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Afghan Military Progress Cited by U.S. Amid Corruption

Afghan National Army Soldiers
Soldiers in the Afghan National Army's 6th Kandak (battalion) walk through a poppy field during a joint patrol in the Kandahar Province, Afghanistan. Photographer: Andrew Burton/Getty Images

Afghanistan’s military is making “substantial progress” by taking the lead on most military operations, while it remains hobbled by inadequate training and persistent corruption, according to a Pentagon report.

The Defense Department’s semiannual report to Congress on Afghanistan, released yesterday, measured the transition by the metrics of war: It said Afghan casualties have increased by 79 percent in the six months ending in September, while losses of U.S. and allied forces declined by 59 percent.

President Barack Obama’s administration is under pressure to show that Afghan forces will be able to hold their own against Taliban insurgents after the planned departure of U.S. combat troops by the end of next year. More than 2,200 Americans have died in Afghanistan since the war began in 2001.

The Afghan forces “are now successfully providing security for their own people, fighting their own battles and holding the gains” made by allied forces, according to the report, which said the country’s military and national police have grown to 344,096 personnel, up from 200,000 in January 2010.

Having boosted the number of troops, the Pentagon said the Afghan military now is working to improve their professionalism. It cited “problems with literacy, corruption, leadership,” the need for air support and the lack of trained maintenance technicians and an “effective logistics and sustainment system.”

While the Afghan military is still “on track to transition to full sovereign responsibility for security on Jan. 1, 2015,” it will still require training “as well as financial support,” the report said.

Maintaining Presence

The conclusion supports the view of top U.S. commanders that some personnel should remain in Afghanistan for years to come to train security forces and conduct special-forces operations against terrorists.

Obama hasn’t announced how many Americans would stay after 2014. The U.S. and Afghanistan are attempting to negotiate a long-term security agreement, and the administration has said it won’t keep any forces there without one.

The Afghan government generally “lacks the will to fight corruption directly,” the Defense Department said.

The government “rarely uses wiretaps” in investigations, and the nation’s attorney general “has failed to pursue prosecutions against several politically connected officials implicated in corruption” related to the National Military Hospital and the Afghan Air Force.

Checkpoint Payoffs

The ministries of defense and interior “have taken some proactive anti-corruption steps,” and officials “are genuinely concerned” about acting against corruption in military ranks that ranges from payoffs at checkpoints to pay-for-position schemes and bribery from contractors, according to the report.

While the Taliban are weakened, the militants retain “access to critical resources” and “freedom of action” in and out of neighboring Pakistan that’s “essential to their continued survival and ability to threaten” the Afghan government, according to the report.

This includes ingredients brought in from Pakistan for improvised roadside bombs, “which are responsible for more” U.S., Afghan and Pakistani casualties than any other weapon, it said.

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