After 10 years, no security unit is fit to take over from coalition in Afghanistan

The 2014 troop exit is threatened by the poor state of local police and army

Not a single Afghan police or army unit is capable of maintaining law and order in the war-torn country without the support of coalition forces,
The Independent on Sunday can reveal. Almost a decade after international troops were sent in to overthrow the Taliban and help to establish a functioning democracy in Afghanistan, a combination of poor training, lack of numbers, corruption and illiteracy has left the country unable to protect its own people.

The grim official assessment of the capabilities of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) is a major blow to the hopes of a troop withdrawal by 2014, a timescale that assumes the ANSF will be able to start taking the lead in fighting the Taliban from next month. The commander of Nato's mission to train the ANSF has admitted the task will not be complete until at least 2016.

This comes after a decade in which tens of billions of dollars have been spent building up the Afghan army and police. Yet they remain too dependent on coalition forces, according to the latest progress report on Afghanistan from the US Department of Defense. It cites assessments made in February that show how, of more than 400 Afghan units, none is rated as independent – defined as capable "without assistance from coalition forces".

The International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) will release another assessment this week, but experts are not expecting any major change. There are some signs of progress, with army units deemed effective "with advisers" up 45 per cent (from 42 to 61) and those effective "with assistance" rising by 73 per cent (from 49 to 85) between September 2010 and February 2011. But more than half of all police and army units need coalition soldiers to fight alongside them. Only a third are effective with just military advisers in support.

The report, looking at the period between October 2010 and March 2011, warns: "ANA [Afghan National Army] units are still too dependent on coalition forces for operations and, specifically, logistical support."

A "significant shortfall" of 740 trainers and mentors "poses a strategic risk to ANSF growth and an increased risk to transition". Citing the "slow development of governance", it warns that "despite the gains in security and in ANSF growth and development, the Afghan government faces significant political challenges which could potentially threaten the progress made in the last six months" while "extensive bureaucracy and areas of corruption continue to present serious challenges".

The US has spent more than $25bn (£15.4bn) to train and equip Afghan forces since 2001. The Afghan army has almost doubled in size in three years to more than 164,000, and the Afghan national police stands at 126,000. But the effort has been marred by focusing on quantity over quality, exacerbated by corruption, a continued shortage of trainers and infiltration by the Taliban.

Literacy remains a problem. Although more than 63,000 ANSF have completed literacy training since November 2009, none is above the reading age of a nine-year-old. Lieutenant General William B Caldwell, commander of the Nato's training mission in Afghanistan, admitted, "Nine out of 10 [new recruits] are totally illiterate and innumerate... Attrition in the army, if left unchecked, could undo much of the progress made."

Speaking in Washington last week, he hinted that politically driven timescales do not match reality. "Building quality into the ANSF requires strategic patience and enduring commitment... As far as the training mission goes, we won't complete what we need to do till about 2016/17."

This admission comes as coalition forces prepare for another bloody summer. Nato-led troops suffered record losses in April and May with 110 dead, the highest death toll for those two months since the war began. The Taliban spring/summer offensive is under way, marked by a string of high-profile assassinations of Afghan officials in recent weeks.

Bomb attacks across Afghanistan killed at least 21 people yesterday, as a UN report said May was the deadliest month for Afghan civilians since it began compiling statistics four years ago, with 961 killed or injured.

Yet President Barack Obama is due to start drawing down US troops this summer. And if he uses the death of Osama bin Laden to justify a faster exit than expected, this could trigger a larger withdrawal of British troops. However, the US defence secretary, Robert Gates, insisted last week there would be no "rush to the exits". Initially, Bamiyan and Panjshir, anti-Taliban strongholds, are the only provinces that will be handed over. Afghan forces will also take responsibility for the western city of Herat, the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif and Lashkar Gah in Helmand.

Ahmad Majidyar, senior research associate at the American Enterprise Institute, said: "Lack of equipment remains ANA officers' primary concern, who say the army was better prepared under the Soviets than now."

What the experts say... 'The real issue is corruption'

"They face serious challenges developing capacity, and growing problems in maintaining loyalty, morale and troop cohesion as the insurgency gains ground andtalk of deals with the Taliban divides Afghan people alongethnic lines."

Candace Rondeaux; Senior analyst, International Crisis Group

"How many Afghan generals, lieutenants, and officers have you seen falling in battles over the past 10 years? We lose soldiers but not officers. What would motivate those soldiers to defend a territory against the Taliban?"

Yama Torabi; Director, Integrity Watch Afghanistan

"The ANSF can still lead while receiving logistics support. They are the pointy end of the spear. We'll still make up some of the shaft of the spear for a while yet."

Dr Paul Miller; Former director for Afghanistan on the US National Security Council

"The real issue is corruption – to what extent is the ANSF insulated from that? If not, we could spend money on training and equipment for a million years and it wouldn't produce real improvement."

Dr Stephen Biddle; Senior fellow for defence policy, Council on Foreign Relations

"Most of their British trainers say that the quality of ANA units is 'OK', and that they are competent to do the basic job."

Professor Michael Clarke; Director, Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies

"The Western-led ANSF build-up is rather quantitative than qualitative, with no guarantee of sustainability. Who will pay for all these soldiers, police and militiamen when Western financial inputs decrease after 2014?"

Thomas Ruttig; Co-director, Afghan Analysts Network

"We did not seriously invest in this force until 2008; the money did not really show up, along with the equipment and the facilities, until the spring of last year."

Anthony Cordesman; Chair in strategy, Center for Strategic and International Studies

"While the ANSF may be able to take increasing responsibility alone in some of the lower-risk areas, they're nowhere near ready to do so in the most troubled provinces, such as Kandahar and Helmand."

Colonel Richard Kemp; Former commander of British forces in Afghanistan

"Ethnic and tribal factionalism and weak civilian oversight risk ANA's disintegration if Nato forces leave prematurely, as happened after the Soviet 1979 withdrawal."

Ahmad Majidyar; Senior research associate at the American Enterprise Institute

"They are entering into a critical period of development, and it's a real time of uncertainty. We realise they're going to be tested very heavily by the enemy."

Lieutenant-General William B Caldwell; Commander of Nato's training mission in Afghanistan

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Sport
Amir Khan is engaged in a broader battle than attempting to win a fight with Floyd Mayweather
boxing Exclusive: Amir Khan reveals plans to travel to Pakistan
News
Stacey Dooley was the only woman to be nominated in last month’s Grierson awards
mediaClare Balding and Davina McCall among those overlooked for Grierson awards
Voices
Joseph Kynaston Reeves arguing with Russell Brand outside the RBS’s London offices on Friday
voicesDJ Taylor: The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a worker's rant to Russell Brand
News
Twitchers see things differently, depending on their gender
scienceNew study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
News
i100
News
Xander van der Burgt, at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
scienceA Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick