U.S. Commander: U.S. Will Be Fighting in Afghanistan in 2014

By Edwin Mora | November 9, 2010 | 2:28 PM EST

Tech. Sgt. Jeff Hedglin of the 58th Rescue Squadron scans for threats after taking ground fire during a mission aboard a Pavehawk CASEVAC helicopter in Kandahar province, Afghanistan, on Tuesday July 27, 2010. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)

(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.

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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 said: “I think [the] key here is they’re talking about December 31st, 2014. It’s the end of December in 2014 when they’re talking about that, President Karzai has said they want Afghan security forces in the lead. It doesn’t mean that there will still not be coalition forces here in support of them. But the primary lead for security in this country must have been established with the Afghan security forces in the lead by the end of 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, Caldwell mentioned that the literacy rate among Afghan security forces recruits, which currently stands at only “15-18 percent,” poses a major hurdle for the U.S.-led training mission in Afghanistan.

“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.

Nevertheless, Caldwell told CNSNews.com that based on troop growth and level of training projections, the ANSF should be operating at an acceptable literacy level by the end of 2014.

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." Caldwell did not specify what level of literacy would be considered “acceptable.”

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.

According to Caldwell, although the literacy rate among recruits remains low, prospective officer-position holders are literate, which he defined as being able to read, write, and recognize numbers at a third-to-sixth-grade level.

Caldwell mentioned that the NATO training mission has put in place “mandatory literacy training” that “did not exist last year."

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 Caldwell. “Our goal is by about the end of December [2010] that any given day we’ll have 40 to 50,000 in literacy training programs and, hopefully by next summer -- because we’re going to continue to expand this to the operational units -- we’ll perhaps have as many as 100,000 doing some form of literacy training either towards the first grade level, the third grade level, or the sixth grade level.”

Caldwell pointed out that Afghan security forces, in “very isolated cases,” have already taken the lead in small regions of Afghanistan.