PENTAGON— A U.S. government audit warns Afghanistan’s security forces may not be able to sustain themselves beyond a 2014 pullout of international troops. The audit found problems with the hiring and training of competent administrators to do everything from run power plants to basic accounting and purchases.
Afghan uniformed police in Helmand Province learn to read and write under an internationally funded literacy program. It is one of many in parts of the country that are now under Afghan government control.
It is here where the U.S. and NATO are fighting one of their biggest challenges in preparing Afghanistan to take full responsibility for its security before international forces pull out in 2014.
Nearly 70 percent of Afghans are functionally illiterate, and that makes it difficult to find qualified people to manage supply systems and infrastructure to sustain its security forces.
Those forces are growing. U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta - at a NATO meeting in Brussels last month - said efforts to train them are paying off.
"The number of Afghan security forces has now grown to about 350-thousand, and that larger force has maintained its recruitment and retention rates. Those forces have taken the lead to very complex combat operations, and they are suffering the vast majority of coalition casualties - a further sign that the Afghans have the willingness to sacrifice and take the fight to the enemy for their own future,” Panetta said.
But a report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction suggests those gains could be jeopardized. The report looked at the Afghan government’s operations and maintenance capabilities and concluded they are undeveloped - making the force incapable of sustaining itself when international troops leave.
It said one major problem is the high number of soldiers and contractors who are illiterate and cannot do things like basic accounting and purchasing, or read manuals and blueprints to operate power plants.
Security analyst Gary Schmitt of the American Enterprise Institute in Washington says the deficiencies are a major threat to peace in the country after 2014.
“Like every soldier, if you don't have food, if you don’t have equipment, if you don’t have ammunition, and particularly in a fledgling military like Afghanistan’s, what happens is people leave. The desertion rate is already high but if you’re not being equipped and you’re facing an enemy, you’re not going to stay in place. So it’s a serious question,” Schmitt said.
The U.S. administration has decided to pull American forces out by 2014, and Afghan leaders support that decision.
But they say they will still need international support beyond the withdrawal date.
Analysts say the inspector’s general report raises further question of whether Afghanistan is ready to secure itself beyond 2014.