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Shared in accordance with the "fair dealing" provisions, Section 29, of the Copyright Act.


Training: 'This is the exit strategy'

Canadians training Afghanistan's future soldiers admit there are difficulties, but failure isn't an option

Lee Greenberg, Ottawa Citizen, 6 Nov 06


At the academy that pumps out hundreds of new Afghan soldiers every month, a multi-ethnic group of wispy young men is in the midst of a training exercise when suddenly one of the men flips his AK-47 to automatic and, holding it one-handed, fires a barrage of shots in all directions.


The bullets are blanks, but it is enough to make a group of seasoned Canadian soldiers hit the deck.


"He will not be firing again," says Capt. Carlo Tittarelli, 25, a reserve infantry officer from Stony Creek, Ont., one of 15 Canadian soldiers stationed at the Kabul Military Training Centre, just east of the Afghan capital. "He'll probably go back for remedial training."


Capt. Tittarelli and his colleagues, who put the fledgling Afghan troops through their


final paces, are confronted with daily challenges that have taught them to temper their expectations -- soldiers who fail to return from vacation, indifferent officers who skip training exercises and rampant illiteracy that makes it difficult to teach classes. There are also huge desertion rates, a general unease among troops over the ancient equipment they are using and, on occasion, nomadic tribes who suddenly appear in their midst during live-fire exercises.


Nevertheless, the Canadian soldiers say they're making progress. They claim the typical Afghan is an aggressive, motivated fighter who, unlike NATO troops, can easily sniff out Taliban fighters embedded in area populations.


"They like smiling when they shoot," says Capt. Mark Anthony.


It's an effort Maj. Adam Barsby, the man charged with the third rotation at the training centre, says every Canadian should care about -- because it represents a way out.


"This is the exit strategy in Afghanistan," he says, referring to the goal of training a 70,000-member army by 2008: "that coalition forces will withdraw and they will leave a self-sustaining (armed forces)."


While Canada has committed to a military presence in Afghanistan until at least 2009, some believe the country's armed forces will need another decade to stand on its own.


"There is a tendency by western nations to want everything squared off right away," says British Col. Paul Farrar, who is mentoring the upper echelon of Afghan leadership at the training centre. "You're talking 10 years to getting to a self-sufficient army."


Nevertheless, Col. Farrar has, like the Canadians, noticed an improvement among graduating soldiers.


"It's superficial, it's wafer thin, but there has been progress," he says.


The soldiers on the range this weekend, the ones who came under friendly fire by their AK-47-wielding unit mate, are in the midst of a 12-day collective training exercise implemented and overseen by Canadians.


It is the first and only time the troops will practise in a group before graduating on Thursday, the 56th such kandak, or battalion, to pass through the training centre since the new army was started four years ago.


The training centre graduates about 800 students per month, who are then gobbled up by front-line battalions in desperate need of foot soldiers to hold positions they have won in recent months.


Most have trained for approximately 16 weeks, including the final two with Canadians. Compare that to the Canadian Forces, where even seasoned professionals receive six months work-up training before coming to Afghanistan.


"We're trying to give them 15 years experience in two weeks," said one of the Canadians.

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