Training Afghan Forces Poses Challenges for US
Training a competent, well-equipped Afghan security
force is key to the U.S.-led war effort in
Afghanistan, even with President Obama's decision to
commit thousands of more Americans to the fighting.
But U.S. military officers in Afghanistan say language
and cultural and resource gaps make that difficult to
December 12, 2009
Scott Herron | Logar and Kandahar Provinces
At a NATO airbase in Kandahar, southern
Afghanistan, U.S. and Afghan aviators prepare for a
Eight years into the Afghan war, Afghan troops and
their U.S. advisers have settled into a sometimes
The Americans try to advise the Afghans in Western
methods of warfare. But the Afghans often have their
own way of doing things. And that sometimes conflicts
with U.S.-led efforts to forge a larger, more
independent Afghan security force.
"The biggest lesson really is being conservative
and thinking outside the training they had. They all
have been trained in the Russian style - this is way
you've done this, so it's the way you always will do
it," said Captain Tyler Rennell with the 438th Air
Expeditionary Training Group.
But an independent Afghan military must be capable
of adapting to an elusive enemy. U.S. Army officers
say a language barrier impedes American efforts to
impart this vital lesson.
Lieutenant Colonel Percy Dunigan oversees Afghan
pilot training at Kandahar.
"There's a lot of technical terms in aviation and
getting those translated properly and getting
transmitted to them in a timely manner, especially
when in flight, is a huge challenge. I try to learn a
little of their language to take away some of that
stress and confusion," he said. "But when you're
trying to deal with technical terms and processes on
the aircraft, there's no substitute for speaking the
In Logar province, a U.S. Army battalion is paired
with an Afghan battalion. The Americans mostly handle
the complex missions. Afghan troops usually get
simpler assignments, such as staffing road
Staff Sgt. Donald Coleman visits an Afghan position
to make sure the troops are doing their jobs. The
Afghans complain of equipment and manpower shortages.
"It always goes well when we're here," said Staff
Sergeant Coleman. "It's when we leave … I kind of
understand. Their complaints or issues or concerns are
definitely warranted. Nothing in Afghanistan happens
in a day or as quick as it would in the U.S."
A few miles away, more problems as American
military police try to show the Afghans how to conduct
vehicle searches on short notice.
Seeming not to understand, the Afghans wave cars
past the checkpoint without searching any of them.
U.S. Army 2nd Lieutenant Gregory Avant abandons the
first checkpoint and, after additional instruction,
tells the police to start over fresh at another
"They're doing better here than at the last," he
explained. "They're starting to understand what the
intent of the checkpoint is all about."