Since 2002, the United States has poured at least $65 billion into building up, training and equipping Afghan National Security Forces so they could stand up against insurgents once U.S. soldiers and their allies returned home.
However, more than a decade later, that plan, along with the Afghan National Security Forces, seems to be slowly falling apart.
Related: What the Pentagon is Hiding from its Auditors
A new report from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) contains information that the Pentagon attempted to keep secret—revealing the grim outlook on the Afghan forces.
According to SIGAR, the ANF has shrunk to its lowest level in years---with at least 20,000 troops fewer than last year.
The report comes just months after the NATO-led coalition ended its combat mission in Afghanistan. It’s grim finding raises new questions over whether the ANF will actually be able to defend the country on its own. It also calls into question whether the tens of billions used to train and retain these now dwindling troops could have been better spent.
According to the report, the force shrunk by 11 percent in the first three quarters of 2014 to 169,000, that figure bumped up a bit at the end of the year to about 173,000—still making it the smallest since 2011.
Stories on the ground seem to match the auditors’ dreary findings. A report last fall from Reuters described Afghan police forces that were ill equipped to fight the Taliban on their own, and worried what would happen when the NATO troops disappeared.
"Sometimes up to 200 Taliban attack our checkpoints and if there are no army reinforcements, we lose the fight," Afghan Police Chief Ahmadullah Anwari told Reuters months before the NATO-led coalition ceased its combat mission.
The latest figures became unclassified after auditors blew the whistle on the Pentagon for suspiciously classifying all documents and information relating to the Afghan Security Forces late last year.
Related: U.S. Agencies Track Millions Spent Afghan Women’s Programs
SIGAR’s report said that the Pentagon’s records, which were previously classified, had an “accounting error” and didn’t include the correct number of Afghan troops for all of 2014. Officials said they were accidentally counting civilians twice. They apparently caught the error last fall but never bothered to mention it to the auditors. The newly unclassified data had correct information, though auditors suspect the number of Afghan police forces might also contain errors.
“The U.S. military’s inconsistent reporting on ANSF strength numbers indicates long-standing and ongoing problems with accountability and personnel tracking,” the report 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.”
Separately, the report said that $25 million for women in the Afghan National Forces had not been used.
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