Afghanistan 'Sandhurst in the sand' academy announced by Philip Hammond - 03-29-2012, 05:52 PM
The academy, nicknamed "Sandhurst in the sand", will bring the discipline and square-bashing of Britain's famed Royal Military Academy to Kabul the head of the Afghan army hopes.
The Afghan National Army Officer Academy is a favourite project of Gen Sher Mohammad Karimi, who attended Sandhurst as a cadet in the 1960s.
Gen Karimi, now the army chief of staff, has persuaded Britain to support his own version of the academy which is being built at Qarga, west of the Afghan capital.
Philip Hammond, Defence Secretary, signed an agreement to support the academy during a visit to Kabul on Thursday.
British officials have declined to say how much money the UK is providing, but said three quarters of the foreign instructors would be from the British military.
Building work has begun however as Gen Karimi's army faces being cut by a third because war-weary and hard up alliance members are looking to reduce funding.
His 160,000-strong force is also being scrutinised after a wave of "green on blue" killings where Afghan soldiers have shot dead their Nato allies.
In the most recent killing earlier this week, a lieutenant shot dead two British servicemen after an argument at the main British base in Laskhar Gah, Helmand province.
Gen Karimi said he hoped the academy would not only train young officers to fight the Taliban, but eventually plug gaps in the officer corps left by the country's civil war.
He said: "Right now we have gaps in many places. For example we have fewer majors and captains and we have more colonels and lieutenant colonels.
"Now we are improving on the first and second lieutenants, but there is a gap in the middle."
Constant fighting had also hindered his attempts to build his army.
"We are building while we are fighting and it's not easy," he said. "For the past ten years we have been building and fighting at the same time."
In a career stretching more than 45 years, Gen Karimi has also trained in India and America, but said his fondest memories were of Sandhurst.
He arrived in Surrey in September 1966 as only the second ever Afghan to attend and still has vivid memories of his "very strict, very disciplined" drill sergeants.
He said: "I sometimes joke with my non-commissioned officers these days, I say "I will believe in you when you have a yard stick in your hand like those British NCOs and walk on the drill square to measure the steps and give the command of 'quick march!' and 'slow march!'"
He was also impressed by the ceremony and tradition. "We were not allowed to go to the dining hall in the evening without a tie or a proper jacket or evening dress," he recalled.
"In many countries you can go to the dining hall with slipper or shorts, but in the British Army these traditions are very, very well developed and well observed. Many people may not like formalities and ceremonies, but I love to see it. It's part of the military life."
He has kept contact with several classmates and has visited Sandhurst while on trips to the UK.
Nato has poured money into building the Afghan forces and the army is scheduled to reach its peak size in October at 195,000 soldiers.
Including police, the country will then have a 352,000-strong security force.
But the budget for keeping the force going is likely to fall from £7.1 billion in 2012 alone to around £2.6 billion annually after 2014. That budget would only support an overall force of around 230,000.
Afghan forces are completely reliant on foreign aid and few units are yet capable of operating on their own according to the most recent review of how the training mission is going. They also have stubbornly high levels of desertion and retirement.
Gen Karimi's protestations that the cuts should be delayed until the Taliban reach a peace deal have failed to sway alliance members tired of picking up the bill.
"My request is that they finish the job," he said.
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