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Pretending To Have An Afghan Exit Strategy

Posted by on December 12th, 2010

From our partners at

By Steve Hynd

A key part of the supposed strategy for Western withdrawal from Afghanistan is meant to be training their security forces so that "they can stand up while we stand down". That key component becomes questionable as soon as one realises that the U.S. expects to be footing the bill for those forces for at least the next ten years, because for a certainty the Afghans won't be able to afford them on their own.

But then come reports of massive attrition in the Afghan army and in the Afghan Police. The Guardian reports today that:

Foreign Office statistics show that more than 20,000 officers from the Afghan National Police (ANP), the country's main law enforcement agency, have left over the past year. The Foreign Office figures will cause concern in the armed forces, where the success of the police is seen as the basis for handing control to an Afghan government in 2014 and British troop withdrawal in 2015.

…The attrition rate – including losses caused by deaths, desertion and dismissals, often due to positive drug tests – is currently 18% a year, with monthly attrition at 1.5%, according to figures released to the Labour party.

Apparently the target attrition rate for the Afghan Police is 16.8% annually!

The attrition rate for the Afghan Army is "only" a massive 12% – but that only counts those soldiers who complete their basic training. But General William Caldwell, Bush's former hand-picked military spinmeister in Iraq and now in charge of all training of Afghan forces, admitted back in October that to raise the Army's strength by 56,000 requires finding 141,000 new recruits – because 85,000 will just walk away during or immediately after their training.

At attrition rates of between 12 and 17%, it only takes a few years to reduce the Afghan security forces to ghost forces unless they keep recruiting. Yet recruiting so many to lose well over half during basic training isn't going to plug the gap for very long. At such rates, they'd run through all eligible Afghans in around ten years – all recruited and then deserted or killed. During which time the U.S. will be paying for this non-starter of a "strategy" we've already spent $16 billion plus pursuing.

Meanwhile, the Afghan Ministry of Interior admits that at least eight districts are completely out of their control, they have no forces in any of them, and know idea who is running them.

It's insane. Either that, or it's not an exit strategy at all, just a way to present convincing evidence that, since the Afghan security forces aren't going to be ready, the U.S. will just have to extend its own military presence past 2015.

I'd suggest that's why neither the Pentagon nor prominent establishment think-tanks seem to have any account of "when and how does this end". Because they all know they don't intend it to. It would explain a lot of apparently intransigent stupidity.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration and other Western governments seem happy to not look too hard at the "exit strategy". It doesn't actually matter if it works, as long as no-one says the word "lose". In America's case, that myopia seems to be steering policy towards perpetual occupation with tens of thousands of "non-combat" troops fighting an insurgency the U.S. refuses to actually negotiate with. For their counterparts in NATO, the same myopia is steering them towards slapping some paper over the Afghan cracks, claiming victory, and heading for the exits in a rush – and the Afghans will be left to suffer the consequences. Neither course seems like a good idea to me.

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