The security challenges in Afghanistan were underscored this weekend when three people were killed by Taliban insurgents during an assassination attempt on Afghan President Hamid Karzai at a military parade in Kabul.
As Deputy Commanding General of the Combined Security Transition Command Afghanistan (CSTC-A), almost no one understands the security challenges better than Brigadier General Andrew Twomey. CSTC-A has been tasked with reforming the Afghan National Army and Afghan police to deter terrorism and strengthen rule of law in the country.
Just two days prior to the attempt on Karzai’s life, General Twomey spoke with Mark Hemingway at National Review Online to get a sense of what progress is being made toward stability in Afghanistan. Twomey was upbeat and optimistic, though he acknowledged that challenges remain, as evidenced by the events of this weekend.
NRO: As it relates to your particular training mission, of building up the army and police, what progress is being made? GEN. TWOMEY: From our perspective and my particular command, being responsible for the development and growth of the army and police forces, I am very positive about the direction of both of those organizations, although nothing in Afghanistan is without challenges and bumps. The [Afghan] army’s at just under 60,000 on a path to grow to 80,000. We’ll hit 70,000 in October of this year, which is a couple of months earlier than when the original projection and program was built.
The units are beginning to mature. A year ago, we probably had somewhere around 30-odd battalions in the field. They were probably manned at about 70- or 80-percent strength and equipped at about the same level. I think as we get to the summer this year, we’ll have double that number but more importantly, we’ve reached the maturity in the organization where they’ll be 100 percent manned and they’ll have 100 percent of their equipment. So for this summer I am really looking for the ISAF [International Security Assistance Force -- the NATO-led security and development mission in Afghanistan] to be encouraging them to plan on using the Afghans, putting the Afghans in the lead, and letting the Afghans get into the fight. I am convinced that they are ready, willing and able to be there. So I’m pretty positive about that program.
NRO:A lot has been made of the success of Military Transition Teams (a team of 10 to 15 soldiers that live and train with Iraqi Security forces of Afghan National Army forces). How’s that program going?
TWOMEY: There have been training teams from both the U.S. teams — and NATO puts out an analog to those teams — the NATO acronym is Operational Mentor Liaison Team or OMLT. Right now those teams serve both as trainers for the Afghans but, equally important, they are the connection to the NATO operational structure so that’s the way the Afghans get fire support, it’s the way they get close air, it’s the way they get Medivac, it’s the way they get intelligence.
So I think the teams are doing well. I don’t know how we would do it without them. We’ve also focused them over the last year on the training of Afghan battalions to perform combat tasks. We’re moving to a phase now over the course of the summer in which we’ve certified our first battalion or validated our first battalion as reaching what we call “capability milestone one.” That means it’s passed a series of checks that says that battalion is manned but, more importantly, it has performed a certain number of tasks in combat and performed them successfully. We have about 11 more battalions in line to go through that same process so the teams are making a difference.