Not One Afghan Army Unit Was Able to Operate Independent of U.S.-Led Coalition Forces as of Sept. 2010, GAO Says

Edwin Mora | February 2, 2011 | 4:01am EST
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Smoke wafts from a U.S. vehicle after it took enemy fire during a patrol near the Pakistan border in Kunar province, eastern Afghanistan, on Tuesday, Dec 28, 2010.(AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

( - Not one Afghan army unit was able to operate independent of U.S.-led coalition troops as of September 2010, according to assessments by NATO’s international force highlighted in a government report.

Nevertheless, in his State of the Union Address, President Obama maintained that U.S. troops will begin withdrawing in July 2011. The president has also endorsed having Afghan forces take the lead on security tasks by the end of 2014 with the U.S. maintaining an enduring relationship with Afghanistan beyond that point.

Developing the Afghan National Army (ANA) is essential for the transition of security tasks to Afghanistan. The Afghanistan training mission and transition command is operated by the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and U.S. forces, both commanded by U.S. Gen. David Petraeus. 

The U.S.-led counterterrorism efforts in Afghanistan started in October 2011. According to GAO, since 2002, U.S. spending on support for the development of the Afghan army has reached $20 billion, with an additional $7.5 billion to be allocated in fiscal 2011 and an unknown long-term cost.  

“The Afghan government and international community have set an objective of having the Afghan army and police lead and conduct security operations in all Afghan provinces by the end of 2014,” the report stated, which was released on Jan. 27 by the Government Accountability Office (GAO). “As of September 2010, no ANA unit was assessed by IJC [ISAF Joint Command] as capable of conducting its mission independent of coalition assistance.” 

Approximately two-thirds of the Afghan army “were assessed as effective with some form of limited coalition support,” the report added.

According to the GAO, a unit is rated as being able to operate independently when it is “capable of planning, executing, and sustaining the full spectrum of its missions without assistance from coalition forces.”

Without providing specifics, NATO’s international force said “it will take considerable time” for the Afghan army to operate independently of coalition forces, the GAO further stated. 

“In order for ANA units to achieve the rating level of ‘independent,’ the army will first have to develop capabilities such as medical support, artillery, and fixed and rotary wing aviation that are currently provided by U.S. and coalition partners—an effort that IJC stated will take considerable time to complete,” the GAO stated. 

The GAO mentioned that some of the challenges the NATO and U.S.-led Afghan training mission and transition command are facing in developing the Afghan army include a low literacy rate, high desertion rates, absenteeism, lack of equipment, and a shortage of trainers and qualified leaders to lead the Afghan forces.

As has previously reported, the GAO noted that 86 percent of Afghan army recruits are illiterate, creating a key challenge for the ANA to rely less on assistance from coalition forces.

The Afghan training mission and transition command revealed that as of August 2010 “about 14 percent of ANA recruits are literate at the equivalent of a first-grade level,” the GAO stated.  

Mandatory literacy training “with the goal of enabling trainees to write their names and record serial numbers” has been incorporated into ANA’s basic training to help alleviate the illiteracy challenge.

Additional literacy training is also provided to bring students to a third-grade literacy level with a focus on ANA soldiers who will go onto “specialized training in technical skills necessary for the army to eventually support itself,” revealed GAO.

Nevertheless, the GAO pointed out that the commanding general of the Afghan training mission and transition command has stated that “educating the entire ANA to the level needed” to operate independent of coalition forces “will take time and sustained effort.”

Regarding, a shortage of qualified soldiers, the GAO reported, “The ANA is continuing to face shortfalls in non- commissioned officers (NCO) needed to provide leadership to ANA units in the field. As of October 2010, about one-quarter of NCO positions in ANA combat units were unfilled.”

As far as the shortage of personnel needed to train the Afghan forces, the GAO stated that documentation from the U.S.-led Afghan training mission “specifies that 1,495 instructors are needed to train the ANA as it grows to 171,600. However, as of November 2010, about 18 percent (275 of 1,495) of instructor positions were unfilled and lacked pledges to fill them.”

Despite the challenges, the GAO noted that the Afghan Army has “expanded rapidly, largely meeting or surpassing monthly force generation targets.”

However, the number of soldiers leaving the ANA  before their contract is completed, known as attrition rates, may expand along with the Afghan army’s rapid growth, challenging the U.S. endorsed goal of having more than 170,000 by October 2011, the GAO warned.

Afghan army soldiers not showing up for duty has also proven to be a challenge to developing the ANA as planned.

Data from NATO’s international force revealed that “from January to September 2010, on average, over a quarter of the ANA was absent during any given month.”

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