Afghan military forces face heavy turnover rates and a lack of quality equipment, shortcomings that are keeping the country from being self-sustaining even after 18 years of war and $83 billion in US security support, the US special inspector general for Afghanistan Reconstruction, John F. Sopko, said on Monday.
The SIGAR office completed six “lessons learned” reports to evaluate what worked and what failed in the rebuilding effort. The most recent report on the Afghan security forces was released in June.
Sopko said at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) on Monday that the basic problem was often just trying to figure out who was in charge.
Too often, he said, “no single person, agency, military service, or country responsible [was] for the oversight of all US and international activities to develop the Afghan security forces”.
He raised concerns that despite Washington’s efforts, Afghan security forces may not be capable of sustaining peace, even if a deal with the Taliban can be reached.
SIGAR estimates the US alone has spent about $18 billion to equip Afghanistan’s security forces, buying more than 600,000 weapons, 70,000 vehicles and more than 200 aircraft.
But SIGAR audits have found that US and NATO efforts have often been unorganized, with Afghan forces suffering as a result.
“Afghan security forces cannot survive without external donor support, both financial and technical,” Mr. Sopko said at the Center for Strategic and International Studies on Monday. “Many advisers were unaware that the Afghan security forces prioritize the evacuation of deceased personnel over critically wounded based on religious customs.”
“Problems don’t miraculously disappear. We, and other oversight bodies, have identified problems that affected reconstruction. And some of these problems could affect lasting peace,” he said.
The constant turnover, shifting agendas and the division of labor across agencies, military branches and countries have consistently undercut the Afghan rebuilding process, Mr. Sopko said.
“Without the guidance of a comprehensive, expert-designed and enduring multiyear plan to guide all security-sector activities, the US’s approach often changed with each personnel rotation,” he said.
Among the 36 recommendations outlined in the report, the SIGAR’s office said plans must be developed now for peacetime challenges such as drug trafficking, economic development and security.
“Failure to plan now is planning to fail once peace is declared, ” said Mr. Sopko.
The report comes amid ongoing peace efforts by the Afghan and US governments which will allow the two allies to find a political settlement to the conflict in Afghanistan. But the Taliban has continued attack on government targets as the talks have proceeded and are demanding all US and foreign troops pull out before talks with the Afghan government can begin.