Afghan Army Can’t Go It Alone After 2014, Pentagon Says

Afghanistan’s security forces can’t go it alone after the planned departure of U.S. combat troops at the end of next year, the Pentagon said in its latest assessment of the war effort.

“Substantial training, advising and assistance, including financial support” will be needed to address “ongoing shortages,” including the inability of Afghan security forces to operate and sustain complex battlefield technologies, air operations and logistics, according to the report issued yesterday. It also cited a gap in fielding units to clear roadside bombs, the primary killer of Afghan forces.

The report bolsters calls by top U.S. commanders for some troops to remain in Afghanistan for years to come to train security forces and conduct special-forces operations against terrorists. President Barack Obama hasn’t decided how many Americans should stay after next year, and the administration hasn’t ruled out what’s called the “zero option,” removing all troops if a long-term agreement can’t be reached in sometimes acrimonious negotiations with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

“The insurgency remains a potent force,” although “significantly degraded” since 2011, according to the report.

Only 28 percent of Americans say the war in Afghanistan has been worth fighting, the least support recorded and less than backed the war in Iraq at its least popular point, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll conducted July 18 to July 21. Results had a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points.

‘Performed Effectively’

The Pentagon’s 181-page assessment of security, economic progress and challenges in Afghanistan, covering the six months ended March 31, offers a largely positive assessment of trends in turning over most security operations to Afghan forces.

The security force “has performed effectively in the field, losing no major bases or district centers to the insurgency and protecting the majority of the Afghan population,” the report found. It also said insider attacks have “declined sharply.”

Progress has been hampered by “the deeply embedded nature of societal corruption,” the report said. In particular, corruption within the Afghan National Security Force poses a “major threat to the success” of the allied mission and the “viability of the Afghan state,” according to the report.

Insurgency, Corruption

“The insurgency’s sanctuaries in Pakistan, corruption and the limited capacity of the Afghanistan government at the local level will remain the biggest risks to turning security gains into a durable and sustainable Afghanistan,” it found.

The government’s anti-corruption efforts through March 31 “have shown no substantial improvement, apart from the public acknowledgment that large-scale corruption exists,” it said.

Pulling all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan is just one option Obama is considering, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said July 10.

“We’re in discussions with the Afghan government” about options that may include a residual force after 2014, Carney told reporters. “This is not a decision that’s imminent.”

A separate report issued yesterday by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction also raised concerns about the future of Afghanistan.

‘Growing Gap’

“There appears to be a growing gap between the policy objectives of Washington and the reality of achieving them in Afghanistan, especially when the government must hire and oversee contractors to perform its mission,” said John Sopko, the inspector general.

The policy to create an effective Afghan Army, which has 185,287 troops, “will remain hollow unless Washington pays equal attention to proper contracting and procurement activities to sustain those forces,” Sopko said.

Efforts to prepare the Afghans are focused now on “the sustainability of the force,” Peter Lavoy, the Pentagon’s acting assistant secretary for the Asia-Pacific region, told reporters yesterday at the Pentagon.

“Will there be some institutions, whether at the core level or the ministerial level,” that make sure that people get paychecks and are fed, “to make sure that fuel contracts are developed?” he said. “These are the kind of functional skills and capabilities that Afghans are still developing today.”

Lavoy said it will “take a period of time before they can adequately, fully have sovereign ownership of all those skill sets, including well beyond the 2014 date.”

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