Training Afghan soldiers a tough mission

There's no let-up in the violence in Afghanistan. On Friday, a U.S. service member was killed by a roadside bomb. Forty Americans have died this past week -- most in last Saturday's Chinook helicopter crash. At least 51 have died this month.

For the U.S., the way out of Afghanistan depends on training Afghans to fight their own battles. American taxpayers have already spent more than $27 billion on that training. CBS News correspondent Seth Doane went to violent Kandahar province to see if it's working.

On the front lines, there's more than just fighting. Training the 170,000 soldiers in the Afghan National Army is essential -- as President Obama hopes Afghanistan will add an additional 100,000 Afghan troops by 2015 to create an army of more than a quarter million that can stand on its own.

"What have you learned from the U.S. Army?" Doane asked an Afghan trainee.

"I learned how to shoot, how to search a compound, and how to go on missions," he said.

On publicity posters and at checkpoints, the effort is to make Afghans the face of security -- even if coalition forces are usually right behind them, like U.S. Army Lt. John Cote.

"They're the locals, they can distinguish who is who," he said. "And if we have a positive influence on them, then they can assist us."

The frequent Afghan saying in the region is "shona-ba-shona" or "shoulder to shoulder." But while working on the story, CBS News saw a number of cases where the U.S. seemed to have to prod the Afghan forces, whether it was to just show up on time or to stay at their posts. In some cases, they would leave checkpoints after our cameras turned off.

So it begs the question: Are these two forces really standing side-by-side, or are the Afghans leaning too much on the Americans?

"What people tend to forget is they're never going to be the United States Army," said U.S. Army Maj. Brian Ducote, "and we should stop expecting them to be that. They're going to be the Afghan National Army. It's going to be an army that is capable of defeating the insurgency."

But building an army with that capability is a tough mission. Fewer than half of the Afghan soldiers can read and write. Their basic pay is only about $165 a month. And roughly one in four quit after their three-year hitch ends.

Still, Afghan forces add manpower to most every mission. And on average, three are killed in this war everyday -- sharing the sacrifices with the Americans training them, shoulder-to-shoulder.

  • Seth Doane

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