GAO: Less Than 10% of Afghan Forces Capable of Operating Independently

Edwin Mora | July 30, 2012 | 1:59pm EDT
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An Afghan police officer chats with a colleague, unseen, as NATO supply trucks burn in Samangan, north of Kabul, Afghanistan, Wednesday, July 18, 2012. Afghan forces say a magnetic bomb placed on a truck exploded and destroyed 22 NATO supply vehicles in northern Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Javed Basharat)

( -- The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) has disclosed that less than 10 percent of the Afghan National Security Force (ANSF), comprised of army and police units, is able to operate at the highest-rated capability level, known as “independent with advisers,”  federal auditors have reported.

A unit rated at the “independent with advisers” level is “capable of executing its mission and can call for coalition forces when necessary," the Government Accountability Office said. The report is entitled, Afghanistan Security: Long-standing Challenges May Affect Progress and Sustainment of Afghan National Security Forces.

Charles Michael Johnson, Jr., director of International Affairs and Trade at GAO, co-wrote the report with Sharon Pickup, director of Defense Capabilities and Management at the GAO.  The audit was released during a July 24 hearing by the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.

“With respect to progress, in April 2012 DOD [Department of Defense] reported that only about 7 percent [15 out of 219 units] of Afghan National Army (ANA) and about 9 percent [39 our to 435 units] of the Afghan National Police (ANP) units were capable of operating independently with assistance from advisors,” Johnson, who provided both written and oral testimony at the hearing, told the subcommittee members.

The Obama administration has endorsed a plan to transfer the lead of security responsibilities by the end of 2014 from U.S.-led coalition forces to a capable ANSF, which is essential for a successful transition.

The U.S.-NATO force has already begun to transition its military role from combat to support, which will focus on advising and assisting.

In January 2011, the GAO reported that not one  Afghan army unit was able to operate at the highest capability level, which at the time was known as “independent” -- not the new category “independent with advisers.”

An “independent” unit was expected to be able to carry out its mission without the assistance of U.S.-led coalition forces.

The GAO’s Johnson noted that by August 2011, the DOD had changed its rating from “independent” to “independent with advisers,” which he said allowed the DOD to increase the number of Afghan force units placed at the highest-rated level.

“When we reported on the Afghan National Army in [January] 2011, the highest-level capability rating was referred to as ‘independent,’ which meant that a unit was capable of forming its mission without assistance from [U.S.-led] coalition forces,” testified Johnson.

“At that time, no Afghan National Army unit was rated at that level,” he said. “Now, the highest level is ‘independent with advisers.’ DOD has noted that this change has contributed in part to increases in the number of ANSF units assessed at the highest level. It’s also worth noting that not until recently the DOD and the NATO forces began assessing the Afghan National Police for civil policing capabilities, which is key to rule of law.”

In assessing the Afghan national force, the DOD classifies army and police units into one of six levels of performance, which include the following from highest to lowest: independent with advisers; effective with advisers; effective with partners; developing with partners; established; and not assessed.

The majority of the Afghan army (46 percent – 101 out of 219 units) and police (41 percent – 180 out of 435 units) units has been assessed to be at the “effective with advisers” rating, which is the second-highest rating.

The ANSF ratings provide data on “the level of personnel, equipment, and training” as well as “assessments for functions such as leadership and education,” explained Johnson in his written testimony. “In addition, the assessment tool reports on the operational performance of the ANA and ANP units.”

Johnson highlighted three “long-standing challenges” that may interfere with the future progress and sustainment of Afghan forces:  “cost, skill gaps, and limited ministerial capacity.”

Regarding cost, the GAO director stated in his written testimony that Afghanistan has limited financial resources to support the estimated $4.1 billion annual budget for the post-2014 Afghan force -- U.S.-taxpayers are expected to cover most of that money.

Seven suspected Taliban insurgents are shown to the media in Herat, west of Kabul, Afghanistan, Wednesday, June 20, 2012. Afghan intelligence security forces arrested seven suspected Taliban insurgents on Tuesday with their explosive materials during an operation.(AP Photo/Hoshang Hashimi)

Johnson also pointed out that the ANSF is suffering leadership shortfalls and illiteracy among its recruits, which he said is a “key prerequisite for learning specialized skills, such as logistics, needed to reduce reliance on coalition forces.”

He also found that the Afghanistan Ministries of Defense and Interior, responsible for  oversight of the ANSF, are facing problems with corruption.

The U.S. government has spent $43 billion in taxpayer funds to build, train, equip, and sustain the Afghan national army and police from 2002 to 2011. An additional $11.2 billion has been appropriated for 2012 and the DOD has requested $5.8 billion for 2013 to carry out the training mission.

The Afghan Army has already reached its October 2012 man-power goal of 195,000. Meanwhile, the Afghan police, at 149,208 strong,  is on pace to reach its October 2012 growth goal of 157,000.

“Infantry units, with approximately 800 personnel each, are the most common units in the” Afghan army, Johnson told, adding that the GAO does “not have information on the number of ANP personnel in a typical police [unit].”

Both ANA and ANP consist of several units, said Johnson.

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