[Afghan News] April 9, 2012 - 04-10-2012, 04:34 PM
April 9, 2012 Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty By Frud Bezhan
Afghan education officials have found themselves embroiled in controversy after a record number of students failed in national university entry exams last week.
Afghan students accuse the Higher Education Ministry, which determines university placement, of fraud and discrimination, insisting that as many as 60,000 of them failed purely on the basis of their ethnicity and mother language.
Many say the majority of the students who failed come from the country's south and east, a tribal region dominated by Pashtuns.
Unlike many of the country's other ethnicities who speak Dari, a Persian dialect, the Pashtuns speak their own language, Pashto.
Students from rural areas claim that they received sufficient grades to pass but have been failed by examiners, who have refused to explain their reasons or marking criteria.
Others students are adamant that their test scores were higher than some students in urban centers who were granted university places -- leading to allegations of special treatment and corruption.
"Everybody that participates in an exam hopes to pass," says Nilufar, a female student from southern Ghazni Province. "But the chance of passing [this exam] is very low. There's no way we can pass because those people that will pass have already been determined. It's completely unfair."
Calls For Investigation
Irfanullah Irfan, a member of parliament from Kabul, claims that this year's entrance examination was not transparent and has urged the Education Ministry to investigate the process.
His remarks come after hundreds of students across the country marched the streets in protest against what they say are rigged exam results.
"Every day dozens of students are visiting the homes of parliamentarians," Irfan says. They are trying to address their own concerns as well as those of parliamentarians. The education and higher education ministries must address this uncertainty, otherwise these incidents will continue."
Figures released by the Higher Education Ministry reveal that of the 150,000 students who participated in university entrance exams only 40,000 succeeded in gaining offers from universities or institutions of higher learning.
Shukria Barakzai, a prominent female parliamentarian from Kabul, says the education system in the country is heavily weighed against students living in rural and tribal areas, which lack the resources and opportunities found in urban centers like the capital.
Barakzai proposes a system where each of Afghanistan's 34 provinces is allocated a specific number of university slots, which she believes will ensure equal opportunities for disadvantaged students living in rural areas. But she is not optimistic.
"My main concern is with the policies and actions of the education ministries regarding the national entrance exams," she says.
"As a parliamentarian from Kabul, I can tell you that we don't give anybody the right to create a specific [lower] threshold for Kabul."
Higher Education Minister Obaidullah Obaid has rebuffed the allegations. He says the ministry has established a complaints commission to listen to and file complaints over the entrance exams.
Balancing Capacity And Quality
Obaid says the main reason for the poor showing from students in the south and east is due to the insecurity that has seen hundreds of schools closed, and the cultural conservatism that has led to the nonparticipation of thousands of female students.
He concedes that the education system is flawed but insists that longstanding issues cannot be resolved overnight.
"Our main goal in these exams is trying to find a balance between capacity and quality," he says. "For example, it's very difficult to try and fit two kilograms of something into something that can only hold one kilogram. What I have repeatedly said many times is that we cannot just fix all problems surrounding education in one or two days. We have inherited many problems from the past."
The shortfalls in secondary school education have been compounded by the lack of higher-education institutions, which have been unable to accommodate the growing number of university applicants.
In fact, of the 90,000 students that passed the university entry exams this year, only 40,000 have been awarded university places.
To tackle the shortage, Afghan Education Minister Farooq Wardak announced this week that his ministry will raise its capacity in order to absorb over 70,000 students in its 163 semi-higher education institutions, which provide technical and teaching training.
It is hoped that the institutions can address the country's chronic unemployment, raise the number of skilled Afghan workers, and provide job opportunities for the hundreds of thousands of students who have completed school but have been unable to advance to higher education.
With additional reporting by Radio Free Afghanistan
Night raids deal to pave way for Afghan-US strategic pact
by Abdul Haleem, Yangtze Yan
KABUL, April 9 (Xinhua) -- The U.S.-led coalition forces finally accepted the Afghan government's demand to halt night raid operations against Taliban militants and hand the process over to Afghan forces.
The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan General John Allen inked a memorandum of understanding with Afghan Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak on Sunday, allowing Afghan security forces to lead special operations.
Terming the new deal as a significant step towards strengthening national sovereignty, Afghan analysts believe it would pave the ground for forging strategic partnership between Kabul and Washington.
"With signing deals on halting night raids operations by U.S. soldiers and handing over the U.S.-run detention center to Afghan government, the ground for inking strategic pact with Washington has been graveled," political analyst Atiqullah Omarkhil told Xinhua on Monday.
The Afghan government had made halting night raid operations, which often kill Afghan civilians, and transferring U.S. military- run prison in Bagram, a precondition for inking strategic partnership with the United States.
Security observers said the Taliban militants, who have rejected any talks with the Afghan government in the presence of foreign troops and who will speed up attacks in spring and summer commonly known as fighting season in Afghanistan, would benefit from the halting of night raid operations.
"Taliban militants who often hide themselves among residential areas to conduct subversive activities, would benefit from less night raid operations," said Omarkhil, adding that it depends on the initiative of Afghan security forces how to spot and eliminate anti-government insurgents.
Still, the retired army general considered that taking over responsibility for night raid operations is a step towards ensuring national sovereignty for Afghanistan.
"This agreement would benefit Afghan security and sovereignty as Afghan forces are familiar with the culture of Afghans and conducting night raids and searching houses by Afghan forces are accepted by Afghan people," Omarkhil said.
Around 130,000-strong NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) troops with some 90,000 of them Americans are currently stationed in Afghanistan to help stabilize the militancy-plagued country.
The night raid operations, which the top U.S. commander claimed to be effective against Taliban militants, have also claimed the lives of non-combatants. The latest night raid operation carried out by NATO-led forces was in the eastern Kapisa province in February which left eight children dead.
"From today onwards Afghan Special Operations Unit which comprises Afghan National Army, Afghan National Police and National Directorate of Security personnel will lead all special operations across the country with the full respect for Afghan sovereignty, Afghan laws and the Afghan constitution," said the Afghan defense minister Wardak after signing the deal.
Ordinary Afghans also welcomed handing over the responsibility of night raid operations to Afghan forces as a step towards self- sufficiency.
"I am very happy today that U.S. soldiers would no more enter our houses to search for suspected terrorists," a resident of eastern Paktia province Anzor Gul told Xinhua.
The 28-year-old Gul recalled that several U.S. soldiers raided their house at night time last year and detained many people including guests inside his house.
"It is a matter of pride for us that Afghan security forces have assumed the charge of night raids. However, I want U.S. military to help Afghan forces with necessary equipments in carrying out the mission," Gul further said.
The U.S. military by signing another agreement in March agreed to hand over the Bagram detention center, where hundreds of suspected Taliban and al-Qaida operatives have been held, to the Afghan administration.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai in March said that his government would ink strategic partnership with U.S. if the latter halts night raid operations and stops running detention centers in Afghan soil.
"With accepting the two pre-conditions i.e. halting night raid operations and handing over Bagram detention center to Afghan government, I think the strategic partnership with U.S. would be inked before NATO Chicago summit in May," Omarkhil added.
Afghanistan, India sign MoU for cooperation in iron field
KABUL, April 9 (Xinhua) -- The government of Afghanistan and India signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) here on Monday to enhance cooperation in the field of iron and steel.
Afghan Minister for Mines, Wahidullah Shahrani and Indian Minister for Steel, Beni Prasad Verma inked the MoU on behalf of their respective governments. After signing the MoU, Minister Shahrani described it very significant for capacity building in iron and steel sector in Afghanistan, saying he encourages Indian companies and private sectors to invest in Afghan mineral sector.
For his part, the Indian Minister for Steel termed Indo-Afghan relations very old and cordial and promised that India would invest in all economic fields particularly in the sector of iron, copper and petroleum.
An Indian company, according to Afghan officials, would sign an agreement with Afghan government in June this year to invest in iron ore of Hajjigak mines in central Bamyan province.
Ex-Taliban Leader Flees to UAE Fearing For His Life
TOLOnews.com Monday, 09 April 2012
Former Taliban leader Abdul Sallam Zaeef has fled Afghanistan to the United Arab Emirates, fearing for his life after US forces attempted to search his home, Al Jazeera reported.
A source close to Zaeef told Al Jazeera that US forces had tried to search his home in Kabul twice over allegations of involvement in an international terror plot, but Zaeef's government-provided bodyguards prevented them.
"He found life in Kabul difficult, and he is currently in the United Arab Emirates. Twice they came to get him, who knows if they might kill him the third time," the source said.
An Afghan intelligence official confirmed to Al Jazeera that US forces tried to enter Zaeef's home this month, but were prevented.
"The checkpost outside his home belongs to us, so we were contacted when the US forces arrived," the official said.
"We denied them entry, and we sent back-up security to the area."
Waheed Muzhda, an Afghan analyst and former official in the Taliban government, told Al Jazeera that Zaeef was summoned to the presidential palace by President Hamid Karzai last year and was questioned about hosting and aiding two Arabs who were allegedly plotting attacks in the US and Europe for the September 11 anniversary.
"In front of Karzai, American officials had asked him about helping the two Arabs," Muzhda claimed Zaeef told him. "They [the American officials] told Zaeef that if an attack happened, he would be the prime suspect."
Zaeef was the Taliban's ambassador to Pakistan at the time of the September 11, 2011 attacks on the US.
After the US invasion, he was captured in Pakistan and sent to the US military prison in Guantanamo Bay. He was released four years later, but has been under close watch ever since.
He grew to be considered an important person in helping bring the Taliban into negotiation.
Muzhda told Al Jazeera that Zaeef feared for his life after the attempted raids. Many of the Taliban prisoners freed from Guantanamo had been killed in night raids and that made Zaeef more nervous.
Russians Rally Against Nato's Afghanistan Supply Route
TOLOnews.com Monday, 09 April 2012
Russian communists held a Saturday afternoon rally in Moscow to protest the projected deployment of a Nato supply base for Afghanistan in Russian territory, Russia's state news agency RIA Novosti reported.
Around 2,000 supporters of the Communist Party with red flags and banners, as well as left-wing activists, gathered at midday on central Pushkinskaya Square to hold the state-authorised rally.
Opponents of the Kremlin's plan to allow Nato to set up a hub for Afghan transit operations in the Volga region city of Ulyanovsk claim the deal will undermine Russia's national interests and security.
Russian authorities have dismissed concerns over the transit hub in the middle of the country, saying it would only be used for non-lethal cargoes and would be subject to customs checks.
The rally also protested recent parliamentary and presidential elections in Russia and the country's accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO), RIA Novosti reported.
Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov said in a speech at the rally that Russia's WTO entry would kill local aviation and manufacturing industries.
"We should not help our farmers who writhe in agony, should not develop our hi-tech technologies under new WTO rules but will have to raise tariffs to the European and world levels. This means termination of [our] aviation and ... manufacturing industries," Zyuganov said, according to RIA.
Afghanistan to launch space satellite in six months: official
KABUL, April 9 (Xinhua) -- The post-Taliban Afghanistan will launch the first-ever space satellite within six months, a local newspaper said on Monday.
"Afghanistan's first ever-space satellite will be launched within the next six months,"Daily Outlook quoted Afghan Minister for Communication and Information Technology Amir Zai Sangin as saying.
The new satellite will give Afghanistan a greater connection to the world, Sangin said, adding that the move would enable Afghan television channels and radio stations to slash their transmission costs.
An international company would launch the satellite, the newspaper said.
Afghanistan has made remarkable progress in the field of communication over the past decade as the number of local television channels has reached 75 and that of radio stations has exceeded 160. Meanwhile, the number of mobile phone subscribers in Afghanistan has exceeded 15 million, according to Afghan officials.
However, only 1.5 million people of the country's nearly 26 million population have access to the Internet and over 40 Internet companies are operating in the country.
Status of Afghan women threatens Hillary Clinton's legacy
The secretary of State has devoted herself to the issue, but gains made may be reversed as Afghanistan's conservatives become more powerful in the West's wake.
Los Angeles Times By Paul Richter April 8, 2012
WASHINGTON - In the final months of her tenure as secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton is fighting a long retreat on a cause close to her heart, and to her legacy — the status of Afghan women.
Clinton embraced the cause long before the first U.S. troops landed in the country, and as secretary of State she has brought Afghan women worldwide attention, political power and unbending promises of American support.
"We will not abandon you," she pledged.
But now, with U.S. officials laying plans to remove most troops in two years, the Afghan government and other institutions appear to be adjusting their positions on women's rights to accommodate conservative factions. Restrictions on women have made a comeback.
"Most of women's important achievements over the last decade are likely to be reversed," predicted a bleak report issued last month by the Afghan Human Rights and Democracy Organization, a nonprofit in Kabul funded by Western governments and private groups.
This puts Clinton in a tough spot. Among senior U.S. officials, none is more closely associated with women's rights: When prominent Afghan women are alarmed by developments at home, they often fire off emails to Clinton's staff.
"She has been a very strong conscience of the world on this issue," said Wazhma Frogh, director of the Research Institute for Women, Peace and Security in the Afghan capital, Kabul. "We have leaned on her help in the past, and we are looking to her help for our future."
Clinton insists that the United States views women's rights as a nonnegotiable "red line." At a recent meeting of the U.S.-Afghan Women's Council, she insisted that "any peace that is attempted to be made by excluding more than half the population is no peace at all. It is a figment that will not last.... We will not waver on this point."
Yet administration officials also acknowledge sharp limits to what America can do. Even future U.S. funding to help women is uncertain.
Melanne Verveer, U.S. ambassador at large for women and a longtime Clinton aide, said that American officials remain influential and will do all they can.
"But this is going to be in the end an Afghan-led process," she said. "Ultimately, it is going to be the Afghans who are in the driver's seat. We can't see the future. This is a work in progress — we don't know — we hope it will be progress."
Senior U.S. officials see Afghanistan as an intractable foreign policy mess that will only get worse as long as large numbers of U.S. troops remain in the country. Winding down the U.S. commitment has become an overriding priority.
As America's chief diplomat, Clinton has won praise not only from liberals, but also from conservatives. Gallup polls have found she is the nation's most admired woman for each of the last 10 years.
Clinton has signaled that she will step down as top U.S. diplomat early next year, and the fate of Afghan women may not be clear until long after her departure. Even so, a reversal on women's rights would be a blow to Clinton's legacy.
"People will identify her with whatever happens," said Shamila Chaudhary, who was National Security Council advisor on Afghanistan and Pakistan until late last year and is now with the Eurasia Group research firm in Washington. "There's a huge reputational risk in this for her."
Clinton's advocacy for women in Afghanistan goes back to her time in the Senate before the Sept . 11 attacks, when the world was horrified to see how the Taliban regime had marginalized women.
Clinton pushed for guaranteed seats for women in the Afghan parliament and other government bodies and has made sure that the United States has amply funded programs to supportwomen's healthand education, businesses, legal clinics and shelters. Clinton was among the Western officials who lobbied the Afghan government to set up a women's ministry and enact a tough law barring violence against women.
Her efforts have contributed to Afghan women's gains. Over the last decade, women's life expectancy there has increased from 42 to 64 years, and the number of girls in school has gone from 10,000 to 2.5 million.
But two months ago, the country's top religious body, the Ulema Council, issued an edict that men are "fundamental" and women "secondary," and barred women from mingling with men in schools or the workplace. Afghan President Hamid Karzai appeared to embrace the ruling, setting off an international outcry.
When Clinton called Karzai on March 8 to demand an explanation, Karzai said the ruling was only "advisory" and insisted that he stood by the Afghan Constitution's guarantees of equality for women.
Yet the incident was widely seen as proof that Karzai and other Afghan institutions have started to position themselves for the more conservative era they see ahead.
Karzai "has a lot to lose if he can't find a way to reach an accommodation with the Taliban," said Heather Barr of Human Rights Watch in Kabul. "The consequences for him of moving against women's rights are probably a lot less serious."
Clinton's pressure helped gain women nine seats in the High Peace Council, a body appointed to help direct the negotiations with the Taliban. But so far, Afghan women have been largely shut out of the preliminary talks, former First Lady Laura Bush, another advocate for the women's cause, said during the meeting of the U.S.-Afghan Women's Council.
There are other trouble signs. Dozens of mixed-gender and girls schools have been destroyed by insurgents in recent years, including 74 in 2010 alone, Amnesty International says. Prominent female politicians have been killed and others face growing threats of violence, Amnesty says.
U.S. spending for Afghan women, like other aid, has begun to decline, women's advocates say. Although the administration is committed to long-term development aid to Afghanistan, Verveer acknowledged that decisions on such appropriations "will be a negotiation between the administration and the Congress."
Although Clinton has remained focused on women's rights, others in the Obama administration have concentrated most on security goals, starting with winning Taliban commitments to break off ties with Al Qaeda, say current and former U.S. officials.
If the negotiators are able to work out an agreement on security and other key issues, "the final deal won't be held up by a disagreement over women's rights," Chaudhary predicted. "No way."
5 injured in northern Afghan blast
PUL-E-KHUMRI, Afghanistan, April 9 (Xinhua) -- Five people were injured Monday when a bicycle bomb went off in northern Afghan province of Baghlan, a police source said.
"A bomb attached to a bicycle was detonated when a vehicle with the National Directorate of Security (NDS) was passing by a road in Nahrin District's bazaar at about 11:45 a.m. local time," police chief of the district Noor Gul told Xinhua.
The injured include four civilians and a security member of NDS or intelligence agency, the police chief said.
The wounded people, who sustained serious injuries in the explosion, had been admitted to a district hospital in the province some 160 km north of capital city of Kabul, Gul added.
No group has claimed responsibility for the attack so far but Taliban militants have been behind most suicide and roadside bomb attacks across the post-Taliban country.
Afghan and NATO military officials said recently that impressive Taliban-led attacks would occur in the coming weeks and months as spring and summer, known as "fighting season", are drawing near in insurgency-hit country.
Al-Qaida-linked terrorist leader killed in Afghanistan: ISAF
KABUL, April 9 (Xinhua) -- Another al-Qaida-linked terrorist leader was killed in an operation conducted by Afghan and NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) forces in northern Afghan province of Faryab, the ISAF said on Monday.
"An Afghan Special Operations Unit and coalition troops killed a senior Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) leader during an operation in Almar district, Faryab province, earlier this week," the ISAF said in a statement.
The IMU is a terrorist organization closely linked to al-Qaida and the Taliban. It conducts insurgent attacks in the northern region of Afghanistan.
The killed IMU leader named Osmani Sahib "was one of multiple IMU members killed in an exchange of fire that resulted from the insurgents' attempt to attack the combined Afghan and coalition force during the operation," it said.
"Osmani was recently promoted to replace Makhdum Nusrat, the former highest ranking IMU insurgent in Afghanistan, after Makhdum was killed during an operation by an Afghan special unit supported by coalition troops" in Shirin Tagab district of Faryab province on March 26, the statement added.
In addition, the security force captured an insurgent facilitator along with another insurgent, and destroyed several AK- 47s and bomb-making materials, according to the statement.
Afghan forces and ISAF troops have intensified cleanup operations throughout the post-Taliban country recently. Over 460 insurgents have been killed and more than 930 others detained in the country so far this year, according to the Afghan Interior Ministry.
The Afghan government and the United States signed an agreement in Kabul on Sunday to allow the Afghan forces to take the lead in the controversial night raids, a tactic that the coalition says is critical in the fight against the Taliban.
Qatar to Establish Embassy in Kabul
TOLOnews.com Sunday, 08 April 2012
Qatar will establish a diplomatic Embassy in Kabul as part of the ongoing negotiations with the Afghan government over opening an office for the Taliban in the Gulf state, the Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Janan Musazai said Sunday.
The announcement follows Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmai Rassoul's trip to Qatar last week which saw the government pressing ahead with plans to open the political liaison office for the Taliban, despite the group's suspension of any such move three weeks ago.
Establishment of diplomatic relations, opening the Taliban office, and political cooperation have been the main topics discussed in the meetings between Afghan and Qatari officials, Masazai said in a press briefing at the Ministry.
The Taliban previously agreed early January to open the political office, but suspended the plan along with any peace talks on March 15 saying the US was "shaky, erratic and vague" and had reneged on previously agreed details.
The Taliban had only been dealing with the US, not the Afghan government, on the question of an office, it claimed.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said last week that Qatar officials would soon visit Kabul to discuss the conditions for the Taliban office.
Australian helps Afghans to launch media training body
The Australian By Michael Bodey April 09, 2012
AN Australian consultant is helping Afghanistan build its journalism and radio capabilities, two years after the censorious Taliban was ousted.
Steve Ahern's broadcast training company AMT has helped launch Afghanistan's first professional media training institution, the Nai Media Institute.
"During the time of the Taliban, media and music were banned and stations were turned off, so there's this whole generation of people who are in the dark about all sorts of things," he said.
Ahern said research early in the project showed demand for educational services in the war-torn country was growing and tens of thousands of potential students were missing out on places.
A gradual growth in media since the Taliban's overthrow was not being met by growth in media and communications training.
But some are now asking is the institution of media training part of a "Westernisation" of the country or merely for coverage?
Ahern said the answer was complex but the need for more media graduates, particularly in radio, was more about better communication.
"In a country with 30 per cent literacy, broadcast media's really important," Ahern said.
"They're going to have an election next year and people won't necessarily be seeking out newspapers and literature and leaflets."
Ahern spent December and January in Kabul instituting management and academic systems for the new institute.
AMT was commissioned to develop the two-year diploma in media curriculum, covering radio, television and new media, and to train lecturers.
His similar work through Asia recommended Ahern to NMI, which is being developed by an NGO, Internews, funded by American aid money that contributes to other programs in Afghanistan.
The media market now contains more than 40 radio and TV stations in Kabul, and just as many in the rest of the country, although they are perhaps not as stable as might be expected partly because of the way licences have been distributed in a nation such as ours.
Beyond a government network, the local regulator essentially licensed virtually anyone who wanted to start a radio or TV station.
The theory was broadcast media had been so limited there was no reason to halt a free-wheeling adoption of frequencies.
Ahern said many station owners were "people with vested interests" pushing particular businesses, religious groupings or even politics.
"And there are some private commercial business people involved without a barrow to push," he said.
Ahern said the crowded market offered variety to a country that relished it.
"If you only had one kind of broadcaster, that would be a problem, but because they've given anyone who wants to take the chance a go, you have this diversity," he said.
Radio is currently dominated by Afghan music, unsurprisingly, considering music was banned for a decade.
"Then there's serious news and talk content, although not as we know it," the former radio executive and Australian Film, Television and Radio School lecturer said.
Interestingly, foreigners are not allowed to hold majority ownership.
"There's definitely a strategic decision that Afghans will own Afghan media," Ahern said, although there was foreign influence in the sector.
"People want to know how things are done."
In politics' alternate reality, Afghan troops can be ready at a pen stroke
National Times By John Cantwell Opinion April 9, 2012
Hamid Karzai, the President of Afghanistan, lives in a parallel universe.
In his universe, the Afghan security forces are ready to take over. In his version of reality, it is a good idea for the foreign military forces trying to bring security to Afghanistan to be banned from villages, never allowed to enter an Afghan house, and retreat to their patrol bases.
This is all patent nonsense. Even Karzai knows it but he will continue making ludicrous comments like these when it suits his domestic political agenda or in order to pressure America and its coalition partners.
But what is the real state of the Afghan National Security Forces that Australia and other countries are training? When will they be ready to take over security? Perhaps the most important question is: what if they're not ready by the time we want to leave?
The problem with making judgments about Afghanistan is that nothing is simple or clear cut. It is a country of remarkable variety in geography, wealth distribution, economic viability, education levels, tribal affiliation, ethnic background, and a dozen other variables. To speak of Afghanistan as an homogenous entity is to badly misunderstand the country.
It is the same when assessing the security situation. The province where Australia is expending most of its energy, Oruzgan, is very different from the relatively safe areas in the north and west of the country. There are few major towns. Its people are deeply conservative, mostly rural village dwellers. It is a backward and impoverished province even by Afghan standards.
As a general rule, the Afghan commanders being trained by Australian troops tend to be reactive to events rather than planning their operations ahead of time, but they are slowly improving in this regard. Junior commanders and their soldiers are inclined to do the job they are ordered to do and little more. They occasionally lack endurance and resolve. This often relates to weak leadership; the Australian diggers mentoring the Afghans spend a lot of time working on this deficiency. The brigade has embryonic artillery, logistic, medical, engineering, intelligence and communications support. The coalition still provides most of these essential capabilities.
Are the Afghans ready to take over security in Oruzgan? No, not yet, clearly. But the signs are encouraging, if patchy. Increasingly, the Australian mentoring force no longer takes the lead in planning and running patrols. Some Afghan combat units are quite competent and can operate independently. They patrol effectively, display reasonable discipline, and aren't too hard on the locals. In a fight, they mostly shoot straight. All in all, that's pretty good by Afghan standards. One of the things that newcomers and distant observers need to understand about the Afghan army is that it will never be competent by the standards we use to assess our own troops. The term used within the coalition is that most things only need to be ''Afghan OK'' which means acceptable to the Afghans. Westerners might grimace at their comparatively low standards but it is vital to let the Afghans decide the form of their own security forces.
When will the Afghans be ready to take over security in the country? That's the wrong question for Australians to be asking. We aren't responsible for the whole Afghanistan army. Our scope is much narrower. The real question for us is, ''When will the force we are training, the 4th Brigade, be ready to take over security responsibility?'' In military jargon this is known as reaching ''operational viability''. I think they'll be ready sooner than in some other areas of the country. Some sections of the 4th Brigade will definitely be in the lead in their part of Oruzgan in the next 12 months. The others will follow in 2013. The brigade as a whole will be ready, sort of, by 2014. Some high-end skills, like controlling air support, will need to remain in coalition hands for some time to come.
And what if the Afghans aren't ready by 2014? The beauty of the term ''operational viability'' is its elasticity. We've given ourselves an alibi regardless of the progress that's been made by then. I suspect that the 4th Brigade will be judged by our government to be at the level of ''Afghan OK'' when the planned withdrawal of the Australian mentoring force draws near, no matter what. They'll go sooner if they think they can get away with it. Watch this space come election time.
My fervent hope is that in the rush to the exit, we don't dishonour the sacrifice and hard work of the thousands of ADF personnel who have set the conditions for a dignified withdrawal from conventional combat operations in Afghanistan.
John Cantwell retired with the rank of major-general this year. He was the Australian National Commander in Afghanistan and the Middle East in 2010 and is the author, with Greg Bearup, of the forthcoming book Exit Wounds (MUP).
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