Not A Single Afghan Battalion Fights Without U.S. Help

Thursday, October 6th, 2011

Not a single Afghan battalion fights without U.S. help, Spencer Ackerman reports — and that’s not about to change:

Ten years of war. Two years of an accelerated effort to train Afghans to take over that fight, at an annual cost of $6 billion. And not a single Afghan army battalion can operate without assistance from U.S. or allied units.

That was the assessment made by the officer responsible for training those Afghan soldiers, Lt. Gen. William Caldwell. Out of approximately 180 Afghan National Army battalions, only two operate “independently.” Except that “independently,” in Caldwell’s National Training Mission-Afghanistan command, means something different than “independently” does in the States.

Those two “independent” battalions still require U.S. support for their maintenance, logistics and medical systems,” Caldwell admitted when Pentagon reporters pressed him on Monday morning.

“Today, we haven’t developed their systems to enable them to do that yet,” Caldwell said.

Building up foreign armies isn’t easy. During 2008’s battle for Basra, Iraqi forces relied heavily on U.S. and British support — and still saw more than a thousand desertions. That was four years after then Maj. Gen. David Petraeus took over the training of the Iraqi military.

For the past two years, Caldwell’s overseen a big push to expand, professionalize and train Afghan soldiers and cops. Caldwell has gotten bodies into uniforms: the Afghan army and police total 305,516 today, up from 196,508 last December, and they’re “on track,” Caldwell says, to reach 352,000 by November 2012.

Caldwell praised Afghan police officers during the Taliban’s audacious attack on Kabul earlier this month. Two separate cops “literally did a bear hug” on separate suicide bombers in different places around the city, sacrificing themselves in the process. “Policemen were doing heroic deeds,” Caldwell said.

But most of Afghanistan’s men in uniform can’t read at a kindergarten level, much less understand the instrument panels on a helicopter or the serial numbers on their rifles.

That’s one reason why it’ll be years before the U.S. takes its training wheels off the Afghan soldiers’ bikes. Although the Obama administration plans to turn the war over to forces Caldwell trains by 2014, Caldwell told Danger Room in June that the Afghans will need U.S. training until as late as 2017.

That is, if attrition doesn’t get in the way. Caldwell expressed alarm that 1.4 percent of Afghan cops and 2.3 percent of Afghan soldiers walk off the job every month, saying that if “left unchecked [attrition] could undo much of the progress made to date.” Yet last week, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta testified that attrition rates are “as much as three percent per month.


  1. Johnny Abacus says:

    The contrast between this and a comment you linked to earlier is astounding.

    “Since officers and NCOs usually comprise only 5% or less of total force, Westerners could create large, competent armies seemingly out of thin air just by supplying merit selected officers with Western organizational training and expectations. Small, highly trained and highly disciplined forces routinely defeated the mob armies.”

  2. Borepatch says:

    This is depressing beyond words.

    I guess it shouldn’t be unexpected.

Leave a Reply