Report: Afghan forces will need help beyond 2014
WASHINGTON — Afghan security forces are growing in capability and control all major cities and provincial capitals, but they’ll need help from the U.S. and its allies through the end of 2014 and beyond, according to the Pentagon’s biannual report to Congress on the progress of the war.
The United States is close to achieving its goals for development of Afghan security forces, said Peter Lavoy, acting assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific security.
“The progress we’ve made in Afghanistan would have been practically unimaginable five years ago,” he told reporters at the Pentaqon on Tuesday.
Until the exact size and structure of a postwar troop presence is made clear — a decision the Obama administration continues to weigh — it’s uncertain whether the gains made against the Taliban in the 12-year-old war can be sustained, defense officials said in the report, which covers October 2012 through March 2013.
Getting the post-2014 force level right has been a topic of the intense debate in national security circles. Though the administration of President Barack Obama has hinted during spats with Afghan president Hamid Karzai that the United States considers no troops — the “zero option” — a possibility, military leaders say U.S. troops will be needed there for years to come.
“Our presence post-2014 is necessary for the gains we have made to date to be sustainable,” said Gen. Joseph Dunford, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, The New York Times reported Monday.
The size of that follow-on force is up in the air.
Gen. James Mattis, former U.S. Central Command head, told Congress in March he recommended 13,600 U.S. troops. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey endorsed a total NATO force of 8,000 to 12,000 troops in April. Dunford followed up by telling Congress additional troops would be needed for the counterterrorism mission Obama has countenanced.
Afghan National Security Forces will need support after 2014 particularly with logistics and contracting, air support missions and artillery, the report noted. Their ability to function without extensive U.S. or NATO aid is gradually increasing, with 35 of 166 army battalions classified as “independent with advisors.” The total in late 2012 was 30.
The ANSF are leading nearly 90 percent of combat missions and have rising casualty numbers to prove it, with nearly 350 troops killed in action in March, according to the report. U.S. casualties meanwhile have fallen dramatically as Afghan forces take the lead.
The Taliban, the Pentagon report said, remains a “resilient insurgency that uses sanctuaries in Pakistan to attempt to regain lost ground and influence through continued high-profile attacks and assassinations.” Pakistani forces have focused mainly on attacking insurgents that target Pakistan, not those that operate in Afghanistan, it said.
The number of enemy attacks throughout the country has held steady from the same period the previous year, the report said, while discounting the importance of the attacks as an index of security.
“As the nature of the conflict has evolved, it has become clear that a tally of [enemy-initiated attacks] is not now, nor was it ever, the most complete measure of the campaign’s progress,” the report said.
The Pentagon admitted in February its claim of a 7 percent reduction in attacks from 2011 to 2012 was unfounded, because analysts had not included some ANSF reports in the total.
Green-on-blue attacks dropped to 13 from 15 during the same period a year ago. The Pentagon also said that 11 attacks since 2007 have been reclassified as insider attacks, bringing the current total to 102, with 92 U.S. servicemember deaths, the report said.
Additionally, there was an overall drop of 10 percent in Afghan civilian casualties caused by all sides compared to the same time frame a year ago, with casualties caused by ISAF dropping 60 percent thanks to new rules and procedures, the report said.