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American Soldiers Training Afghan National Army

By Sgt. 1st Class Kathleen T. Rhem, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 21, 2002 - American soldiers training members of the Afghan national army will likely contribute to the future stability of Afghanistan, the general commanding operations in the region said today.

Army Gen. Tommy Franks, commander of U.S. Central Command, said he visited last week with members of the 1st Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group, from Fort Bragg, N.C., who are responsible for training the Afghan forces. He also met with "four or five hundred young Afghans who have signed up to be a part of that force."

"I am pleased that our forces have begun training the Afghan national army," Franks said to reporters in Tampa and via satellite connection to media assembled in the Pentagon. He added that the American soldiers involved are "doing a terrific job at that."

He said training the Afghan national army will "certainly be one of our more important projects in the days, weeks (and) months ahead, because the national army of Afghanistan is going to be an essential element of their long-term security."

Franks said he's not naive enough to think there won't be problems integrating a force comprised of tribal and factional members who may have been fighting each other for generations. "I don't delude myself in believing that this will be an easy task. We don't know how it will go," he said. "I am . cautiously optimistic."

He said he believes "honesty, balance and paying them on time" will be the most effective methods in getting the soldiers to cooperate and trust each other.

He said French forces are assisting with the training, and would not estimate how long the task would take. Franks said the coalition forces are working with the Afghan interim government to train 2,000 to 3,000 soldiers in 600- man units over the next six months.

"I'm not working toward an end state that says build a certain force by a point in time," he said. ". We wanted to begin this process as quickly and as competently as we could."

Franks also shed more light on the combined joint task force that will assume command of operations in Afghanistan "in the weeks ahead." He said coalition officers would actually be embedded in the task force headquarters as staff officers. Currently, representatives of 32 coalition nations serve as advisors to the CENTCOM staff in Tampa.

"The purpose of that headquarters will be to serve as our forward command inside Afghanistan," Franks said. Army Lt. Gen. Dan McNeill, commander of the 18th Airborne Corps at Fort Bragg, will command the new task force and report directly to Franks.

The general lauded the 68 countries that are participating in the war on global terrorism. He mentioned Korean, Spanish and Jordanian forces in the region have provided medical care to 60,000 Afghans. He also noted that more than half of the naval vessels involved in operations in that region belong to nations other than the United States.

". It's because of these efforts and a great many more that the people of a war-torn Afghanistan have a chance today that they did not have eight months ago," Franks said. "And it's with the continuing commitment of the nations involved in this coalition that we will surely finish the job of killing (and) capturing terrorists that remain in Afghanistan and the destruction of that network."

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