US Sen. Levin calls major shortage of trainers for Afghan security forces ‘unacceptable’

By Deb Riechmann, AP
Wednesday, January 13, 2010

US senator: More trainers needed for Afghan troops

KABUL — Afghanistan is facing a major shortage of instructors needed to train Afghan forces, a senior American lawmaker said Wednesday, calling the deficit “unacceptable.”

Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee, said he would press nations in the international coalition to honor their pledges to train the Afghan security force, so foreign troops can eventually go home.

Levin spoke to reporters in Afghanistan on a day when two American troops, a French soldier and four Afghan soldiers died and nine Afghan policemen were injured.

He said the NATO coalition had only 37 percent of the trainers it needed to teach initial eight-week courses for Afghan recruits.

“I was really surprised to see what a major shortfall we have in that area,” Levin said. “We need a lot more of our coalition partners to step forward and to provide a lot more of those trainers.”

He wouldn’t single out any country but called it a “real disappointment.”

Levin said that it’s one thing for countries to refuse to send their troops into combat in Afghanistan, but that the coalition should be able to count on its allies to supply trainers.

“I think it’s inexcusable. … I will be putting greater pressure on our friends and allies to carry out their commitments,” said the democrat from Michigan.

He said 4,235 trainers were needed to meet a target goal to train 134,000 soldiers and 96,800 policemen by October. Currently, there are only 1,574 trainers, he said.

The tentative goal for the Afghan security forces is 159,000 soldiers and 123,000 policemen by July 2011, but those targets have not yet been approved.

“It’s so unacceptable to me,” Levin said.

Sen. Al Franken, who was traveling with Levin, said the shortage of trainers recently caused the coalition to stop signing up recruits for training.

“They had to stop taking men in because they couldn’t train them,” said Franken, a democratic senator from Minnesota. “I would urge our coalition allies to help with that training, and I would urge our military and President Obama to put the emphasis on that.”

NATO said the two American troops died in a bomb blast, but disclosed no other information. The deaths brought to 12 the number of U.S. troops killed in Afghanistan.

In Paris, the French government said the French soldier was been killed and two others injured in a roadside bomb attack northeast of the Afghan capital of Kabul.

President Nicolas Sarkozy’s office said the attack hit an armored vehicle the soldiers were riding in a convoy in the Mahmud-e-Raqi region between the NATO bases of Nijrab and Bagram.

The bombing came two days after insurgents ambushed a joint patrol of French and Afghan soldiers in the Alasay valley east of Kabul, killing a French captain and a sergeant.

France has lost 39 troops in Afghanistan since 2001, including 11 last year.

In Khost city, members of the Afghan National Army found two explosives, said Amir Hassan, a spokesman for the police chief in Khost province near the Pakistan border. He said the soldiers detonated one and removed the other, which subsequently exploded. The four soldiers and a civilian died in the morning blast just outside a police barracks, he said.

In southern Afghanistan, three members of the national police force and three civilians were wounded when a suicide bomber in a truck detonated his explosives near a police office in the Daman district of Kandahar province, according to the Ministry of Interior. Three vehicles, including an ambulance, were damaged in the blast.

And in Ghazni province, six Afghan policemen were injured when a remove-controlled bomb exploded near an international aid office, said Abdul Ghani, deputy police chief in Ghanzi province of eastern Afghanistan.

Also Wednesday, the Ministry of Defense reported that the body of an Afghan National Army soldier, who was kidnapped on Monday by militants from his house in Baghlan province, was found Tuesday in the Dushi district of the province in northern Afghanistan. The soldier was stationed in Khost district.

In Helmand province on Wednesday, a delegation investigated the deaths of six people at a protest in Garmsir district that turned violent when demonstrators clashed with troops.

Daoud Ahmadi, a spokesman for the governor in Helmand, said insurgents organized the Tuesday protest that also left seven wounded. Ahmadi said all the dead were civilians, but other officials have declined to confirm that. NATO has only confirmed one death — an insurgent — but an alliance official said Wednesday it’s possible more people were killed but there are conflicting reports.

He said members of the provincial delegation, who talked with shopkeepers and local citizens, could not confirm demonstrators’ claims that foreign troops disrespected Islam’s holy book, the Quran, in a recent operation. NATO has denied the allegation.

Ahmadi said Taliban militants, who were among the estimated 2,000 protesters, opened fire and the civilians were killed in the crossfire.

The NATO official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said armed insurgents were the crowd. One started shooting, and a Marine sniper returned fire and killed the insurgent, he said.

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