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Congressional Watchdog Questions Size of Afghan Forces

Jan. 30, 2013 - 01:04PM   |  
By PAUL McLEARY   |   Comments
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If the $10 billion in fiscal 2013 funds earmarked for reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan is ever unlocked from congressional budget battles, the total bill for American reconstruction efforts in that country will hit $98 billion, according to a new government watchdog report released Jan. 30.

Roughly $55 billion of that total will have gone toward recruiting, training, equipping and fielding the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) alone, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) said in its latest quarterly report to Congress.

According to U.S. Department of Defense statistics, the ANSF is officially listed as 352,000-personnel strong, with 195,000 soldiers and 157,000 police officers in the field.

The SIGAR report, however, calls those numbers into question. The congressionally mandated watchdog found that the Combined Security Transition Command – Afghanistan (CSTC-A), which oversees the recruiting and fielding effort, actually reported that the Afghan Army and Police were still 20,000 recruits shy of their goal at the end of November, and even then “only 62.3–80.4% of personnel were present for duty” in the Army, while “84% of Afghan Air Force personnel were present for duty.”

The Army had also shed 10,000 soldiers between the third and fourth quarters of 2012, the report noted.

The issue of attrition — soldiers either not showing up for duty or deserting — has been one that has plagued the ANSF since its inception. In December, the Pentagon released a dire report detailing the pace of the attrition between September 2011 and September 2012, finding that the Army and police were losing, or couldn’t account for, between 2,400 to 5,500 soldiers each month, with most months hovering in the 3,000- to 4,000-soldier range.

The SIGAR report goes further, writing that “determining ANSF strength is fraught with challenges.” In a written response to SIGAR staffers, CSTC-A admitted that in the case of the Afghan National Army, there is “no viable method of validating [their] personnel numbers,” since unit head counts are done on paper by each unit, which then tallies numbers and mails results to its immediate higher command. This process is repeated, on paper and without oversight, multiple times.

What’s more, Army leadership has also been known to include civilians in its count of Army personnel for the purposes of payroll reporting, the watchdog reports.

Still, the independence and effectiveness of the Afghan Army appears to be increasing as the Afghans and NATO prepare for the 2014 withdrawal of NATO forces. Australian Brig. Gen. Mark Smethurst, ISAF Special Operations Forces commanding general from 2011-2012, told a special operations conference in Washington on Jan. 29 that by September 2012, his command noted that Afghan-led ops had jumped to 86 percent from about 20 percent just a year prior.

Still, according to the Pentagon, of the 292 Army units rated for effectiveness and readiness in October, 58 percent were rated at the two highest levels, while 14 percent were “independent with advisors” and 43 percent were “effective with advisors.”

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