Thanks to high-level leaks, we now know semiofficially that President Obama plans to deploy 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan, that he will announce a time frame for withdrawal and that his exit strategy (as well as Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s) depends on the expansion of the dysfunctional Afghanistan National Army.
There’s a lot to worry about in Afghanistan, but linking our exit there to the success of the much-troubled ANA is a terrifying prospect.
One must, first of all, be skeptical of the numbers. The Pentagon reportedly uses accounting tricks to inflate the size of the ANA. Turnover is said to be around 25 percent and roughly 19 percent don’t show up or aren’t otherwise available for duty.
Those who do make it can be incompetent and corrupt. As one U.S. Army officer responsible for training the ANA recently told Chris Hedges, ANA soldiers leave American training “grossly unqualified” or worse. The officer shared this example from his time in Afghanistan: “In Kabul, on one humanitarian aid mission I was on, we handed out school supplies to children, and in an attempt to lend validity to the ANA we had them [ANA members] distribute the supplies. As it turns out, we received intelligence reports that that very same group of ANA had been extorting money from the villagers under threat of violence. In essence, we teamed up with well-known criminals and local thugs to distribute aid in the very village they had been terrorizing, and that was the face of American charity.”
There will be a lot of chatter about the Afghan army in the coming days and weeks, much of it misleading. If you haven’t already, read Hedges’ devastating column on the subject. —PZS