Washington, Aug.24 (ANI): In the next 15 months, American commanders in Afghanistan hope to recruit and train 141,000 new Afghan soldiers and police officers to meet President Barack Obama's ambitious goal of getting Afghan forces to fight the war against the Taliban and Al Qaeda on their soil on their own.
The New York Times quoted Lt. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, as saying in Kabul that the training and recruitment process would not be completed until October 2011, three months after Obama's deadline for the start of American withdrawals.
For now, he said: "They cannot operate independently."
Lt. Gen. Caldwell's remarks, made by video feed from Kabul to reporters at the Pentagon, underscored the challenge the Obama administration faces in trying to turn around the nine-year-old war, which has deteriorated on the ground and become increasingly unpopular among Americans.
Training Afghan security forces to defend their own country remains at the heart of Obama's strategy for ending the United States' involvement in the war.
Despite the challenges, General Caldwell said he had made progress and had so far met his recruiting targets.
Currently, the Afghan Army numbers 134,000, with a goal of 171,600 by October 2011. The Afghan National Police has 115,500 officers, with a goal of 134,000 by October 2011.
Desertions and resignations continue to be a problem.
"In the Afghan National Police, the attrition rate is unacceptable," General Caldwell said, citing a current rate of 47 percent, down from a peak of 70 percent.
Another major problem, he said, is illiteracy. The vast majority of Afghan recruits cannot read and write in their own language, meaning that basic tasks, like knowing the serial numbers of their weapons, are impossible.
As a result, the United States has started a basic literacy program, with 27,000 recruits currently enrolled and an expectation that 100,000 will be in the program by next summer.
Lt. Gen. Caldwell said illiteracy had created a problem among Afghan soldiers in the north last week, when 90 out of a group of 100 soldiers told American commanders they had not been properly paid by electronic funds transfer, the system now used for most of the Afghan Army payroll.
"The money was in fact in their accounts - they just had no ability to, in fact, look at a bank statement or read the A.T.M. machine to understand they had been paid," General Caldwell said.
He said: "Had they had some basic literacy training, they would have known that."
Base pay for an Afghan soldier or police officer is now 165 dollars a month, and in a high-combat area like Helmand Province in southern Afghanistan a soldier can make a starting salary of 240 dollars a month.
Lt. Gen. Caldwell has said in the past that the Taliban often pays insurgents 250 to 300 dollars a month.
He also said drug use on average in the Afghan police was found to be nine percent, although in certain areas it was much higher. He did not specify the type of drug abuse. (ANI)