December 3, 2009 / 2:10 PM / in 9 years

Thanks for troops; we want Afghans, U.S. brass say

By Yara Bayoumy

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan, Dec 3 (Reuters) - Brigadier General Larry Nicholson is glad President Barack Obama is sending 30,000 extra troops to Afghanistan, but what he needs now is not more Americans, it's more Afghans.

"I got 10,000 Marines. I have 2,000 Afghans," the commander of U.S. Marines in southern Afghanistan told Reuters.

"I get asked all the time, 'How many Afghans do you want?' I want one to one. Every time one of our squads is going out, I want an Afghan squad with it."

Obama's commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, says his main effort will now be on training Afghan security forces to a level that will allow U.S. troops to begin leaving in 18 months.

McChrystal wants to more than double the size of the Afghan forces to 400,000 soldiers and police, a mission he says will take at least four years.

It can be a herculean task to train Afghans while in combat, said Lieutenant-Colonel Frank Jenior of the 82nd airborne division.

"The biggest hurdle is trying to develop them while they're in a fight everyday. The way our army trains back in the States, no one is shooting at us, so we can focus on training and developing our units," he said.

"Here we've got to try do that while they're being shot at by the Taliban everyday."

So far, the Afghan government's goal is to increase the army from 95,000 to 134,000 by October 2010. The 93,000-strong police force, which lags far behind the army in training, will also expand although targets have not been set beyond this year.

With little money of its own, Afghanistan relies on Western donors not only to train its troops, but also to pay them.

Last month, Afghanistan announced a pay rise of nearly 40 percent for police and military recruits to try and lure more members into the force and keep them from quitting or deserting. New recruits will now earn $165 a month, considered a decent wage in a country where the per capita monthly GDP is just $25.

"ANAEMIC"

The Afghan troops and police are trained by a force of about 7,000 American troops on a base near Kabul, which was combined with a new NATO training mission last month.

McChrystal says some of the new U.S. troops will add to those classroom trainers, but most will be deployed in the field embedded alongside Afghan forces.

Embedding troops with Afghans is a tactic U.S. forces have so far been able to implement only partially, because Afghan forces were too small and too few Afghans were sent to combat zones.

Colonel Vic Braden, Senior Mentor for 205th Afghan National Army Corps, said keeping Afghan force numbers up was difficult, especially in the violent south of the country, because so many troops leave because of low pay, corruption or fear of danger.

"It's going to take a concerted effort of the coalition and the Afghan government. The Afghan government has to emphasise it, there has to be appropriate pay and as President Obama talked about, there has to be a government with reduced corruption." "Corruption is widespread. The problem is that it makes the army anaemic. Retention rate is a problem, a continual problem in the southern area where there's most of the activity." (Editing by David Fox)

((yara.bayoumy@reuters.com; Kabul newsroom; Reuters Messaging: yara.bayoumy.reuters.com@reuters.net)) (For more Reuters coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan, see: here) ((If you have a query or comment about this story, send an email to news.feedback.asia@thomsonreuters.com))

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