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Desertions a problem for Afghan army

November 25, 2009 - Jim Anderson
As President Obama prepares to unveil his long-awaited Afghanistan strategy, an important consideration will be the status of the Afghan National Army (ANA).

Obama will likely accept the recommendation of Gen. Stanley McChrystal to rapidly increase the size of the ANA. McChrystal has called for increasing the ANA to 134,000 troops by October 2010 and eventually to 240,000. The existing force was listed at 94,000 in September 2009.

Nearly tripling the size of the ANA appears to be a tall order, especially if the U.S. expects the ANA to assume combat duties.

Of the ANA troops on the rolls, about half are classified as combat troops. And desertions are numerous.

One in every four combat soldiers quit the Afghan National Army during the year ending in September, says journalist Gareth Porter in a recent IPS-Inter Press Service report.

Porter analyzed data released by the U.S. Defense Department and the Inspector General for Reconstruction in Afghanistan.

“An administration source, who insisted on speaking without attribution because of the sensitivity of the subject, confirmed to IPS that 25 percent has been used as the turnover rate for the ANA in internal discussions, and that it is regarded by some officials as a serious problem,” Porter wrote.

Porter also cites a review of ANA troop strengths by analysts at the U.S. Army Center for Lessons Learned at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas. According to an article in the current issue of “Military Review,” published at the same Army base, the analysts concluded that the ANA would have difficulty growing beyond 100,000. “The authors, Chris Mason and Thomas Johnson, both of whom have had extensive experience in Afghanistan, write that that the analysts at the Army Center concluded that by the time the ANA got to 100,000 troops, its annual losses from desertions and attrition would roughly equal its gains from recruitment,” Porter notes.

In addition to boosting the ANA, the U.S. wants to increase the number of police officers, commandos and border guards. That would bring the total size of Afghan security forces to about 400,000. Whether that’s realistic — or viable — remains to be seen.

Much of the media coverage of Obama’s upcoming Afghanistan speech will focus on U.S. troop levels. The same kind of scrutiny should be applied to the Afghan troop numbers the president will offer.


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