WASHINGTON — A senior U.S. commander on Monday wouldn't predict when Afghanistan might take control of its own security and warned that NATO needs at least another year to recruit and train enough soldiers and police officers.
The assessment by Lt. Gen. Bill Caldwell, the head of NATO's training mission in Afghanistan, further dims U.S. hopes that the planned U.S. withdrawal next year will be significant in size.
President Obama has said that troops will begin pulling out in July 2011, the size and pace of withdrawal depending on security conditions. Defense officials, including Defense Secretary Robert Gates, have said they believe next summer's pullout would be modest.
In a Pentagon media briefing, Caldwell said that Afghan army and police forces won't reach sufficient numbers until Oct. 31, 2011.
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NATO has set the goal of creating an Afghan military and police force of 305,600 personnel — 171,600 army and 134,000 police.
There are currently 249,500 personnel — 134,000 army and 115,500 police.
But Caldwell predicted that desertion and injury rates are so high among Afghan forces that NATO will have to recruit and train 141,000 people to ensure it has the 56,000 additional personnel needed next fall.
Because Afghanistan is still scrambling to recruit and train its security forces, Caldwell said there was no accurate estimate on when Kabul might take control of even the more peaceful parts of the country.
"It doesn't mean in small isolated pockets that they can't have the lead with coalition" support, Caldwell said of Afghan forces. "But to say that they'll be able to do much more before October of next year would be stretching it, only because we haven't finished the development of their force."