WASHINGTON — Despite spending more than $200 million, NATO's efforts to to teach Afghan soldiers and police reading, writing and arithmetic have failed to reach many of their goals, according to a report released Tuesday.
In 2009, the NATO training command set a goal for the end of 2014 that all Afghan security forces would have a first-grade level of literacy, and that half would be able to read and write at the third-grade level. The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction found that 64% had first-grade ability and 21% were at the third-grade level. The police and army have about 352,000 personnel.
Literacy for Afghan security forces has been cited as a key to their ability to establish law and order in the war-torn country. U.S.-led forces will leave Afghanistan at the end this year unless an agreement to keep them there is reached soon, according to the Pentagon.
"Literacy of the Afghan National Security Forces is of critical importance," John Sopko, the special inspector general, said in a statement.. "We've spent $200 million on this — yet we don't even know how many Afghan security forces are literate or how well the program worked. That's deeply disturbing."
Several NATO training officials told Sopko's investigators that "they do not know how the goal for the literacy program was developed, but that attaining it based on the current authorized ANSF end strength may be 'unrealistic' and 'unattainable,'" the report said.
Several hours before Sopko's report was released, NATO announced that it had awarded new contracts to deal with problems it had identified in literacy training. The changes include improved oversight of contractors involved in training.
The report notes that, overall, one-third of Afghan adults are literate, while just 13% of security forces can read and write. Until four years ago, standards for recruits were virtually non-existent. In 2011, the top training official in Afghanistan told USA TODAY that prior to December 2009, recruits "could be literally pulled off the street and made a police officer."
In 2010, NATO issued contracts for $200 million program to establish basic literacy among recruits. The ability to read and write is essential for reading training manuals, keeping inventory of weapons and accounting for pay.
Other findings of the report:
• Some command officials responsible for literacy training estimated that roughly half of Afghan forces were still illiterate as of February 2013.
• Between July 2012 and February 2013, 45% of Afghan national police were deployed without any literacy training.
• Attrition rates of 30% to 50% mean that it is unlikely that the personnel who passed literacy tests are still serving.
NATO's figures on training differ from the inspector general. It maintains that 233,600 Afghan security forces perform at the first-grade level; 98,700 at the second-grade level and 76,800 at the third-grade level.