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Reluctant Pashtuns hamper Afghan recruitment drive

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - High drop-out and low recruitment rates have hampered NATO efforts to boost security forces to control insurgents in southern Afghanistan, the U.S. general leading the effort said on Wednesday.

Lieutenant-General William B. Caldwell, who is directing an effort to increase the size of the Afghan army and police to 300,000 by 2011, said drop-out rates for the police stood at 25 percent and at 18 percent for the army.

The rate for the best police unit, the paramilitary Afghan National Civil Order Police, was 60-70 percent, Caldwell told reporters.

“This is absolutely unacceptable,” he said.

Training Afghan soldiers and police to take over security is critical to the U.S. and NATO strategy in Afghanistan. The sooner Afghans are capable of securing the country, the sooner foreign troops can withdraw, commanders say.

But the strategy hinges on finding enough recruits and training them rapidly.

While new pay scales had helped push recruitment rates since December to more than 7,000 a month, the number of recruits from among ethnic Pashtuns in southern provinces, where the Taliban insurgency is fiercest, remains only 2-3 percent of the total.

“We are not satisfied with the number of Pashtuns coming into the army from the south,” Caldwell said.

“We are trying to change the dynamics of this country, to make the southern Pashtun feel part of this nation... we are going to have to do a better job of recruiting down there,” he said.

The Pashtuns, who make up about 40 percent of Afghanistan’s population, are the predominant ethnic group in southern provinces bordering Pakistan. It is from there that the Taliban draws the vast majority of its support.


Caldwell said NATO planned to launch an advertising campaign to attract Pashtun recruits, and hoped the effort would be helped by a big military operation designed to reassert government control in Helmand province, in the south.

Caldwell said the overall recruitment drive had been helped by increases in basic pay to $165 a month, topped up with another $45 a month in regions worst affected by the insurgency.

“We are generally aware what a Taliban foot-soldier makes,” he said. “We are comparable to probably what we hear most foot soldiers make doing something for the Taliban.”

Caldwell said his mission, which relies on training personnel provided by NATO allies was still 1,900 short of its target strength of 5,200 trainers.

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said he was working to persuade allies to contribute more to the training mission, which is vital for NATO’s long-term exit strategy.

“I feel confident we will be able to build up our training mission to the required level,” he told a news briefing.

However, Rasmussen said NATO had yet to work out how it would replace the 2,000 Dutch soldiers due to end their mission in the southern province of Uruzgan this year.

“Provided the Dutch troops are withdrawn, we have to find replacements,” he said. “The Dutch decision has also forced other allies and partners to consider how we can replace the Dutch soldiers.”

Editing by Michael Roddy