Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, is flying back to Washington from a three-day trip to Afghanistan and Pakistan. He briefed reporters by conference call from a Dubai airport about his visit, and he had a surprising assessment to report. According to Gen. William Caldwell, the new head of training the Afghan security forces, President Obama’s announcement that U.S. troops would begin to hand over combat responsibilities to Afghan forces in July 2011 had a “stunning” impact on Afghan recruiting for the Army and police.
“That had a very positive effect on the Afghan leadership and focused their energies on, for instance, obtaining a larger number of recruits for their army,” Levin said. While he said he didn’t have a total breakdown of the number of recruits, Levin said he was told that there were only 3500 Afghans going through an eight-week basic training course for the security forces in November. That’s up to 11,000 today. While Levin hastened to add that pay has been increased — and the Taliban, it turns out, pays its foot soldiers better than the Afghan government does theirs — Levin said he was “surprised” to hear Caldwell attribute the spike to Obama’s transition date for Afghan security control.
“The impact here was on the leaders of Afghanistan,” Levin summarized Caldwell’s assessment. The much-criticized transition date underscores that the U.S. will “help the Afghans be in a position to provide their own security, [and] that is also advanced by the setting of that date.”
Additionally, Levin said that the U.S. military had rectified one of his chief concerns about the Afghan war: the lopsided ratio of U.S. Marines to Afghan soldiers in the Helmand Province campaign. While in December Levin worried that a ratio of five Marines to one Afghan soldier raised questions about the sustainability of the strategy, he said he was happy to report that the ratio has changed to one company of Marines and NATO forces for every company of Afghans — a “major change” he called “very reassuring.”