Afghanistan
3:11 pm
Tue May 8, 2012

As The Clock Ticks, Americans Train Afghan Troops

Originally published on Wed May 9, 2012 6:07 pm

Just outside Kandahar, the main city in southern Afghanistan, the U.S. military is starting a new program it hopes will wean Afghan troops off American assistance.

A dozen or so American soldiers make up one of the Security Force Assistance Teams, and the goal is to help the Afghan army plan for operations and supply itself in the field.

But the mission is still a work in progress.

A massive white generator, the size of a garden shed, sits in the dusty heat, giving off a constant hum. It powers the lights, computers and air conditioners for the Afghan army battalion in the Panjwei District. More than 500 Afghan soldiers are housed in a collection of old tents and wooden buildings on one side of this American outpost.

The problem is, the Afghans still get fuel for their generator from the Americans, and the Americans have had enough of that. They say it's time for Afghans to get the fuel from their own government.

The dispute is one of Lt. Adam Mancini's greatest headaches.

"Today they came by at 11 o'clock and it's like that every day," he says. "They expect me to be there like a gas station and give them gas whenever they need it."

Getting Their Own Fuel

Mancini is a burly, easygoing officer from Framingham, Mass., and he just started on this training team three weeks ago. But he already knows that unless the Afghans learn to requisition fuel from their government, he will be stuck as their gas station attendant.

Sure enough, Afghan soldiers come and pick up fuel, strapping the cans to their back.

Mancini says his commander has threatened to cut them off.

"You know, they're gonna have to learn," Mancini says. "So once we leave they can stand up on their own, fight the Taliban and create more stability on their own."

The fuel is just one problem. This American training team also is trying to wean the Afghans off American bottled water, get them to fix their own radios, and plan their own missions.

The Americans hope to create more than 100 of these training teams in Afghanistan in the coming months.

Taking Responsibility In Two Years

It's all part of an effort to get the Afghans to become self-sufficient before the Americans hand over responsibility in two years.

As the Afghan soldiers fill the gas cans, one of their officers, Sgt. Maj. Jalaka Hasar, wanders over. He has a trim beard, deep lines in his face, and the swagger of command. He insists the Afghan army can now defend its own soil.

"They can help us to fight; they can give us training courses," he says of the American forces.

Meanwhile, Mancini finishes filling all the fuel cans and heads over to the Afghan battalion headquarters to get signatures for the fuel.

He greets the battalion's logistics officer.

"Can you put in a request for the amount of fuel we are giving you daily?" Mancini asks.

But the Afghan lieutenant has a stack of papers, and a stack of excuses, for why he can't supply diesel fuel for his soldiers.

"I will talk to each company; I want from them serial numbers from each generator. So can we put a request in for them for fuel," Mancini explains. "OK, now how long is it going to take?"

The Afghan says it will be "one month or maybe less than one month."

Mancini shrugs.

"So in the meantime, we have to give you fuel daily? Cause I'm not sure how long Col. Rutherford is going to go along with that," Mancini says, referring to Col. Wilson Rutherford, the tough-love officer who commands the U.S. battalion.

A Tense Exchange

The Afghan lieutenant suddenly jumps up, slams his chair back, and storms out of the meeting. He returns a few minutes later and signs for the fuel his men took.

Mancini collects the papers and heads outside.

"It's just frustrating cause the system doesn't make sense to me. The colonel may cut them off in a week or so," says Mancini. "It's one way they get to learn something."

We ask Rutherford, the battalion commander, whether he would cut off fuel to the Afghans?

"At least not in the near term," he says.

Still, he adds, the Afghans have to do more for themselves.

"I'm going to give them some things, but not everything," he says.

Mancini, meanwhile, has eight more months for his team to coax the Afghans to take care of themselves.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish. And we begin this hour just outside Kandahar City in Afghanistan. That's where the U.S. military is starting a new program they hope will wean Afghan troops off American military assistance. Groups of a dozen or so American soldiers go out into the country to help the Afghan army plan for operations and supply themselves in the field. They're called Security Force Assistance Teams. NPR's Tom Bowman visited one team at a combat outpost in the Panjwai district, and he found that getting the Afghans to become independent will take some time.

(SOUNDBITE OF MACHINERY)

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Listen carefully to this sound. It's the latest challenge for the Army training team.

(SOUNDBITE OF MACHINERY)

BOWMAN: The constant hum of a massive white generator, the size of a garden shed, squatting in the dusty heat. It powers the lights, computers and air conditioners for the Afghan army battalion - more than 500 Afghan soldiers housed in a collection of old tents and wooden buildings on one side of this American outpost. The problem is the Afghans still get fuel for the generators from the Americans. The Americans have had enough of that. They say it's time for the Afghans to get fuel from their own government. The dispute is one of Lieutenant Adam Mancini's greatest headaches.

LIEUTENANT ADAM MANCINI: Today, they came by at 11 o'clock, and it's like that every day. They expect me to just, you know, to be there like a gas station and give them gas whenever they need it.

BOWMAN: Mancini is a burly, easygoing officer from Framingham, Massachusetts. He just started on this training team three weeks ago. Until the Afghans learn to requisition fuel from their government, Lieutenant Mancini is stuck being a gas station attendant.

(SOUNDBITE OF MACHINERY)

BOWMAN: So we see an Afghan army pickup truck full of fuel cans here. Plastic fuel cans are all strapped to the back and probably about two dozen of them here. Lieutenant Mancini says his commander has threatened to cut them off.

MANCINI: You know, they're going to have to learn. So, you know, once we leave, they can stand up on their own, fight the Taliban if they're still around and create more stability on their own.

BOWMAN: The fuel is just one problem. This American training team also is trying to wean the Afghans off American bottled water, get them to fix their own radios and plan their own missions. The Americans hope to create more than 100 of these training teams in Afghanistan in the coming months. It's all part of an effort to get the Afghans to become self-sufficient before the Americans hand over responsibility in two years. As the Afghan soldiers fill the gas cans, one of their officers wanders over. His name is Sergeant Major Jalaka Hasar. He has a trim beard, deep lines in his face and the swagger of command. He insists the Afghan army can now defend its own soil.

SERGEANT MAJOR JALAKA HASAR: (Foreign language spoken)

BOWMAN: Why do you need the Americans?

HASAR: (Through Translator) We can learn something from them to fight, and also, they can give us training courses.

BOWMAN: Training courses and, of course, that diesel fuel. Lieutenant Mancini, after he finished filling all the fuel cans, heads over to the Afghan battalion headquarters to get signatures for the fuel. He greets the battalion's logistics officer.

MANCINI: So can we put a request in for fuel for them now?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: No.

BOWMAN: No says the Afghan lieutenant. He has a stack of papers and a stack of excuses for why he can't supply diesel fuel for his soldiers.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: We need first serial number.

MANCINI: Now, how long is it going to take?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Maybe it takes one month or maybe less than one month.

BOWMAN: Lieutenant Mancini shrugs.

MANCINI: So in the meantime, we have to give you fuel daily? Because I'm not sure how long the - Colonel Rutherford is going to go along with that.

BOWMAN: Colonel Wilson Rutherford, he's the tough-love officer who commands the American battalion. The Afghan lieutenant suddenly jumps up, slams his chair back and storms out of the meeting. He returns a few minutes later and signs for the fuel his men took. Lieutenant Mancini collects the papers and heads outside.

MANCINI: It's frustrating because the system doesn't really make sense to me.

BOWMAN: The colonel may cut him off in a week or so from fuel, right?

MANCINI: Yeah. I hope he does too. I just - I think it will be one way that they learn something.

BOWMAN: We asked Colonel Rutherford, the battalion commander, would he cut off fuel to the Afghans?

COLONEL WILSON RUTHERFORD: Not in the near term.

BOWMAN: Still, he says, the Afghans have to do more for themselves.

RUTHERFORD: I will listen to what you want, but I'm not going you everything that you want.

BOWMAN: And Lieutenant Mancini? He and his team still have eight more months to coax the Afghans to take care of themselves. Tom Bowman, NPR News, Kandahar, Afghanistan. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.