreed to be interviewed only if his identity was kept to "Master Sgt. T" for security reasons.

Recruits wonít be forced to shave their heads, but their training may follow traditional U.S. military instruction, the master sergeant said.

"The way we work in special operations is we donít come in to make changes. We encourage," he said. "We canít put our Western values and morals on them."

Ethnic groups throughout Afghanistan selected troops, and each will undergo additional screening before training begins. The trainees, who range from skilled fighters to fresh recruits, begin arriving April 27. Their first formation is scheduled for May 5 in Kabul.

For 10 weeks, Green Berets plan to run the Afghan recruits through a rigorous training cycle that will include firing Russian-made AK-47 assault rifles at a nearby range.

By Aug. 4, Special Forces will train a total of 2,400 Afghan soldiers to complete four Afghan battalions. When follow-on cycles start in October, Afghan soldiers will run the training, supervised by U.S. instructors.

European peacekeepers trained the first battalion of Afghan troops, who held a graduation ceremony April 3 in Kabul. In the eyes of U.S. leaders, the European-trained force was just a token of the total number of soldiers to be assigned to guard Kabulís palace and government buildings.

But the master sergeant said Special Forces learned plenty from the initial train up.

To boost morale, the European instructors included daily prayers, foreign movies and English language classes into the training schedule. But, without the ability to assign mundane tasks such as kitchen duty or push-ups, trainers have few teeth for discipline.

"What do you use as a motivator?" asked Master Sgt. T. "Thatís a tough one."

Fear of being released from the training led many Afghans to stick out the initial training, but at least 10 percent of the first 570 troops deserted. The soldiers were not being paid, Master Sgt. T said.

The U.S.-led training could see the same fallout rate, as Afghansí salaries are still up in the air, he said.

In the recent past, Afghans based their military on the Soviet Union, which occupied the country during the 1980s. Officers ran the show without the help of a noncommissioned officer corps. Part of future training will include selection and training for sergeants.

"Thatís not going to happen overnight," Master Sgt. T said. "But weíll plant the seed."

Four Afghan officers will go to U.S. bases to observe Army training, but the mass of Afghan troops will train in Kabul.

Established in 1966, the military academy in East Kabul trained soldiers throughout the Soviet occupation. Later it became a Taliban stronghold. Last fall, a U.S. Special Forces team guided B-52 bombers to the site, thought to contain a chemical factory and Taliban tanks.

Much of the training compound is littered with Taliban weapons and debris from destroyed buildings.

Local workers began clearing rubble at the academy Monday to make room the first 600 recruits. Explosives experts from the 313th German Parachute Battalion and the British 49th Squadron Explosive Ordinance Disposal unit swept through barracks this week, clearing unexploded munitions.

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