In March this year, our task force in Afghanistan completed another relief in place. The soldiers, sailors, airmen and airwomen of our initial rotation of Operation ATTENTION, the Canadian contribution to the training mission in Afghanistan, are back with their families and returning to work at their home units.
As Commander of Canadian Forces deployed in expeditionary operations, I would like to thank the Canadian Army, the Royal Canadian Navy, the Royal Canadian Air Force and joint units from across the Canadian Forces for providing such truly excellent troops for Canada’s contribution to the 37-nation NATO Training Mission in Afghanistan (NTM-A), our largest overseas commitment today. And I would like to thank — again — the entire Roto 0 team for a job extremely well done.
I also have a message for the families, friends and co-workers of everyone who has deployed, is deployed, and will deploy, on Operation ATTENTION. While in Afghanistan, whether it’s in Kabul itself or in Herat or Mazar-e Sharif, our people are engaged in a worthy cause and are making a huge difference. They, from within NTM-A, are providing vital assistance to the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the Afghan national security forces as they grow in quality, quantity and capability. That work is confronted by many challenges but, given the combined commitment of our troops, NATO partners and Afghans themselves, important progress has already been made and continues to be made.
In September 2009, when NTM-A was formed, the national security forces of Afghanistan comprised some 97,000 soldiers and 95,000 police. As of 29 February 2012, the Afghan National Army and the Afghan Air Force — counted together — had grown to 188,000 all ranks. In March 2012 the Afghan National Police had 149,000 men and women serving in a wide range of public safety organizations. That’s an overall increase of 148,000 army, air force and police in a bit more than two years. Growth continues.
In 2011, NTM-A focussed on professionalization — adding quality to quantity so the Afghan forces can not only sustain themselves, but also take complete charge of security in their own country by the end of 2014. NTM-A and Afghanistan’s Ministers of the Interior and Defence are together focussed on these five priorities: training Afghan trainers and instructors; accelerating the development of leaders; building literacy and vocational skills; inculcating an ethos of stewardship; and developing enduring institutions and sustainable systems.
Experience in operations has shown us that the initial rotation into a new mission can be tough. In a fluid operational environment full of “unknown unknowns”, Canada’s contribution to the training mission in Afghanistan faced the double challenge of making that crucial first impression with our NATO allies and Afghan partners, and laying the foundation for the rotations that follow. The men and women deployed this past year on Operation ATTENTION wrote another proud chapter in the history of Canada’s contribution to the struggle for stability in Afghanistan, and paved the way for those who are following.
During Operation ATTENTION Rotation 0, Canada took the lead in the Afghan National Army’s two largest facilities: the Kabul Military Training Centre, commanded by Colonel Mike Minor, and the Consolidated Fielding Centre, commanded by Colonel Rory Radford. Canadian teams joined the Regional Military Training Centres in Darulaman, serving the capital area; Herat in the west; and Mazar-e Sharif in the north. In their various assignments, the Roto 0 trainers supported Basic Warrior Training (recruit school), literacy courses, instructor training, and many other programs to develop leaders at every rank level, foster essential soldier skills, develop Afghan instructors, and build the corps of capable officers and non-commissioned officers essential to any professional army and police service.
These training centres saw the throughput of approximately 68,000 ANA soldiers and leaders, the equivalent of today’s Canadian Forces in number. NTM-A is concentrating on the quality of Afghan trainers and instructors, for they are the backbone of institutional self-reliance. Most training is already delivered by Afghans, with Canadians and other NTM-A personnel working alongside them in support or as advisors and mentors. Today, the Afghan security forces have more than 4,000 Afghan trainers and by the end of 2012 all recruit courses and basic occupational training will be delivered by Afghans. The plan is to have all training delivered by experienced, educated and qualified Afghan instructors by 2014.
Of course, the true measure of security forces is the prevalence of violence in their area of responsibility. Across Afghanistan, insurgent attacks escalated sharply during 2010, but in 2011 they declined just as sharply, even during the so-called fighting season. According to the NATO Secretary General’s Annual Report for 2011, the overall decrease for the year was 21 percent. Also during 2011, more than 50 percent of Afghans saw their army and their police take over security operations in their home districts from coalition forces. Soon that number will grow to 75 percent.
We started out doing it for them, and for a while now we have been doing it with them. Soon it will all be done by them — and that is how Afghans want it to be, and as it needs to be.
Afghanistan is a country of 30 million people living in a tough neighbourhood. It is still a dangerous place. Although training advisors spend their time “inside the wire,” they cannot avoid all the hazards of a society fighting a determined insurgency. We all mourn the loss of Master Corporal Byron Greff of the 3rd Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, who was killed on 29 October 2011 by a suicide bomber who left 17 people dead in downtown Kabul. As we and our partners remain ever vigilant, this terrible incident serves to remind us, yet again, how important it is to support capacity-building in the Afghan national security forces.
It is our Afghan partners who face the insurgency directly, however, and their families are at risk right along with them. News stories about insurgent attacks focus on the coalition soldiers who are targeted, but insurgents maim and kill great numbers of ordinary Afghans, both civilians and security personnel — tradesmen, students, housewives, farmers, little kids, elders and entrepreneurs, as well as soldiers and police officers. Increasingly, it is Afghans who are confronting the menace, and providing security to their fellow citizens.
Rotation 1 of Operation ATTENTION is now fully deployed and working shoulder-to-shoulder with their Afghan and NATO partners. This kind of relief in place in Afghanistan has been done twice a year since January 2004, back in the early days of Operation ATHENA. This outwardly seamless transition between our rotating task forces is achieved through sustained effort in garrisons, bases, wings, training areas and communities across Canada. The Army, Navy, Air Force, and other force-generators work in concert with families and communities to give our troops the best possible preparation for a safe and successful tour.
Rotation 0 was an excellent start to this chapter of this crucial mission. Its success is a direct product of strong leadership, dedicated effort, and the imagination and flexibility for which the Canadian Forces are famous. Thank you for lending to this mission your people, team mates and family members. They have brought great credit to Canada and to our profession of arms.