Afghan Forces Disappear As Taliban Surges Forward

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Jonah Bennett Contributor
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American defense officials have previously assured critics and the Afghan government that the embattled Afghan military is perfectly capable in the absence of coalition forces, which are set to complete withdrawal by 2017.

However, according to a new report, the Afghan National Army (ANA) is wavering and there’s evidence to suggest that U.S. Command in Kabul may have tried to whitewash the numbers.

With newly declassified data in hand, the special inspector general for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) issued an updated report Tuesday which shows that the ANA’s attrition rate, soldiers leaving the service from September 2013 to September 2014, has reached a remarkable 40,000 personnel.

In total, from February 2014 to the present, the ANA has declined 8.5 percent, by 15,636 personnel. The ANA hasn’t been this depleted since 2011, and numbers continue to fluctuate significantly from quarter-to-quarter, sometimes by as much as 20,000 personnel. No documentation exists to explain the fluctuations.

Additionally, according to the report, the U.S. command in Kabul provided accurate numbers to the Pentagon but bogus data to the inspector general, despite repeatedly reviewing and approving SIGAR’s reports.

In the hours leading up to the report, Army Gen. John F. Campbell, commander of Resolute Support and U.S. Forces-Afghanistan (USFOR-A), reached out to SIGAR to amend “accounting errors” listed in previous data. The Pentagon had received the corrected data as far back as September 2014, meaning that SIGAR’s January 2015 report contained incorrect data.

“The military’s inconsistent reporting on ANSF [Afghan National Security Forces] strength numbers indicates long-standing and ongoing problems with accountability and personnel tracking. Accurate information is necessary to assess Afghanistan’s ability to maintain security and to determine the pace of U.S. troops withdrawals from the country,” the report states. “It is also key to ensuring the United States is paying to train, equip, and sustain the ANSF based on accurate troop strength numbers.”

But Army Lt. Col. Chris Belcher responded to suggestions of whitewashed data on behalf of the command Tuesday, saying that “we weren’t attempting to cover up the numbers.”

In recent months, the Taliban has sustained a number of successful strikes on Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), prompting some defense officials to question the coalition exit deadline of 2017, since 2014 saw a 22 percent jump in civilian casualties, totaling 3,699 dead and nearly 7,000 wounded. A resurgent Taliban has resulted in a struggling ANSF, which still heavily depends on air support and logistics from American forces, The New York Times reports.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has predicted that the Taliban will “steadily reassert influence over significant portions of the Pashtun countryside, positioning itself for greater territorial gains in 2015.”

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani also confirmed the need for the U.S. to think carefully about withdrawal plans, marking a switch from previous president Karzai, who harbored a noted distrust of coalition forces.

Given reports on the Islamic State’s recent incursions into Afghanistan and Taliban resurgence, Defense Secretary Ash Carter stated at the end of February that the U.S. government is indeed considering slowing down the pace of withdrawal.

“We’re looking for success in Afghanistan that is lasting,” Carter said.

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