WASHINGTON– With the first additional Marines beginning to stream into Afghanistan to help bolster security in the south and east, preparations are under way for the arrival of soldiers to focus on the other key goal of the surge: recruiting, equipping and training Afghan security forces.

Initial elements of the 10th Mountain Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team, based at Fort Drum, N.Y., are slated to deploy to Afghanistan starting in January, Army Lt. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, commander of the NATO Training Mission Afghanistan and Combined Security Transition Command Afghanistan, reported last week.

Speaking with reporters less than a month after standing up the new NATO Training Mission Afghanistan, Caldwell emphasized the importance of building well-trained, properly equipped Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police forces to ultimately take responsibility for Afghanistan’s security.

The goal, he said, is for the United States and NATO’s International Security Assistance Force to “work our way out of a job” as Afghan forces step up to provide the critical ingredient needed for President Barack Obama’s new Afghanistan strategy to succeed.

Obama’s strategy calls for the formal transition to begin by July 2011. That’s when U.S. forces are slated to begin drawing down in Afghanistan, based on conditions on the ground. Caldwell is focused on growing Afghan security forces by about 100,000 by then — from the current 187,000 to about 287,000. The goal is two-fold: increasing the forces, but also ensuring that growth reflects Afghanistan’s ethnically diverse population, he said.

Most of the growth must occur within the Afghan army, which has struggled to reach recruiting goals, but appears to be having more success since a more generous pay system took effect this month, Caldwell said. The Afghan National Police force is largely intact, so the big emphasis there will be on reform, he said.

While recruiting and retention challenges continue, developing highly developed leaders remains the biggest hurdle in building Afghan security forces, Caldwell said.

“Leader development doesn’t happen overnight,” the general said. “It’s not a six-week course. It’s not a three-month program. It’s not a four-year school. It’s a continuing process that continues through a person’s career.”

Caldwell’s team is exploring innovative ways to build mid-grade leaders within the Afghan security forces. In the meantime, he said, the effort depends heavily on mentorship provided by U.S. and ISAF forces after trainees join their operational units.

“The day they walk out of graduation and get assigned to the 205th [Afghan Army] Corps, that does not stop the training of those units,” Caldwell said.

That makes mentors critical, he said. “They keep that process going, … and the sustainment and development of an ethical, professional military is a process that continues all the time. It never stops.”

Army Lt. Gen David M. Rodriguez, commander of ISAF Joint Command, said the additional 30,000 U.S. troops to deploy to Afghanistan, along with another 7,000 troops committed by NATO, will “increase our capacity to train the Afghan national security forces,” in the schoolhouse, then in the field.

With the additional troops, “we can and will be successful,” he told reporters.

Rodriguez said he’s impressed by what he’s seen among Afghanistan’s security forces. They already have security responsibility for all but one district in Kabul, he noted, and will soon begin taking the lead in operations in more of the country.

“Our Afghan partners are out there with us every day,” he said. “They are relentless, they are tough, and they are committed to success.”

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