The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee told NPR on Thursday that having an adequate number of Afghan troops to form partnerships with U.S. troops in the field there is essential for success.
In an interview with NPR's All Things Considered, Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) said he supports President Obama's strategy in Afghanistan and believes that the president is on the right track with plans to beef up training so Afghans can take over their own security.
But, he said, it's his understanding that only a few thousand of the additional 30,000 U.S. troops being deployed to Afghanistan will be involved in basic training — and that could make the Afghan government even more dependent on the United States.
"Adding American combat troops without having the adequate number of Afghan partners is a real mistake because, if anything, it increases the dependency of the Afghans on the U.S. when our whole mission should be to train, equip, and partner and empower the Afghan army and police so that they can provide for the security of their own country," Levin said.
Levin said he's been told that all U.S. units will have some Afghan "partners," but the administration still hasn't spelled out how many of the troops being deployed will be going into combat.
He says the president's plan should include basic training and mentoring, where Afghan units can go into the field, but "that's where there's going to be a major shortfall," he said.
Ideally, there should be three Afghans for each U.S. soldier, Levin said. He said there was a ratio of five Marines for every Afghan in Helmand province when he visited Afghanistan several months ago.
Lawmakers were told Wednesday that the projected size of the Afghanistan army in July 2011 is 170,000 — a disappointing figure, Levin said.
Tuesday night, Obama announced the largest expansion of the war in Afghanistan since it began eight years ago. The president's strategy is based on building up U.S. troops, training Afghans to assume more of the security responsibilities, and beginning to withdraw U.S. troops by July 2011.
Levin predicted that the 2011 timeline for beginning the withdrawal will spur Afghans to take steps toward stabilizing their country by creating a sense of urgency.
"I thought the president was very wise to do that, since so much depends on the Afghan government cleaning up their act, ending corruption, delivering services, focusing on local economic and political development," said Levin. "So much depends on their doing what only they can do — and what they can do in a reasonable period of time."
Written by Deborah Tedford; reported by Melissa Block