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Ottawa seeking trainers for Afghan army

Contractors will teach basic military and language skills ahead of Canada's departure

From Wednesday's Globe and Mail

KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN — Ottawa wants to give Afghan army officers a crash course in bureaucracy.

According to a “letter of interest” published this month on a federal site, the Canadian government hopes to hire several ex-military officials to instruct the Afghan National Army on how to run their troops in Kandahar. Planned topics include subjects such as battleground intelligence and map reading – and even media relations.

The contract gives an insight into Canada's changing priorities ahead of its soldiers' scheduled 2011 departure.

Public support for Canadian combat missions is plummeting as a Taliban insurgency grows and as American reinforcements arrive. Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his ministers have been appearing in Afghanistan this month in hopes of re-branding the mission.

The Conservatives are drawing more attention to Canadian infrastructure programs and the Canadian Forces' mentoring of rank-and-file Afghan soldiers in the field. Such “capacity-building” programs, officials suggest, need not necessarily stop with the expiration of the military mandate.

NATO forces have long expressed hopes that Afghans can take control of their own security so that Western armies can pull out. But this has proved to be wishful thinking so far.

One major problem is that most Afghan recruits are illiterate. That means modern warfare – which is dependent on logistics, planning and paperwork – eludes them.

One possible solution is to teach Afghan officers how to teach themselves. The Canadian proposal asks that teams of up to four contractors, who have experience leading Western armies, bid for contracts to be brought in as teachers.

Canada agreed to sponsor the junior officer staff course last year, and pilot-program classes were to have started by now. Dozens of Afghan officers are to be taught 12 hours a day, six days a week, for up to 23 weeks at a time.

Planned courses include “Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield,” “Soldier Retention,” and several military topography courses.

More peripheral are courses in basic English, on how to run meetings, and even “media interview techniques,” according to the proposal. There is a plan to teach the army brass on how “to effectively prepare written correspondence.”

An unrelated contract indicates that Canada also hopes to outfit Afghan police in Kandahar with equipment to raid compounds. Handcuffs, metal detectors, radios, bolt cutters and breaching tools are being ordered.

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