NATO falling short in Afghanistan, Levin says

(MILITARY TIMES)   If NATO allies do not fulfill their promise to provide thousands of trainers for the Afghan army and police, the U.S. will have to supply them itself, the Senate Armed Services Committee chairman said Monday.

Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., said training Afghan forces is the key element of current U.S. policy that calls for a 30,000 boost in U.S. forces now, and withdrawal of those forces to begin in July 2011.

Speaking to reporters about a recent visit to Afghanistan where he said he saw signs of progress, Levin identified the biggest obstacle he sees facing U.S. plans as the fact that NATO allies have provided only 10 percent of the trainers they promised. Overall, 4,235 trainers are needed to provide an initial eight weeks of training. Only 1,574 are currently assigned, just 37 percent of the goal.

“If we cannot persuade NATO to do what they promise, I think we should have no alternative but to fill the gap,” Levin said.

“I would hate that message to go out to NATO,” he said, because he doesn’t want allies to think they are off the hook for doing what they promised.

The U.S. commitment to providing trainers is so strong, Levin said, that the first 1,000 U.S. troops being deployed as part of the surge all will be assigned to training missions.

Talk of the lack of trainers comes as Levin said “positive signs” about the new U.S. strategy are emerging. U.S. troops “are comfortable with the counterinsurgency strategy,” he said.

Local polls show 70 percent of the Afghan people think the country is headed in the right direction and the Taliban is “extremely unpopular,” he said.

The key to making it all work, he said, is for the army and police to be trained and to work alongside U.S. and allied forces to gain experience that will make the local forces self-sufficient. Currently, there are 22 Afghan National Army battalions capable of acting independently, with 16 able to operate only with coalition support and 16 able to partially operate with coalition support, he said.

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