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The Nuts And Bolts Of Training An Afghan army

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

As we just heard, training of the Afghan security forces will be key to a U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. In his speech last night, President Obama suggested the training will be informed at least in part by the U.S. military's experience in another theater of war.

President BARACK OBAMA: Just as we have done in Iraq, we will execute this transition responsibly, taking into account conditions on the ground. We will continue to advise and assist Afghanistan's security forces to ensure that they can succeed over the long haul.

NORRIS: But the training process in Afghanistan has proved itself to be a long haul. The challenges are considerable, and many of the lessons learned in Iraq simply do not translate. For help unpacking some of those challenges and some of the lessons, we are joined by the man who oversaw the training of Iraqi troops and spent the summer observing training in Afghanistan. And that man is retired Lieutenant General James Dubik. General Dubik, welcome to the program.

Lieutenant General JAMES DUBIK (U.S. Army, Retired): Michele, thank you very much for having me.

NORRIS: Our Pentagon correspondent, Tom Bowman, has been reporting that the training will be somewhat different, that the U.S. forces will literally be living with Afghan forces. They will be going out into the field with the Afghan forces. How is training in Afghanistan different than it was in Iraq?

Lt. Gen. DUBIK: Well, in fact, that is very similar to what we did in Iraq. In 2007, then-Lt. General Odierno, who was commanding multinational corps Iraq, and I came to an understanding that we had to increase not just the size, but the competence and confidence of the Iraqi security forces. So we embarked on a very extensive partnership program where I would train, and my command would train, new units. And then we would pair those units up with units from the coalition force under General Odierno's command. This allowed training to continue on the job, so to speak, and allowed Iraqis to learn leadership techniques, operational techniques, even while they were fighting. This really significantly increased their confidence in themselves and their overall competence as a military force.

NORRIS: Listening to you, it sounds like confidence is very important here, that they have confidence in themselves.

Lt. Gen. DUBIK: It is a very important thing. Numbers count, and numbers count a lot. But inherent in numbers is the potential of combat power. It's not until -that those numbers are confident in their ability to execute that a potential combat power gets translated into actual combat power. So this confidence -while it's not empirical; you can't measure it - is absolutely essential when you are building security forces during an active fight.

NORRIS: What needs to happen after the U.S. begins drawing down forces? Because I wonder, as people listen to the president talk about this drawdown that would begin in July of 2011, if many people think that that's the - really the beginning of the end of U.S. involvement.

Lt. Gen. DUBIK: Well, I would like - if I could, Michele, to talk not about what happens after, but what happens at the point of handoff. It's really critical that the Afghans are large enough, capable enough, and confident enough to receive the handoff. And the focus should not be directly on transition. It should be directly on building a large enough, capable enough and confident Afghan force. And the transition will happen by itself. What you saw in Iraq in the spring of 2008, in - beginning around March, was a government that was so confident with their own forces that they started to operate semi-independently. And the transition occurred after that.

NORRIS: And what if they are not at that point large enough, capable enough or confident enough?

Lt. Gen. DUBIK: Then I think those are the conditions that the president referred to, and he would have to rethink just how much he will be able to begin withdrawing.

NORRIS: Is there anything that you really wanted to hear last night that you didn't?

Lt. Gen. DUBIK: I did not hear the president say much about the size of the Afghan national security force to which he was committed. I would have liked that. But in balance, I thought he was very, very strong on the clarity of the strategic objectives, the operational objectives, linking the objectives to our security interest. I thought that was pretty well done.

NORRIS: General Dubik, thank you very much for your time. It's been a pleasure to talk to you.

Lt. Gen. DUBIK: All right, Michele. Always a pleasure, and I look forward to the next time.

NORRIS: That was retired Lieutenant General James Dubik. He spent the summer observing training in Afghanistan, and he oversaw the training of Iraqi troops. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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