Of all American military training programs around the world, the most publicized in recent years has been the one building up a local security force to replace U.S. (and NATO) troops as they ever so slowly withdraw from Afghanistan. By 2014, that country is supposed to possess an army and police force of at least 350,000. At staggering expense, their recruitment and training has been a Washington priority for years.
But here’s the twist: just about every year the training program has been operating, reports have appeared on its striking lack of success. These almost always mention the same problems: massive desertion rates (with “ghost soldiers” still being paid), heavy drug use, illiteracy, an unwillingness to fight, corruption, an inability of Afghan units to act independently of the U.S. military, and so on.
Year after year, Washington’s response to such problems has been no less repetitive. It has decided to pour yet more money into the program (over $29 billion through 2010). Again repetitively, with each new infusion of money come claims of “progress” and “improvement” — until, of course, the next dismal report arrives.
In 2011, the U.S. will spend almost $12 billion on the further training and upgrading of those security forces, with approximately $11 billion more promised for 2012. So here’s a shock: the latest reports on the program are now appearing and the news is not exactly upbeat.
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A recent summary of them described the situation this way: “According to U.S. government sources, only one of the Afghan National Army’s 161 units is capable of operating independently; this represents a regression from the four units that were rated as independent in June. No units of the police are capable of functioning without direct coalition assistance, and no sections of the ministries of Interior and Defense (which will soon be charged with managing the security situation) are capable of autonomous action… One in seven soldiers and police desert each month, and for every 10 soldiers trained another 13 trainees drop out.”
According to Steve Coll of the New Yorker magazine, the U.S. intelligence community is just completing a new national intelligence estimate on Afghanistan which reaches gloomy conclusions about the post-2014 fate of a force that impoverished country couldn’t possibly afford and that will cost the U.S. $10 billion or more a year to maintain into the distant future.
It is, by the way, nothing short of remarkable that the U.S. military trainers have proven quite so unsuccessful in a country famed for its martial tradition where, over more than three decades, war has become a way of life and the Taliban seems to have little trouble motivating its fighters to operate independently, despite lacking billions of dollars and foreign trainers.
Of course, Afghanistan is just a single pitstop (quagmire?) for globe-spanning, if little noted, Pentagon programs in which the U.S. military performs training missions with scads of other militaries. As he has recently with U.S. special operations forces deployments and the locations of drone bases worldwide, TomDispatch Associate Editor Nick Turse turns his attention to an aspect of the U.S. military’s global operations that Americans know next to nothing about, this time highlighting previously shadowy Pentagon training exercises in the Greater Middle East. These pieces are part of a new “Changing Face of Empire” series he’s writing, which will be an ongoing focus for this website in 2012. —Tom