By Levon Sevunts
Special to The Toronto Star
June 19, 2005
KABUL – As Afghan security forces increasingly take the lead in fighting the insurgency by the remnants of Taliban fighters and their allies, Canadian instructors have taken a major role in training the fledging Afghan National Army.
Fifteen Canadian military instructors have been assigned to the Afghan National Training Centre, a multinational training, mentoring and assistance program at the new Afghan army garrison in Pol-e-Chakri, on the outskirts of Kabul.
Canadian Forces Maj. Randy Little, chief instructor at the centre, says Canadians have taken the lead in training Afghan “kandaks” – battalion-size military units.
The goal of the multi-year program is to train a disciplined, professional and an ethnically balanced modern army loyal to the
government in Kabul as part of the U.S.-led coalition’s exit strategy.
The sooner the Afghan army is able to stand on its feet without support from coalition forces, the sooner the United States can pull out most of its forces from Afghanistan.
The Afghan army currently has about 24,200 soldiers and an additional 6,250 recruits are being trained across the country, according to U.S. Army Lieut. Cindy Moore, a spokesperson for the Combined Forces Command. Canadians are in charge of the final stage in the training of kandaks.
France has assumed responsibility for the basic training of officers, British instructors train non-commissioned officers and mobile training teams from the United States, Romania, Bulgaria and Mongolia train the lower ranks.
It’s the job of Canadians to bring all the ranks together and train them as a unit during an intensive 12-day course, says Little, a veteran of peacekeeping operations in Bosnia and Rwanda.
But training a new army in the midst of a continuing counter-insurgency war is no easy task, says Little, observing training at a parched proving ground littered with unexploded ordinance and mines.
“It’s an operational theatre,” notes Little. “There is a real risk that people could plant stuff to target the training. And, of course, there is the proverbial presence of mines left from the previous wars.
“There is no place in Afghanistan where you can dismiss the mine threat.”
Another problem is the Afghan army’s shortage of weapons, ammunition and logistical capabilities, Little adds.
“The government of Afghanistan needs resources to fund these ambitious programs” without depending of foreign donations.
Canadian trainers have overcome cultural barriers and brought together different training philosophies of contributing nations as they build cohesive military units deployed to fight the insurgency almost immediately after graduating from the course.
One of the biggest challenges is changing the mentality of the army from a rigid Soviet model, under which officers make all decisions, to a modern military of what Little calls “thinking soldiers” who can take the leadership role in some tactical situations.
Canadian instructors have boiled down the training to the most likely tasks that Afghan soldiers could be called upon to perform in fighting the insurgency – attack and defence; ambushes and raids; defence of a forward operating base; patrolling and search missions.
“When they come here, they don’t know anything about patrols,” says Sgt. Eric Leclair of the First Royal Canadian Regiment, who has trained nine since his arrived at the end of January.
“By the time we’re done with them, they can do one on their own.”
Maj. Mohammed Sarwar, once an officer in the communist Afghan army who now commands a company, said he was very impressed by the training.
“These tactics are new for me, we learn a lot from this training,” Sarwar said. “We are now ready to fight the enemy.”
Maj. Kimbal Taylor, a U.S. training officer, says the Canadians have mastered the job of “teaching American tactics – they get our doctrine and they teach according to our doctrine.”
But Forces Capt. Raymond Brown, who teaches a cordon and search course, tries to imbue his charges with some Canadian sensibilities.
“Part of the exercise is how to properly search a building, how to treat civilians with dignity and respect,” explains Brown.
“They’ve been taught not to shoot everyone in sight.”
Levon Sevunts is a Canadian freelance journalist travelling in Afghanistan.