Afghan soldiers surprised the roadside bombers as they laid a device south of Garmsir. According to one British officer familiar with the incident, there were five bombers. The Afghan army unit that found them had just lost three of their own to a roadside bomb. So three of the Taliban were killed by the road. The architects of the military mission in Afghanistan face a finely balanced set of problems as they try to build up Afghan forces to 400,000 by the end of next year from their current 96,000 soldiers and 89,000 police. The problem so far, according to the American commander of the training mission, Lieutenant-General Bill Caldwell, is that the mission has been under-resourced in Western trainers. That has meant sacrificing quality for quantity on the basis that quantity has a quality all of its own. It does, but only in the short term. Only 15 per cent of Afghan soldiers have any reading ability. The American commander claims however that the situation is changing. About 850 US trainers will arrive this month. Moreover, Afghan police and army are paid a decent wage, about $165 (100) a month against the average government salary of $50. With hazard pay, this can rise to $245. The US foots the bill. This goes some way to explaining why army re-enlistment rates are now 75 per cent and desertion rates for units posted to Helmand have dropped from 45 per cent to about 7 per cent. Another reason is that the Afghan forces are getting good weaponry, body armour and even attack helicopters. Still, there is a particular underlying problem that troubles Western commanders. The ethnic make-up of Afghanistan is complex and fracture lines are not always obvious. The Afghan National Army (ANA) is balanced carefully to include appropriate representation of all ethnicities. However, the representation of Pashtuns, the dominant ethnicity that lives in the insurgency hit areas, is skewed. Only 3-5 per cent of the ANA comes from the southern areas of the country. The Pashtuns in the army are, therefore, overwhelmingly eastern Pashtuns and consequently native Dari speakers rather than of Pashto, spoken in the south. This helps to make the ANA outsiders in the south, and that is a problem. Success is not a foregone conclusion, General Caldwell said. Ultimately it is going to have to be the Afghans themselves who make the difference here. That difference may also mean more suspected members of the Taleban being summarily executed by the road. (The Times)