The Afghan National Security Forces, which the U.S. has spent a decade and $65 billion training, are at their weakest point in years and will fall apart unless the U.S. can somehow turn around its failing effort to make them self-competent.
That was the warning delivered today from by John Sopko, Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), in a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a defense think tank in Washington.
“The evidence strongly suggests that Afghanistan lacks the capacity—financial, technical, managerial, or otherwise—to maintain, support, and execute much of what has been built or established during more than 13 years of international assistance,” Sopko said in prepared remarks. Despite that, he said, the U.S. plans to pump an additional $7.6 billion into Afghanistan’s security institutions in the short term, “and billions more are expected to be appropriated every year for the foreseeable future.”
Sopko, who heads the watchdog tasked with keeping tabs on reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan since 2010, said that even under the most optimistic scenario, “Afghan government contributions would not fully fund the Afghanistan National Defense Security Forces by 2024.”
He said that senior U.S. military officials are also concerned that Afghans “will not master any of their essential functions” by the time the U.S. begins drawing down its military presence in the country at the end of next year.
“SIGAR is worried that the Afghan ministries aren’t, in any way, ready to stand on their own,” Sopko said.
Just last month, the auditors released a report revealing that the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) are currently at their lowest level since 2011—right ahead of the 2015 fighting season. SIGAR said the ANSF had 20,000 fewer troops than last year, based on numbers provided by the Afghan defense ministry.
The Pentagon had been keeping data on the ANSF, which had been classified until SIGAR and others pressured the Defense Department to release the information. Once declassified, SIGAR revealed the dismal outlook.
The auditors have raised concern about how little information the U.S. has on the troops, despite the vast amount of U.S. funding used to prop them up. Last week, Sopko told Congress that there’s no way to determine whether troop levels provided by the Afghan government are accurate, or to measure the capabilities of those forces. That makes it even more difficult to determine how much funding is needed, he said.
“Given that accurate reporting on ANSF strength is an important factor in judging Afghanistan’s ability to maintain security and in determining the pace of U.S. troop withdrawals from the country, and that the United States is paying to train, equip, and sustain the Afghan troops based on these numbers, these inconsistencies are deeply troubling,” SIGAR said in the latest report.
Late last year, Sopko released a report highlighting the seven greatest risks to the entire $110 billion reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan. Unsurprisingly, the sustainability of the Afghan National Security Forces was high on the list.
Speaking on Wednesday, the IG reiterated the importance of the ANSF’s ability to stand up on its own after the U.S. leaves.
“Considering the effect a lack of security has on good governance, rule of law, and economic and social development, it may be the most important issue,” Sopko said.
Top Reads from The Fiscal Times