- Afghanistan - defence - security
It's time for target practice for these Afghan military officers. They’re at boot camp in Kabul, training to be commanders. The captain in charge, Captain Abibullaq of the Afghan National Army, has the job of preparing these young lieutenants to lead a platoon of about 30 men. He tells us: “Training is easy for those who are professional. It’s harder with those who aren’t. It’s not an easy thing to do; you have to constantly be on the lookout. The Afghan army is making headway and has already made progress in many ways. It’s starting to stand on its own two feet”.
Working with the soldiers are so-called Mentors. Around fifty French troops are taking part in the Epidote programme, advising the students. Eight thousand Afghan soldiers, from junior to high ranking officers, are undergoing the training. But the course isn’t just held within the confines of the camp – cadets are also sent out in the field, as a deployed unit. We’re heading towards Wardak province, close to Kabul, alongside some French soldiers. These men make up the OMLT, liaison teams that act as mentors during manoeuvres.
Assigned to small groups, the French troops instruct the Afghans, going into combat with them and supplying aerial support where necessary. Judging by Western military standards, their presence there is often crucial. Captain Jean-Philippe of the OMLT programme in Wardak province tells us: “In terms of coordination, they badly need our help. Knowing how to handle different situations, mainly supplying back-up, and being able to coordinate themselves out on an operation. They tend to just bravely rush in, without stopping to think about other elements of the manoeuvre.”
The French commanders are not part of the NATO forces in Afghanistan – they’re actually attached to a training programme run by the US-led coalition. It’s something that President Barack Obama wants to push further, and 4,000 extra soldiers will arrive every year. A key element of the United States’ new strategy in Afghanistan is about getting the country's army and police force up to scratch. The hope is to double their manpower and have the security forces capable of operating autonomously, as quickly as possible.