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Monday, January 3, 2011

Army has tough time recruiting translators for Afghanistan war

Recruiters in Los Angeles walk the streets of Little Persia trying to find candidates who speak Dari, Pashto or Farsi, but many in the communities have reservations about the war.

He strolled down Westwood Boulevard, passing an Iranian music store and young men in Armani jeans, and walked into Saffron & Rose Ice Cream. He chatted with the owner in Farsi and ordered white rose ice cream with milk, fulfilling a cultural obligation to make a purchase from a shopkeeper before talking business. A map of ancient Persia hung on a wall by the door.

Zamani knew the shop was popular with young Afghans and Iranians, so he'd brought along a thick stack of business cards. But today, the shop was empty. He finished his ice cream and left.

"It is a hard job to find the right person to recruit for the Army," he said.

As the United States continues its military shift from Iraq to Afghanistan, the recruitment of Army translators and interpreters has followed, and Zamani, a contractor who recruits for the Army, is among those who have fanned out to Afghan and Persian communities and shopping districts looking for potential linguists to help fight the war.

The recruitment trail can be challenging. The pool of candidates who speak Dari, Pashto or Farsi is far thinner than the Arabic speakers the military sought out during the Iraq war. And many in the communities have reservations about the war.

The Army has been able to sign up only nine Los Angeles-area recruits for the language program in the last year, far short of the goal of 48 local enlistees and just a fraction of the 250 signed nationwide.

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