KABUL // Six Afghan security personnel were killed and another 30 injured in a suicide attack in the capital yesterday, a day after Joe Biden, the US vice president, made a surprise visit to Kabul.
A suicide attacker set off explosives on his motorcycle while close to a minibus carrying employees of Afghanistan's intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Security, news reports said.
Bombers seldom stage attacks in the capital, but yesterday's blast and two others in the past month that claimed seven lives are calling into question the ability of Afghan soldiers and police to stop attacks ahead of a July 2011 deadline to begin withdrawing US and other foreign combat troops from the country.
Last year was the deadliest in Afghanistan for Afghan and foreign troops, as well as civilians, since the US invaded in 2001.
Mr Biden, who visited a military training centre in Kabul on Tuesday, has called for the speedier handover of security to Afghan forces and been a staunch proponent of sticking to the July 2011 troop withdrawal deadline.
"It is not our intention to govern or to nation-build," Mr Biden said in a statement on Tuesday from Kabul. "This is the responsibility of the Afghan people, and they are fully capable of it."
But producing an Afghan security force capable of taking the lead in the battle against the Taliban in just six months is unrealistic, security officials in Kabul say.
Afghan security forces such as those targeted in yesterday's attack still suffer from desertion, illiteracy, drug addiction and corruption. They also are prone to infiltration by Taliban insurgents, particularly in the country's south.
While the US is now paying for a two-year, US$20 billion (Dh73bn) programme to teach Afghan security forces military skills, intelligence-gathering and literacy, experts are worried the effort, which began in 2010, is too little, too late.
"It's not a two-year problem, it's not even a five-year problem, it's a 25 to 30-year problem," said an American security official who supervises the training of Afghan forces. The official wished to remain anonymous because of the sensitivity of the issue.
"We've only been getting the funding, the resources and the manpower we need to adequately train Afghan forces in the past eight to 12 months," the official said. "But the question now is: is it too late?"
Nato forces, which spent $20 billion on police training from 2003 to 2009, say they now hope to train about 300,000 army and police officers by the end of this year.
The Afghan army has about 149,000 soldiers and is projected to have 171,600 by October, Nato says. The police force is projected to hit 134,000 by October, up from just more than 115,000 by the end of last year.
But with an average attrition rate of 18 per cent, Nato will have to recruit at least 141,000 soldiers and police during the next year to maintain the desired size of the force, Lieutenant-General William Caldwell, the head of the Nato training mission in Afghanistan, told reporters last summer. That is nearly the entire size of the current Afghan army.
Afghan forces "need better pay, bonuses, retention bonuses", the US security official said. "Right now, you tell a police or army recruit they're being deployed to Helmand and they just vanish" because the province is so dangerous.
A total of 1,292 Afghan police and 821 Afghan soldiers were killed in 2010, according to the government.
In a poll released last year by the Asia Foundation, a US-based non-profit organization, the majority of Afghan respondents said the national police force, notorious for bribe-taking on the country's dangerous highways, was unprofessional and badly trained.
Only 11 per cent of those who enlist in Afghanistan's army and police are literate, according to Nato.
"We're trying to bring some standards to the police force, so that they are seen as more of an ally of the people," said Chris Saine, program manager at OT Training Solutions, a company contracted by Nato to teach Afghan police how to read at what would be the level of an eight-year-old in the US or UK.
"We see a tremendous need for this type of work," Mr Saine said. "But all of this, it's a very bold mission."