3 February 2015, NYT: U.S. Declassifies Some Information on Afghan Forces
29 January 2015, NYT: U.S. Suddenly Goes Quiet on Effort to Bolster Afghan Forces
MARCH 3, 2015
Figures From U.S.-Led Coalition Show Heavy 2014 Losses for Afghan Army
By MATTHEW ROSENBERG and AZAM AHMED
WASHINGTON -- The Afghan Army lost more than 20,000 fighters and others last year largely because of desertions, discharges and deaths in combat, according to figures to be released Tuesday, casting further doubt on Afghanistan's ability to maintain security without help from United States-led coalition forces.
The nearly 11 percent decline from January to November 2014, to roughly 169,000 uniformed and civilian members from 190,000, is now an issue of deep concern among some in the American military. For example, the former No. 2 American commander in Afghanistan, Lt. Gen. Joseph Anderson, called the rate of combat deaths unsustainable  before he departed at the end of last year.
Concern over how soon Afghan forces will be ready to stand on their own is one reason that the Obama administration is weighing whether it should slow the withdrawal of American troops, the bulk of whom are supposed to be out by the end of 2016.
The newly available numbers also lay bare the challenge faced by the 10,000 American troops and thousands of private contractors who have remained in Afghanistan since the end of the combat mission in December to help prepare Afghan forces to fight the Taliban on their own.
The American-led military coalition, citing internal figures, said the Afghan Army's size had inched back up in the past few months, reaching about 173,000 in January. But that would still put the army at its smallest level since the fall of 2011, when the American project to build viable Afghan security forces was still in its early stages and the coalition did almost all the fighting against the Taliban militants.
More than three years on, the American combat mission is now over and the Afghan military is supposed to be fully in charge of securing its own country. But the army, along with the Afghan police, struggled last year to hold back a resurgent Taliban, and Afghan forces remain far more reliant on American air support, logistics and raids  by Special Operations forces than the Obama administration had intended going into this year.
Most of the losses in the Afghan Army over the past year appear to be due to desertion, the coalition said in a written response to questions about the newly declassified data. Smaller percentages came from ordinary discharges and, more worryingly, from deaths in combat, of which there were more than 1,200 last year, a record for the army.
But no matter the reasons, the numbers cast a harsh spotlight on one inescapable fact: The army, the centerpiece of the American-led campaign to stabilize Afghanistan, is losing people far faster than it can replace them. The rate of decline, if not reversed, could leave the army effectively incapable of fighting the Taliban across much of Afghanistan within the next year or two, according to some American military officials and analysts.
The data being released on Tuesday -- a month after the American military abruptly reversed its decision  to keep data about the Afghan security forces classified -- is being published by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, an American government watchdog agency that puts out quarterly reports on American spending in Afghanistan.
Until late last year, the inspector general's reports regularly included details about Afghan forces, such as the size of the army and the police. Then the American military command in Afghanistan decided to classify most of the basic data  it had been supplying about the Afghan Army and police. It argued that the public release of the data would imperil Afghan and coalition forces.
That decision provoked sharp criticism from Congress and within the command itself when it became public in January. The military reversed itself about a week later, saying that, upon further review, it could safely release the information.
The American command has not elaborated further on its decision. But ahead of the release of the data on Tuesday it said that it was working with the government of Afghanistan to make leadership changes in the Afghan Army in an effort to stem the desertion rate, which has been a problem for years.
The coalition said it was also helping to improve the Afghans' ability to evacuate wounded soldiers from the battlefield and get them properly treated, and training and equipping Afghan forces to better find and neutralize improvised explosive devices, which remain the most deadly weapon in the Taliban's arsenal.
Since the United States and its allies began building Afghan forces in earnest in 2009, the size of the Afghan Army has oscillated, sometimes falling by thousands of troops from month to month. Desertion has been a persistent problem, and the army has never reached its target strength, which currently stands at 195,000 people.
But the long-term trend appeared to be generally upward until the start of 2014, when Afghan forces took on the lead combat role across the country -- and the army's numbers started what would become an 11-month decline.
The report, which was provided to The New York Times ahead of its release, was supposed to be published last week. But a day before its scheduled release, the coalition command in Afghanistan quietly informed the inspector general that it had been supplying incorrect data on the size of the Afghan Army through all of last year.
The incorrect data overestimated the strength of the army by thousands of troops. At one point last year, the incorrect data counted nearly 14,000 more Afghan troops than there now appears to have been at the time.
The coalition attributed the problem to what it called an accounting error, and offered no further explanation, the inspector general's report said. It remains unclear whether data for years before 2014 was similarly corrupted.
Matthew Rosenberg reported from Washington, and Azam Ahmed from Kabul, Afghanistan.