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Afghan Forces Hobbled by Illiteracy, U.S. Inspector Says

Afghan National Army Soldiers
The U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan began focusing on teaching Afghan forces to read and write in 2009, because without basic language and math proficiency the troops couldn’t be taught military skills or legal issues. Photographer: Shah Marai/AFP via Getty Images

Jan. 28 (Bloomberg) -- More than half the members of the Afghan military and police forces are likely to remain illiterate even after the U.S. provides $200 million in tutoring, an independent monitoring agency has found.

“Some command officials responsible for the literacy training program roughly estimated that over half of the force” of about 352,000, “was still illiterate as of February 2013,” according to an audit released today by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. The officials told the auditors that “this low level of literacy is likely to persist through the end of the decade.”

The U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan began focusing on teaching Afghan forces to read and write in 2009, because without basic language and math proficiency the troops couldn’t be taught military skills or legal issues. With foreign combat troops set to leave Afghanistan this year and no security agreement in place for a residual U.S. force to remain in the country, supervision of the literacy program is likely to diminish, the audit found.

In southwest Afghanistan, “45 percent of police personnel recruited between July 2012 and February 2013 were sent directly to field checkpoints without receiving any literacy training,” requiring additional expenditures to train them when they should have undertaken the program as part of their basic training, the audit found.

Since 2009, the literacy program has qualified 233,600 students at a first-grade level; 98,700 at second grade and 76,800 at third-grade proficiency, ISAF said in a statement.

Limited Tracking

The coalition’s ability to track and judge the effectiveness of the literacy program administered by contractors is limited, the report found.

The U.S. funded three literacy training contracts through OT Training Solutions, based in Orlando, Florida; Insight Group, an Afghan female-owned company; and the Kabul-based Higher Education Institute of Karwan in August 2010, according to the audit. Together, the contracts are valued at $200 million over five years. The NATO Training Mission in Afghanistan, which oversees the program, plans to transfer it to the Afghan ministries of defense and interior, according to the audit.

The coalition “has implemented new literacy and language training contracts for the Afghan National Security Forces to improve delivery and oversight of the services purchased,” ISAF said in a statement without offering details of the value or names of contractors. “The new contracts were awarded as ISAF has identified shortfalls in the terms and conditions of the initial service contract.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Gopal Ratnam in Washington at gratnam1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: John Walcott at jwalcott9@bloomberg.net

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