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Despite Literacy Push, Up to Half of Afghan Forces Still Can't Read

Jan. 28, 2014 - 06:21PM   |  
By PAUL McLEARY   |   Comments
NATO has signed contracts worth $200 million since August 2010 to increase literacy among Afghan forces.
NATO has signed contracts worth $200 million since August 2010 to increase literacy among Afghan forces. (NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan)
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WASHINGTON — Despite making literacy a key component of the training of Afghan soldiers and police officers, as much as half of the force recruited since 2009 could be illiterate, a new US government special inspector’s report says.

After inking three contracts worth about $200 million with OT Training Solutions, Insight Group, and the Higher Education Institute of Karwan in August 2010, NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan (NTM-A) neglected to follow up sufficiently with the contractors to monitor the progress of the trainees, the report says, and has failed to establish a good system for following up and ensuring the soldiers and police were actually trained.

In the report, released Tuesday by the congressionally-mandated Special Inspector General for Reconstruction in Afghanistan (SIGAR), NATO military officials interviewed by the SIGAR team in Afghanistan admitted that the program’s goal of 100 percent literacy for the Afghan National Security Forces may be “unrealistic” and “unattainable.”

Other findings include the revelation that between July 2012 and February 2013, as much as 45 percent of Afghan National Police were sent directly into the field without any literacy training whatsoever, and from February to July 2013, the Afghan Ministry of Defense had removed literacy training from the basic training program.

SIGAR and NTM-A predicts that as a result of these training lapses and the failure to track recruits and their literacy training, as much as half of the Afghan National Security Force was likely still illiterate as of February 2013.

With attrition rates in the security force pushing 30 to 50 percent each year — with anywhere from 4,000 to 7,000 soldiers simply walking off the job each month, according to NATO’s estimates — it is difficult to measure how many of those troops had received literacy training, or even for those who did, how long they remained in the force.

A key to NATO’s previously rosy projections of the security force reaching 100 percent basic literacy by the end of 2014 has been the fact that guidelines were established in 2009, when the end strength goal was 148,000, rather than the current authorized end strength of 352,000.

Just hours before the SIGAR report was released, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) command in Kabul issued a statement saying that it was undertaking reforms on the literacy program.

“These measures will not only improve fiscal oversight, they will ensure that we build upon the gains we have achieved in providing formal literacy training to more than 382,500 Afghan soldiers and police,” said NTM-A commander Maj. Gen. Dean Milner.

With most, if not all NATO troops scheduled to walk out the door by the end of this year, NATO is undertaking a “train the trainer” program that will “develop a corps of 2,500 literacy instructors selected from within the ANSF who can then provide Ministry of Education-approved literacy training to their fellow soldiers and police personnel.”

The train the trainer approach is one that NATO has taken with other elements of the Army and police training efforts in Afghanistan over the past two years. ■

Email: pmcleary@defensenews.com.

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