1 of 4 Afghan Combat Troops Went AWOL or Quit

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The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) recently released figures that show 1 out of 4 Afghan combat troops went AWOL or quit in the year ending in September. Desertion rates are so high and retention rates so low that Gen. McChrystal’s plans to build up the Afghan National Army (ANA) to replace American troops for Afghan security will not work, if the trends continue, because the ANA can get barely enough recruits to replace the losses. Making matters even worse, the loss rate is accelerating while the growth of the ANA is slowing. Moreover, A U.S. GAO report showed the ANA has a 19% absenteeism rate, leaving just 26,000 troops available for combat.

To fight this growing problem the DoD changed accounting procedures in September 2008. Formerly, only troops that were trained and assigned to a unit were counted. Now everyone, including green recruits, is included in the overall strength figures.

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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  1. isn’t the whole point of this exercise at all. The point is to have an endless war to pour the public money into the coffers of General Dynamics, Lockheed Martin, etc.  

    And, this has always been the Democrats version of a jobs plan (see Vietnam) –let everyone join the army, or build bombs.  

  2. a little more unstable. Vietnam was winding down after

    8 years, and now we’ve decided to escalate. The so called “experts” are deluded. The hundreds of thousands of fighters in the Afghan/Pakistan region don’t label themselves as Taliban or Al Qaida per se. There are literally millions of individual actors and groups of actors whose loyalty is to their soil. The War Lords are just bigger actors with a lot of loyalists.

    This escalation isn’t based on reality, but on preconceived policy not much different than the previous administration. It is Vietnam, but a lot better managed by Washington: More anticeptic, volunteer army, tied in to 9/11, national security, terrorism, etc. Basically, the domino theory has been rewritten to fit a more direct approach, fear of people who want to kill us. And the cash register rings for the profiteers, just like ALL wars.

    I get the distinct feeling that Obama has about as much control over the Pentagon as JFK did.  

  3. Seemed a staggering statistic, couldn’t figure out how they could pull it off.

    Afghans — yes, sounds reasonable. Predictable. Tale of the last hundreds if not thousands of years. Very independent folks, those Afghans.  

    • gjohnsit on November 27, 2009 at 10:10 pm

    The Vietnam War ended more because of a threatened breakdown in the military (including company-wide mutinies) than because of civil protests at home.

      Repeated forced tour of duties was bound to cause this breakdown. Unlike Vietnam, this is happening with the volunteers, the most patriotic of all.

     The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will soon end, whether the chicken-hawks in Congress, and the war-mongers in the Pentagon want it or not.

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