WASHINGTON, D.C. (Talk Media News) – As the Afghan government continues to fight threats from extremist groups including the Taliban, al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, its security forces have struggled to keep personnel enlisted and effective.
Going into 2016, the Afghan National Army stands short 25,000 personnel, a spokesman for the NATO mission in Afghanistan said Tuesday, putting it at roughly 170,000 forces. The Afghan Army will attempt to close that gap over the next six months.
A Reuters analysis published Monday citing U.S. military figures found that the Afghan army had to replace about a third of its force in 2015 because of “desertions, casualties and low re-enlistment rates.”
With this, Spokesman for the NATO operation in Afghanistan, Resolute Support Mission, U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Wilson Shoffner on Tuesday spelled out the “fundamental things that the Afghan security forces have got to do to be effective.” He included that the Afghan security forces had “mixed results” in their first year since NATO ended its combat mission in Afghanistan, leaving the front line fighting to locals.
A three part “a force readiness cycle” that moves soldiers from training to operation to rest is integral to improving the force, said Shoffner.
Testifying before Congress in October, U.S. Army General John Campbell, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, said that Afghan soldiers rarely get time off, with personnel in some areas “in a consistent fight for three years.”
This cycle will temporarily retire equipment for repairs as well.
“When units have an issue with attrition, it typically is traced back to poor leadership,” Shoffner said Tuesday. “Soldiers have to be paid on time, they have to be fed on time, and they’ve got to be given leave when they deserve leave. If one of those things, or a combination of those things doesn’t happen, then the soldiers leave.”
Shoffner said that the Afghan security forces are making the needed changes, training new leaders and replacing those that have given into corruption.
This also means moving away from paper payroll records that make corruption easy. Currently, army unit paymasters are given cash and then distribute that cash to soldiers.
“If you don’t have proper accountability, you don’t know who you have and can’t insure you’re paying the soldiers who are actually there,” Shoffner said.
Earlier this month, the Associated Press reported on “ghost” troops, forces that the government pays but exist on paper alone. These forces, the AP wrote, quoting a local politician, could be “getting paid a salary but not doing the job because they are related to someone important,” or could be dead forces who remain on the books with senior officials “pocketing their salaries without replacing them.”
The Afghan National Police have been using a mobile money platform that allows the automated transfer of funds from the government to the officer, Shoffner said. And, the National Army is looking into using the same procedure.
There needs to be “a computer based, automated system that is audit-able, that is transparent so it can be accessed from anywhere,” said Shoffner.
The Afghan Army must also must also move away from the strict use of check points which occupy too many forces, Shoffner said.
“There’s an old military saying that, ‘If you defend everywhere, you defend no where,’ and this is particularly true in Afghanistan,” he said. Because the forces are stationed at check points, they aren’t able to maneuver quickly or respond to security crises when they arise, said Shoffner.
The U.S. is currently operating in Afghanistan in a “train, advise and assist” role. There 9,800 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, with the Obama administration currently planning to drop that force to 5,500 by the end of the year.
Campbell told USA Today last month that he wants to keep as many forces in Afghanistan for as long as possible, citing the tumultuous security situation.