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US Troops Work to Change Afghan Military Thinking

KABUL MILITARY TRAINING CENTER -- Afghan Col. Abu Amin needs more guns at the artillery school he runs in Kabul. He needs reliable maintenance for his facilities and equipment. And he needs basic equipment to teach his soldiers.

Amin had a long list of needs that he shared with Canadian Brig. Gen. Wayne Eyre during a visit to Amin's office on Thursday.

In the past, Eyre, or some other coalition official, likely would have solved those problems for Amin. But Thursday, Eyre made no promises, and at each item, steered the conversation to how Amin and other Afghan officials could work within their own military and government to get results.

Eyre is deputy commanding general for operations for Fort Bragg's 18th Airborne Corps and commander of the NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan. He said his meeting with Amin was part of a larger effort to change the thinking of Afghan military leaders.

With the war in Afghanistan winding down, his command is working to ensure the country's security forces can stand on their own once coalition forces withdraw. The 600-strong contingent is comprised of soldiers from the 18th Airborne Corps, a host of troops from the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps and soldiers from 16 other partner nations.

Gone are the days when officials worried about whether Afghans could defend themselves, Eyre said. Now, efforts are focused on ensuring that the country's military and police forces can stand on their own without western aid.

"These guys know how to fight," Eyre said. "It's all the other systems that make an Army work. It's the next step in a professional organization."

Those systems range from human resources and sustainment to financial management and the country's growing network of schools.

On Thursday, Eyre visited one of those schools at Afghanistan's sprawling training center in Kabul.

The Kabul Military Training Center has hosted the nation's military forces for more than 100 years. Today, the base houses basic training, officer and noncommissioned officer schools and other schools, such as the Afghanistan National Army School of Artillery.

Following a brief demonstration with the school's D-30 howitzers, Amin led Eyre, Afghan Brig. Gen. Hasamuddin -- a deputy at the Afghan National Army Training and Education Command -- and coalition officials into his office for a candid discussion of the school and the challenges it faces in a still-evolving Afghan military.

Amin's officer graduates don't always go to artillery units, he said through a translator. And a paperwork mix-up appears to have stopped the training center's support unit from obtaining the funding needed to make repairs on the artillery school facilities.

Those problems need to be resolved, but Eyre said the solution can't come from him or other coalition forces.

"At the end of the day, they have to make the decisions, and take ownership of that decision," Eyre said. "It's got to be a solution that's sustainable from an Afghan perspective."

NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan was formed in 2009 and was folded into the International Security Assistance Force Joint Command last year.

Eyre enjoys a close working relationship with IJC, he said. On Fort Bragg, he's neighbors with IJC and 18th Airborne Corps commander Lt. Gen. Joe Anderson. And he's the first training mission commander also to be a deputy for the IJC commander.

Originally, the NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan was formed to help build up the Afghan army and national police.

But with a force that's more than 340,000 strong, the command is now focusing on improving the Afghan security forces, their medical care and their literacy.

"We're going from an army of quantity to an army of quality," Eyre said.

Attrition rates among both the army and police are down, according to officials. And literacy rates continue to improve, but Eyre doesn't shy away from the fact that there's plenty of work to be done.

"It's tremendously satisfying to see the progress they've made," he said. "Certainly, there's a lot of hope for the next generation."

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