General McChrystal's plan for Afghanistan has 2 major elements. The first element is to increase U.S. combat troops strength by about 40,000 to subdue AlQaeda, the Taliban and unfriendly warlords. The second, element is to build up the strength of the Afghan army and to train them to replace our troops. The high loss rate of Afghan troops throws this strategy into doubt.
The softer side of McChrystal’s strategy has two main thrusts: training Afghan soldiers and police and persuading insurgents to change sides. It is here where the best chances of long-term success in Afghanistan may lie.
The first of these is a vast, expensive and painstaking project. In the ninth year of the war, Afghan forces are neither large nor able enough to take over for NATO. The Afghan Army has about 85,000 soldiers, and the police force has about 80,000 men. McChrystal wants to boost the size of the army to about 240,000 and the police to 160,000. "I think we can do it," he told me.
Accounting changes make the planned build up of the Afghan Army look more achievable than it really is.
That deceptive accounting change obscured the fact that the total number of personnel assigned to ANA units in September 2009 was actually 82,000 rather than the 94,000 shown, and that the increase in ANA personnel over the year was only 16,000 rather than 28,000.
In 2003 to 2005 the desertion rate was even higher than this year, causing DoD analysts to question if it the troop strength of the Afghan army could ever be raised to 100,000. The loss rate improved in 2006 and 2007 but over the past year loss rate has been growing at an accelerating rate.
But an administration source, who insisted on speaking without attribution because of the sensitivity of the subject, confirmed to Inter Press Service (IPS) that 25% 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.
The 35,000 troops recruited in the year ending September 1 is the highest by the ANA in any year thus far, but the net increase of 19,000 troops for the year is 33% less than the 26,000 net increases during both of the previous two years.
Those figures indicate that the rate of turnover in the ANA is accelerating rather than slowing down. That acceleration could increase further, as the number of troops whose three-year enlistment contracts end rises rapidly in the next couple of years. Meanwhile, the Defense Department (DoD) sought to obscure the problem of the high ANA turnover rate in its reports to the US Congress on Afghanistan in January and June 2009, which avoided the issues of attrition and desertion entirely.
U.S. forces could achieve all of the objectives of McChrystal's plan on the battlefield then find that the Afghan Army is too small in numbers and too undisciplined to maintain security. There is no credible evidence that McChrystal's goal of building ANA troop levels to 240,000 is achievable. This is a recipe for a quagmire.
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