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The Amazing Disappearing Afghan Security Forces

Posted by on August 24th, 2010

From our partners at

By Steve Hynd

Afghan security forces are disappearing almost as fast as they can be recruited and trained, but like King Canute in reverse the US general in charge, Bill Caldwell, says everything will turn out alright.

The American commander in charge of building up Afghanistan’s security forces said Monday that in the next 15 months he would have to recruit and train 141,000 new soldiers and police officers — more than the current size of the Afghan Army — to meet President Obama’s ambitious goals for getting Afghan forces to fight the war on their own.

The commander, Lt. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, said the large recruiting number was to allow for attrition rates in some units of nearly 50 percent.

Journalist Paul McCleary puts that in another perspective:

That is stunning. Let’s break that down. The Afghan army today has 134,000 soldiers. By next October, that number is slated to swell to 171,000–meaning 37,000 more soldiers need to be trained and fielded over the next 15 months. But in order for that to happen, Caldwell said, “we're going to have to recruit, train and assign 86,000 more people to the army in order to make that growth of 37 thousand.” That means 49,000 men will walk after receiving some form of training/pay/equipping.

And then there is the famously beleaguered, and just as famously corrupt, Afghan police. Their ranks number about 115,000 today, and by October 2011, the force is set to grow to 134,000. But to make that growth of 19,000, NATO is going to have to recruit, train and assign almost 56,000 men. That means 37,000 would-be cops are going to eat up money, resources, and the time of the already thinly-spread trainers, primarily U.S. armed forces personnel.

Guess where those 86,000 trained soldiers and 37,000 trained police are going to disappear to, along with their kit and weaponry? Militias, the Taliban, road gangs, mercenary security contractors.

Caldwell – who, lets always remember, was Dubya's hand-picked man to spin the Iraq war for Petraeus back in 2007 – is laying the groundwork for his boss using this as an argument for staying longer:

Over all, General Caldwell said it would not be until October 2011 — three months after the deadline for the start of American withdrawals set by Mr. Obama — that he will have finished building the Afghan security forces to their full capacity. For now, he said, “they cannot operate independently.”

But with attrition rates of up to 50%, illiteracy rates of 90% and drug-use rates of 100% (if you include using marijuana and hashish, which the US military doesn't for it's Afghan recruits), it's difficult to see how the indigenous security forces will ever stand up in any meaningful sense as organised national forces rather than just a collection of militias in waiting. Even if they did, the Afghan gvernment could never hope to afford to keep them going on its own revenues.

And the Afghan security forces inability to stand up straight isn't even the worst problem with the current strategy. As Michael Cohen writes: "The very fact that General Petraeus is talking about extending the US presence and pushing back withdrawals to after June 2011 is mind-boggling. It's like Vietnam all over again. At what point do US policymakers wake up and realize our strategy in Afghanistan simply isn't working?"

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