Ninety Percent of the Afghan Army Can't Read

As with Iraq, one of the major requirements for getting our troops out of Afghanistan is providing that nation's military with the training and...

As with Iraq, one of the major requirements for getting our troops out of Afghanistan is providing that nation's military with the training and resources it needs to maintain its own security. The hurdles to accomplishing that transfer of power are many, and we're now learning that we can add widespread illiteracy to the list. From the Associated Press:Polls show that the army is the most trusted Afghan institution, a testament to the relative success it has had, especially compared with the police, who are widely derided as corrupt. But about 90 percent of those deciding to join the army are illiterate, according to U.S. military officers involved in the training.That's higher than the 75 percent national illiteracy rate, because military recruits come from lower classes where few know how to read. The lack of basic reading skills slows down progress in an already short 10-week training course. It means soldiers cannot use maps properly or understand the army's code of conduct. It also increases the difficulty of building a solid core of noncommissioned officers-sergeants who are the backbone of every successful army, responsible for conveying a commander's written orders to the troops.Apparently, illiteracy is also prevalent among Taliban forces; however, the smaller, more targeted nature of their attacks and their familiarity with the region means that it's less of a problem.Widespread illiteracy and poverty tend to go hand-in-hand, and both of those hurdles are at the root of some serious national problems in Afghanistan. So it would stand to reason that by addressing illiteracy in the military, we could take quite a step toward some real progress-not only on the battlefield, but across the country.Photo (cc) by Sgt. Charles Brice via Flickr user Sgt. Aaron Duncan, Alpha Company, 201st Brigade Support Battalion, explains a traffic control point to the Afghan Security Guards. Via Matt Yglesias.
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