A briefing with a three star Army General was the first order of business Tuesday at the journalists conference at Ft Leavenworth. Lieutenant General William B Caldwell was all set to appear before us via video teleconference from Afghanistan but technology got in the way. The link up didn't work properly so he spoke with reporters using the old fashioned telephone conference.
He's been commanding NATO's Training Mission in Afghanistan (known as NTM-A) since 2009 and he says the Afghan Surge is the "untold story" Two years ago 2 nations were involved in the mission to recruit and train the Afghan National Security Force (National Police and Army). Now--37 nations are lending a hand.
There's been a sizable increase in the number of Afghans who've signed up. Caldwell says in 2010 alone, the security force grew by 70,000. And they're on track to grow to 352,000 by November 2012. That's a big "surge" from six years ago when only 90,000 Afghans were involved.
But challenges remain. Caldwell says NATO is careful to make sure the members are ethnically balanced to avoid conflict and division once foreign forces leave the country. However, getting more Southern Pashtuns to join the Army and Police is difficult because of the influence of the Taliban. Often, Caldwell, says the Taliban will threaten families if a son shows interest in joining.
While that work continues, they look at the success of turning lives around for many Afghans. That means literacy is up, they're receiving a living wage, learning specialty skills, and training future leaders. Caldwell also points to police officers that he calls heroes. When the embassy was attacked September 13, he recounted at least two instances of Afghan police officers who noticed suicide bombers and detained them, one even hugging a suicide bomber and thereby absorbing the full blast and saving many lives.
In Caldwell's words, they need to be realistic about the challenges that exist but there are many signs that spur optimism about the future of Afghanistan.