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General: NATO, U.S. must train nearly three Afghans to get one soldier

By Larry Shaughnessy, CNN Pentagon Producer
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Attrition is a major problem in keeping trained Afghan forces
  • Death, resignation and desertion are the main reasons for troop loss
  • Deserters often go to private security companies for better pay, officials say

Washington (CNN) -- There's been talk in Washington for months of the July 2011 deadline, when President Barack Obama promised to begin withdrawing troops from Afghanistan. He didn't say how many or how quickly.

But there is a less talked about date on the horizon that may be more important: October 31, 2011.

That's when the United Nations says there should be 305,000 members of the Afghanistan national security forces trained and assigned. There are currently about 249,000 Afghan forces, but getting that number to 305,000 isn't as simple as recruiting and training one Afghan to fill each empty slot. It's closer to three Afghans for each position.

"Just to grow that 56,000, we're going to have to recruit and train and assign 141,000 police and soldiers," U.S. Army Lt. Gen. William Caldwell said during a satellite briefing from Afghanistan on Monday.

The problem is attrition, the loss of troops and police from deaths, resignation or desertion. Caldwell said, adding, "They pose the greatest threat to both quantity and quality of the Afghan national security force."

So where do the deserters go? Possibly off to outfits that pay better. "The president of Afghanistan has stated that he thinks that a lot of them are being hired off by private security companies," said Caldwell, and he believes President Hamid Karzai may be correct.

"You take a young soldier who's gone through 17 weeks of intense military training to become a soldier in the Afghan army. He's developed some skill sets. He's received some literacy training. He's a far better person after 17 weeks than the day he entered," Caldwell said.

To help stop deserters from taking their training onto the private market, Caldwell says all insiders at private security firms are now going through fingerprinting and retina scans -- the same as security force recruits get -- so deserters will be easier to catch.

Caldwell said that training enough security forces to meet that October 31, 2011, goal will be difficult, but he believes the coalition finally has the resources to get the job done.

"The secretary of defense of the United States just last month, in July, gave us an additional battalion of soldiers, that was about another 650 soldiers, to assist us in this training mission," Caldwell said, also noting that NATO has promised even more trainers. "Our projection is that by October 2011 we can make those growth objectives,' Caldwell said.