30 December 2013
The NZ Army’s MAJ Aidan Shattock (extreme right) on a run during a PT session with cadets and other mentors from the Afghan National Army Officer Academy.
New Zealand Army officers are hard at work helping to develop the new Afghan National Army Officer Academy.
An agreement signed between the UK and Afghanistan in July 2012 established the academy, which would be aligned with the UK’s Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst. Nicknamed "Sandhurst in the Sand", the academy maintains a distinctly Afghan flavour though British forces take the lead in providing mentoring support.
As one of the many nations contributing to the UK-led mentoring team, New Zealand has both mentors and support personnel working within the Afghan National Defence University site at Qargha in western Kabul. It also has a significant hand in guiding the development of the Afghan National Army.
The 270 carefully selected cadets on the current year-long course are finding it not only longer, but more difficult than the previous one. Another group of 270 cadets are due to take the course in February 2014 while a further 270 are due to take it in May 2014. This will eventually see three courses running concurrently, which will challenge the academy staff to set and enforce the high standards the Afghans demand of their young officers.
Those standards are much higher than those seen before in the Afghan National Army’s officer training, said Major (MAJ) Aidan Shattock, the senior NZDF officer on the mission.
"We are now in the initial stages of the first course. There are some areas which we need to work on, as is always going to happen when you break new ground. But the Afghans and Coalition Force alike are striving to ensure the training delivered is on a par with other modern armies around the world," he said.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai officially opened the academy in November, and praised the efforts of the staff and the high standards the cadets were achieving. He emphasised they were setting the benchmark for training standards.
"We are inaugurating the Military Academy with the support of United Kingdom, and I am confident that the combination of professional military training and bravery of the Afghans will result in a unique military in the world," Mr Karzai said at the ceremony.
Two months into the course, the cadets are relishing the chance to play a part in securing their country’s future. Only the best applicants were selected. All of them are well-educated and many have previous military experience, which has helped them to quickly assimilate into military life and the intense training programme.
For the Coalition forces mentoring the cadets, there are still many challenges ahead. The academy has yet to be completed and the cadets are currently living and working in a tent complex known as "tent city". Although the tents are comfortable, the temporary nature of the facility offers unique challenges for the staff, cadets and Coalition forces alike.
Despite these challenges, the Coalition forces and the Afghan National Army are confident the academy will be the way ahead for the future of Afghanistan’s military leadership.
"To be a part of what we hope is the beginning of a long history of high-quality officers trained by the Afghans themselves is quite an honour," said MAJ Shattock.
"New Zealand has a short but successful history in Afghanistan, and we hope we can shape this institution into a legacy which will last for generations and forge success for the Afghan Army in years to come," he added.
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