Senator Carl Levin: pleased at the speed of Afghan Army recruiting

Just back from a trip to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Sen. Levin tells reporters at a Monitor breakfast of significant progress in building up the Afghan Army. Strengthening Afghan forces is the "critical mission," the Democratic chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee said.

Michael Bonfigli/Special to The Christian Science Monitor/File
Sen. Carl Levin, Democratic chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, talks with reporters at a Monitor breakfast about his recent trip to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Carl Levin, Democratic chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has just returned from a trip to Afghanistan and Pakistan. At a Monitor breakfast with reporters today, he said that progress is being made in turning more of the war effort over to the Afghans.

Sen. Levin did not support the surge of additional US combat forces to Afghanistan, believing instead that America should send “trainers, partners, and mentors” to strengthen the Afghan Army.

Why? The Army is “respected” by the Afghan people, he explained, and when the Afghans themselves lead the fight, they negate the Taliban message of US-as-occupier.

The unstated implication: The faster the Afghans stand up their own forces, the faster American troops come home.

Acknowledging the dangerous corruption of Afghan police and that NATO forces are still short 2,000 trainers to deploy with the Afghan Army in the field, the senator was nonetheless pleased that Afghan Army recruiting is up.

The size of the Army will more than meet its target, he said. In September, there will be about one Afghan soldier for every US one – a vast improvement since his last visit in January. The Pentagon has said the Afghan Army may hit its October target of 134,000 troops already in August.

How did this happen? Senator Levin attributed it to the controversial Obama “deadline” of July 2011, when the US will begin to withdraw troops. For evidence he referred to the man in charge of training Afghan forces, Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, who says the deadline lit a fire under the Afghans to make greater efforts to recruit.

Levin said it's significant that the Afghans will take the lead in a offensive later this summer in one area of Kandahar Province called Arghandab.

“That point will not be missed by the Afghan people. That point, I know, will not be lost on the Taliban. What the Afghan people will see is that their own troops that they respect, and they rely on, and they know, will be there for the long haul.”

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