(CNSNews.com) – U.S. Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, the commander of the NATO training mission in Afghanistan, indicated Tuesday that U.S. forces will still be fighting in Afghanistan in 2014. He said current plans aim to have "Afghan security forces in the lead" and U.S. forces in supporting roles by Dec. 31, 2014--more than four years from now.
President Obama has said that U.S. forces will begin withdrawing from Afghanistan in July 2011. But Lt. Gen. Caldwell's statement today indicates that the drawdown will still be in progress three-and-a-half years after it begins.
In July, Afghan President Hamid Karzai declared: “I am determined that our Afghan security forces will be responsible for all military and law enforcement operations throughout the country by 2014."
On Monday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen indicated that they supported Karzai’s transition timeline.
But during a telephone discussion with bloggers on Tuesday, Lt. Gen. Caldwell explained that this meant that by the last day of December in 2014 Afghan security forces will be in the lead role in that country with U.S. forces in support.
CNSNews.com asked the general, “Will the Afghan forces be able to operate independently and handle their own security by 2014?”
Caldwell continued: “The answer to that question is yes, we fully support and endorse and, in fact, by all accounts believe that we can in fact achieve that and have the Afghan security forces in the lead by the end of 2014.”
Caldwell went on to say that based on “current growth projections and what we have seen over the past year, there’s no reason to believe that that’s not an attainable goal. By all accounts that is something that should be able to be achieved.”
During the roundtable briefing,
“Without the basic ability to read a map, write down a weapon’s serial number, or read a bank statement, Afghan National Security Force recruits are greatly at risk on the battlefield and become highly susceptible to corruption,” said Caldwell.
At that time, Caldwell said, the ANSF will be at literacy “levels that are acceptable to enable it to be an enduring, self-sustaining force that will continue to professionalize and move forward."
However, NATO’s Training Mission literacy program is focused on bringing Afghan soldiers up to a third-grade reading, writing, and number recognition level, which is enough to read a simple manual or pamphlet, understand how much they are getting paid, and account for their people and equipment on paper.
He went on to highlight that there is a “94 percent pass rate” of the Afghan Ministry of Education first grade test among the Afghan recruits who undergo the initial 64 hours of literacy training provided to them, after they are tested for literacy upon coming into the ANSF.
“What the education gives them now is the ability to read and write and allow them to really start the professionalization,” he added. “Any given day of the week right now we’ve got about 27,000 [individuals] in literacy training programs and, thus far, we have trained and already have tested over 25,000--so that’s generally where we are today.”
“We continue to expand this program,” said