Afghan Academy 'a fitting tribute'
A new training academy dubbed "Sandhurst in the sand" for Afghanistan's future army officers will be a "fitting tribute" to the UK lives lost during the conflict, its most senior British mentor said.
The Afghan National Army's officer training academy is based on the historic British army institution and will be the UK's main military commitment beyond 2014.
According to current plans, Britain has committed to being involved in the academy until 2023 - at a cost of £75 million.
It is hoped to turn out officers who will lead the Afghan army in the fight against the Taliban.
Britain's most senior officer in Afghanistan, Lieutenant General John Lorimer, deputy commander of Isaf, previously said that training the next generation of leaders would be crucial to securing Afghanistan.
And according to the academy's chief mentor Brigadier Bruce Russell, its presence is a fitting tribute to the British troops who have lost their lives in Afghanistan.
He said: "My own personal opinion is it's a very fitting tribute for the commitment we have already made, the lives we have lost.
"If we can help the Afghans produce an outstanding officer academy which is going to train their young officers to be the leaders that their brave young soldiers deserve - selfless leaders who understand as all Sandhurst-trained officers do, the serve to lead motto.
"If we can produce that and it will produce the leaders of the Afghan National Army and possible the leaders of Afghanistan in the future, I can think of no more fitting tribute for the sacrifice that we have made as a nation in this country over the past decade.
"I think this will be a great legacy for the UK and most importantly, for the future of Afghanistan."
The academy, in the Qargha district on the outskirts of Kabul, is still under construction, with officer cadets currently sleeping in tents.
A first intake of 270 recruits joined in October, a second started in February and more are due to join in June.
At full strength, the academy will house 1,200 cadets - hoped to be the future leaders of the Afghan National Army.
The whole system, including the selection of cadets for the academy, is based on Britain's Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, which has become renowned worldwide for turning out excellent officers.
The Afghan Chief of General Staff, Lieutenant General Shir Mohammad Karimi, attended Sandhurst himself in the 1960s and is a firm advocate of its values.
Candidates are drawn from applicants across the country, with a drive to recruit cadets from each of the 34 provinces of Afghanistan.
They are put through their paces, having to take part in tough physical challenges as well as other tests.
UK personnel are not only helping with the selection process, but are mentoring the instructors who train the cadets.
And while combat troops are leaving the country, Britain will stay involved in the academy for nearly another decade, Brig Russell said.
He said: "This is a long-term commitment for the UK on current planning and represents a considerable investment, not just in terms of people, but also in terms of money.
"But you have to take the stabilisers off at some stage.
"What we are about here is not doing this for them but training the Afghans not only to deliver the training themselves to their young officer cadets in the most appropriate manner, but also growing an institution so we can gradually step back to lead a small assure team from 2017-2018 onwards.
"You can't grow something like this overnight and it requires an investment.
"This is the one area of Afghanistan where the UK's commitment is increasing rather than decreasing while the rest of our commitment nationally will be decreasing.
"And nationally we think this is a very, very valuable contribution to the future of this country."
And despite it being based on Britain's officer training academy, military bosses are keen to stress it is definitely not "Sandhurst in the sand".
"It's a brand that we have exported throughout the world.
"It's a recognised brand that now exists in countries like Australia and New Zealand, as well as Jordan, Oman, India," he added.
"That's important because it's a good model to train officers that understand that they are here to serve their soldiers with a huge sense of duty and all that entails and responsibility.
"What this is not is a Sandhurst lift and drop. In some areas it's far from that but we have taken some of the best attributes of Sandhurst and given them to the Afghans.
"The Afghans have a way of doing many things such as drill and parades and we come together with using some ideas from Sandhurst but of course it is very largely built around what the Afghans do anyway.
"At the end of the day it's an Afghan academy, it's absolutely not a British academy.
"It's theirs, we are simply here to help them produce the best instructors they possibly can, and one that endures."