WASHINGTON - A shortage of trainers and problems plaguing the Afghan army and police could jeopardize NATO's goal to hand over security to the Kabul government by 2015, a Pentagon report said April 29.
Building up the Afghan security forces is at the heart of the NATO-led strategy to gradually withdraw foreign troops from a war that has dragged on for more than nine years.
Seeing the project as their ticket out, NATO countries are investing heavily in the effort, with the United States planning to spend $12.8 billion in 2012.
With 159,000 Afghan troops and 126,000 police trained as of March 31, the Pentagon said in a report to Congress it was satisfied at the pace of the growth of the force despite troubling rates of desertion.
For about every 10 new recruits, six soldiers quit, according to the report.
And while the number of soldiers in uniform has swelled and basic literacy courses have been launched, the capabilities of the Afghan forces remain limited.
"ANA (Afghan National Army) units are still too dependent on coalition forces for operations, and specifically logistical support," said the progress report on the Afghan war.
About three-quarters of army units are judged "effective" when backed by advisers or assistance from coalition troops, but not one army battalion or police unit is deemed able to operate independently, according to the report.
A senior administration official insisted the transfer of security duties to the Afghans was on track and that the Afghan troops were steadily making progress.
"They are more and more capable of operating and they'll need less and less support. It's a gradual process," the official told reporters on condition of anonymity.
"This is not something that can happen in one day."
For the Pentagon, the most serious problem facing the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) is a chronic shortage of foreign trainers.
The report described "a significant shortfall of ANSF trainers and mentors, which, if not adequately addressed, poses a strategic risk to ANSF growth and an increased risk to transition."
The nearly 1,400 trainers currently on the ground represent less than half of the instructors needed. Coalition members have pledged to contribute 667 trainers, but another 740 are still lacking, the report said.
In the past two years, training focused on basic courses for the infantry but now the coalition requires more specialized instruction for medical, logistical and transport units, the official said.