Saturday, January 16, 2010

U.S. Approves Training to Expand Afghan Army

The Pentagon has authorized a substantial increase in the number of Afghan security forces it plans to train by next year, in time for President Obama’s deadline for United States combat forces to begin withdrawing from the country, military officials said Thursday.

Meanwhile, a suicide bomber struck a marketplace in southern Afghanistanand killed 20 people, including children, and NATO officials reported that 23 soldiers had died so far this year.

The new training goals would increase the size of the Afghan Army from its present 102,400 personnel to 171,600 by October 2011, according to Lt. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, the American officer who leads NATO’s training mission in Afghanistan.

Addressing a group of Afghan National Army cadets on Thursday, General Caldwell said the Pentagon had made the decision to increase its training commitments at a meeting the night before in Washington.

“The coalition forces want to grow the Afghan forces,” General Caldwell told the cadets, in response to a question from one about whether the coalition should not give more responsibility to Afghan forces.

“We want to do just what you’re saying,” he answered. “We are here as guests of Afghanistan. We want to support your army to take control.”

The Afghan National Army is already planning to increase in size to 134,000 by Oct. 31 of this year, General Caldwell said. Presently there are a record 18,000 fresh recruits in training, encouraged by pay increases of up to 30 percent. The recruits undergo an eight-month-long course run by NATO. The Pentagon decided Wednesday to further raise the army’s size to 171,600 by October 2011. Additionally, Afghan police forces, which now number 96,800, would increase to 109,000 this year, and American officials hope to further increase that to 134,000 by the following year, General Caldwell said.

Previously the goals had been to increase Afghan forces to 159,000 soldiers and 123,000 police officers by 2011.

The American military’s proposed budget for training Afghan forces is now at $11.6 billion for the fiscal year 2011, and the increase in personnel would be paid for out of that, according to Col. Gregory T. Breazile of the United States Marine Corps, a spokesman for the NATO Training Mission in Afghanistan. “We’ve been talking about these numbers for some time, but we didn’t have approval until last night,” Colonel Breazile said, referring to the Pentagon session.

President Obama has ordered an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan by this summer, which would bring the United States’ troop strength to about 100,000. With other coalition contributions, also expected to increase but at a slower rate, that would bring the total NATO troop strength to at least 145,000 by the end of 2010. By comparison, American troop strength in Iraq has already dropped below 140,000 and is scheduled to fall to 50,000 by August.

The United States military has projections of increasing the Afghan Army and police forces to 400,000 by 2013, Colonel Breazile said, but he added that the growth might not be necessary. “It’s all conditions-based,” he said. “If they need it, we can do it.”

On Thursday, the marketplace attack took place in the Dehrawood District of the southern Oruzgan Province, killing 20 civilians and wounding 13, according to the local Afghan National Army battalion commander, Gen. Abdul Hamid. An unspecified number of the victims were children, he said. The local governor, Asadullah Hamdam, said there apparently was no military or government objective for the bomber, unlike most previous suicide bombings.

“It shows that these terrorists do not know anything about the values of Islam,” said President Hamid Karzai, in a statement released by his spokesman.

The death toll in the country among coalition troops this January has now risen to at least 23, all but one due to hostile engagements, according to, an independent organization that tracks military casualties, and reports from NATO military officials. By comparison, 25 died in all of January 2009. Of those 21 hostile deaths this month, 14 were Americans, 2 British, 2 French and 1 Spanish, plus 2 others whose nationalities have not yet been disclosed.

The latest death was a United States soldier killed by an improvised explosives device on Thursday in southern Afghanistan, the American military said in a news release.

On Wednesday, four American soldiers and a NATO soldier were killed in four episodes, according to news releases from NATO’s International Security and Assistance Force headquarters in Kabul.

Two of the Americans were killed by a roadside bomb in eastern Afghanistan, the international force said, and one American died in another bombing in southern Afghanistan. In addition, an American soldier was killed in a firefight with insurgents in eastern Afghanistan. The NATO soldier, who was identified as French, died from a roadside bomb in eastern Afghanistan.

On Tuesday, two American soldiers died from a roadside bomb in eastern Afghanistan. And on Monday, seven NATO soldiers died, including three Americans killed in Helmand Province, in southern Afghanistan, and two French soldiers killed in eastern Afghanistan. A British soldier also died in Helmand. The nationality of the seventh fatality has not yet been disclosed.

A Taliban commander claimed that an insurgent killed five American soldiers in Shah Wali Kot, in the southern province of Kandahar, on Monday. But a spokesman for the international force in Afghanistan, Lt. Col. Edward Sholtis of the United States Air Force, said that no such attack had occurred.

Also on Thursday, a suicide bomber in Musa Qala, in Helmand, attacked a police patrol in a marketplace, but did not kill anyone else, according to Mullah Salam, the district governor there. One police officer and four civilians were wounded in the blast, he said. A statement from the international force, however, said one police officer was killed and five were wounded, four of them police officers.

In Khost Province, a roadside bomb detonated, killing a road construction worker and wounding another. A Taliban spokesman claimed responsibility, putting the death toll at three.

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