Kabul, Afghanistan (AP) - Vice President Joe Biden visited a military training center in Afghanistan on Tuesday to review the effort to prepare Afghan forces to take over from the U.S.-led coalition by the end of 2014.
During the visit to the Kabul Military Training Center just outside the capital, Biden was briefed on the program, which is costing $20 billion over 2010 and 2011. The program is also teaching recruits to read and write, as only 11 percent of enlisted personnel and 35 percent of noncommissioned officers in Afghanistan's army and police are literate.
Biden later traveled to the presidential palace where he was to meet President Hamid Karzai. He was accompanied by the top military commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David Petraeus, and the U.S. ambassador.
The coalition hopes to train about 300,000 army and police officers by the end of the year. The Afghan army now has 149,553 personnel and is projected to grow to 171,600 by October, according to NATO figures. The air force is slated to grow from 4,098 personnel in December to 5,500 by November. The police force is projected to hit 134,000 by October, up from 115,584 by the end of last year.
The U.S.-funded program is paying for training, equipment and infrastructure. The funding for 2010 and 2011 is a large increase over the $20 billion spent between 2003 and 2009.
The U.S. plans to begin withdrawing combat forces from Afghanistan in July but remains concerned that gains made in the nearly decade-long war could be reversible. There are also questions about the ability of Afghan security forces to take up the fight against a virulent insurgency.
Tensions have surfaced between the Obama administration and an increasingly nationalistic Karzai, whose government is plagued by charges of corruption. U.S. officials have expressed grave concerns about how this is affecting efforts to stabilize and rebuild the country.
Karzai's relations with U.S. diplomatic officials in Kabul are thought to be testy at best, and he has often complained of international interference in Afghanistan's political affairs. Last week he told foreign powers to stop meddling in the country's internal affairs -- apparently lashing out at those who say rampant government corruption undermines rebuilding the nation. He was careful not to single out specific issue, but fraud-marred elections also have been a recent target of international criticism.