NATO’s Education Training Chief Unsure When Afghan National Security Force Will Be Fully Literate

By Edwin Mora | July 22, 2010 | 7:32 PM EDT

Afghan policemen secure a base that came under attack in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Three U.S. troops and five Afghan civilians died in a car bomb blast and gunfire outside the base on Tuesday, July 13, 2010. (AP Photo/Allauddin Khan)

( - An objective for when to expect a fully literate Afghan National Security Force (ANSF) has not been established despite an ongoing U.S.-led education training program in place, according to NATO’s education training chief.

On July 14, during a Bloggers Roundtable briefing sponsored by the Department of Defense (DOD), asked Dr. Mike Faughnan, chief of the NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan Education Division Subject, “Is there a goal as to when you expect to have a fully-literate ANSF?”

“We have not really established a timeline for completion of the [literacy] program,” the education training chief responded.

“I would say at the minimum we will be doing this for as long as we are here,” he later added. “I hesitate to guess the total duration of the program, though.

“There are other issues that come into play - retention and recruiting, the improvements in the overall Afghan school system,” explained Faughnan. “You know, these elements will all have an impact on the literacy that's required within the ANSF.”

During a July 14 Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, Richard Holbrooke, U.S. ambassador in Afghanistan and Pakistan, said Afghanistan’s “illiteracy rate” is one of the “extraordinary” hurdles he is struggling through in his efforts to improve the country.

“You take the police for example. For seven years, for reasons I cannot understand, the United States participated in training Afghan police at vast expense without giving them literacy training,” testified Holbrooke. “We were turning out police with 88 percent illiteracy, and it went right by everyone.

“As soon as I was given this job we went at it and with the support of my then-counterpart Gen. [David] Petraeus, [commander of U.S.-led NATO forces in Afghanistan] we made literacy training part of the effort,” he continued.

Faughnan told that since the literacy program started in October 2008, the U.S. has spent “approximately $24 million on literacy instruction. This includes program management, instructor salaries, school supplies, printing, and shipping costs."
Dr. Faughnan told that based on a “British literacy assessment” from a year ago, only 11 percent of “enlisted soldiers” are literate.

“They determined that … the illiteracy rate amongst officers was seven percent; illiteracy among NCOs [noncommissioned officers] was 70 percent; and illiteracy amongst the enlisted soldiers was 89 percent,” explained Faughnan.

On March 3, Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, commander of the NATO Training
Mission in Afghanistan, said, that 86 percent of new Afghan recruits are illiterate.

“Our biggest challenge in the training base is the literacy,” he said. “About 14 percent [of recruits] are literate, which means that 86 percent really can't read or write. So that means everything we do is done on a show-and-tell basis.”

Faughnan, during the briefing, explained that the 14 percent literacy rate is derived from NATO’s “in-testing prior to the beginning of the [training] course,” and it includes individuals who “pass at the 3rd grade level.”

According to Faughnan, the goal of NATO’s literacy program is to bring illiterate members of the ANSF up to a third-grade level in reading, writing, and number recognition by providing them with 312 instructional hours.
“Our goal is to provide at least a third-grade primary literacy and numeracy skill set to every member of the ANSF that doesn't currently possess it,” Faughnan told reporters.
When asked him whether a third-grade literacy and numeracy level was adequate for an effective armed force, Faughnan responded “no.”

“That is not sufficient,” he added. “Many skills require increased literacy. You know, medics, for instance, need to have a much higher level of literacy.”

“We are in the process of developing further training,” he continued. “We should have a 4th grade curriculum completed by about September, and the 5th and 6th grade curriculum are in development now, and they'll be fielded late this fall, early next spring.”

Faughnan explained, “Currently, there are about 25,000 members of the ANSF in some form of literacy training.”

“We intend to grow that program to 50,000 by December of this year and 100,000 by July of next year, so about a year from now,” he said.

President Obama on numerous times has said that ground conditions permitting, U.S. troops will begin to withdraw from Afghanistan on July 2011, a date that will mark the start of a responsible transition to the ANSF and the Afghan government.

Faughnan said, “The impacts of illiteracy that we see are an inability to perform the missions and duties of the army and the police, limitations in the types of training that we can provide – everything has to be hands-on – and limitations in the levels of training.”

Nonetheless, Faughnan told, “In terms of providing training, I don't see that there would be a connection between the literacy training we provide and any future drawdown.

“The training that we provide is really focused on making the individual and by extension the ANSF a more effective force,” he added.