Kabul: Canada`s government has agreed to keep 750 military trainers in Afghanistan until 2014, a pledge of support which may help plug a critical shortage of 900 trainers for NATO`s year-old mission to bolster Afghan security forces.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai wants his nation`s police and army to take the lead in protecting and defending their homeland by 2014 — a deadline that will be reached only if the stepped-up training effort continues with support from foreign capitals weary of the war. U.S. Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, the commander of NATO`s training mission, said Monday that the NATO mission faced a shortage of 900 trainers.
Hours later, a senior Canadian government official said that 750 military trainers and about 200 support troops will remain and most likely be based in Kabul after Canada`s combat mission ends in 2011. It was unclear whether the offer was a direct response to Caldwell`s request.
"If that`s what NATO is looking at and that`s the block that we`re looking at it may bridge the gap," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because no authorization was given to speak publicly.
The official said they would remain in Afghanistan until no later than 2014.
Canadian Defense Minister Peter MacKay said Sunday that NATO had identified a shortfall of about 900 troops to conduct training when he announced that Canada was considering the request to keep troops in Afghanistan past 2011, but switch them from a combat to a training role. Canada has about 3,000 troops in Afghanistan.
Achieving Karzai`s goal of moving Afghan forces into the lead to permit international troops to leave or transition to support roles will mean training more officers, battling corruption within the ranks and finding mentors from NATO nations to teach the security forces how to manage hospitals, for example, or fly and maintain Mi-17 aircraft.
"If you don`t have trainers, you`re going to have a challenging time transitioning," Caldwell said after a ceremony marking the first anniversary of the training mission in Afghanistan.
The 900 additional international trainers requested by NATO would join the 1,800 trainers already working in Afghanistan, he said. These positions need to be filled between December and July 2011, the date when President Barack Obama wants to start pulling out U.S. troops if conditions permit
"No trainers, no transition," Caldwell wrote in a 31-page report card on the training mission, which was issued at the event.
International support for the war is waning, yet Caldwell said he remained hopeful that NATO nations would pledge more trainers, possibly at a meeting of the alliance later this month in Portugal.
"Nations may be waiting to make a commitment there," he said. "We have been talking with quite a few."