The Pentagon is working on force structure plans for continuing to advice and assist Afghan forces well past the 2014 drawdown date previously set between NATO and the Kabul government. US Army. (US Army)
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WASHINGTON — The Afghan Army and police will “require substantial training, advising and assistance” well past the announced 2014 NATO departure, according to a new Pentagon report released Tuesday.
While the White House is reportedly considering a “zero option” of withdrawing all US forces after 2014 if a status of forces agreement can’t be reached with the Kabul government, the military has been making plans to leave a force behind after the majority of NATO troops leave.
End strength numbers for the Afghan Army and police have been reached and are largely being maintained even with massive rates of attrition, and Afghans themselves are now handling a majority of the basic training activities, said Peter Lavoy, acting assistant secretary of defense for Asia Pacific security affairs.
Now, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) is “focused on the sustainability of that force,” he said, adding that “we envision that it will take a period of time ... well beyond the 2014 date” to continue to train, advise and assist the Afghans on strategic planning and logistics skills at the corps and ministerial level before they can become truly independent.
The American surge of 2010-’12 that put 33,000 more troops in the field has “put the Afghan government firmly in control of all the major cities” Lavoy told reporters at the Pentagon. But he admitted that since US forces were reduced to 68,000 troops late last year, the Taliban has pushed Afghan forces out of some rural areas in the south and east of the country.
With US and NATO forces focused on training and advising local forces to conduct operations independently, the Afghans have lost critical enablers such as medevac airlifts, logistics supply and battlefield medical support that they have come to rely on.
NATO has for years talked about the need to develop an organic Afghan supply system, but that dream appears to still be some way off. The report said “supply management is still immature,” and will continue to require “significant support” in the coming years.
While the performance of the grunts on the ground appears to have stabilized somewhat, the Afghan security ministries remain problematic, so much so that ISAF believes that neither the ministries of defense or the interior “will be capable of fully independent operations before 2015 at the earliest,” the report said.
The “1230” report — named after section 1230 of the 2008 National Defense Authorization Act that calls for the update — is the key public barometer issued by the Pentagon to keep score on the progress made in establishing an Afghan security force.
The high rate of desertion in the police and Army is a consistent problem, and has been highlighted in all of the reports since 2009.
The December 2012 report said that in the previous two years, 2,000 to 4,000 soldiers a month were walking away from the force after the NATO coalition had already spent money to recruit, train, equip and deploy them.
Those numbers actually got worse from October 2012 to May, with 4,000 to more than 7,000 soldiers simply deserting their posts each month — a dropout rate of 2.5 percent to 4.1 percent of the entire force in any given month.
The report said the high attrition rate “is undermining attempts to develop a trained and experienced cadre of” soldiers and that the drain hinders “the development of more advanced skill sets,” such as counter-improvised explosives devices and intelligence.