WASHINGTON — The Afghan National Army, a pillar of the U.S. strategy for stabilizing Afghanistan and withdrawing U.S. troops next year, is riddled with corruption, ethnic friction and rivalries among its highest leaders that are hampering its ability to fight the Taliban-led insurgency, according to a new study.
"Ethnic frictions and political factionalism among high-level players in the Ministry of Defense (MOD) and the general staff have . . . stunted the army's growth," says the report by the International Crisis Group, a respected independent crisis monitoring organization. "As a result, the army is a fragmented force, serving disparate interests, and far from attaining the unified national character needed to confront numerous security threats."
The report, a copy of which was obtained by McClatchy, is set to be issued later this week as Afghan President Hamid Karzai and many of his top officials are on a four-day visit to Washington to sooth serious friction with the Obama administration.
Karzai and his delegation spent much of the day Tuesday at the State Department meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other senior U.S. civilian and defense officials involved in overseeing policy toward Afghanistan.
Expanding and improving the Afghan army is at the heart of the strategy that President Barack Obama unveiled in December for crushing the Taliban-led insurgency, preventing the country's reversion to a sanctuary for al Qaida and beginning a U.S. military withdrawal in July 2011.
The new report raises serious doubts about the U.S. effort, which calls for expanding the ANA to 240,000 troops from 90,000 by 2013. The report warns that continued problems "could risk the army's disintegration after the withdrawal of international forces."
The United States has been the biggest contributor of funds, trainers and equipment to the Afghan military since the U.S.-led 2001 intervention that drove the Taliban and al Qaida leaders into neighboring Pakistan.
However, despite spending $25 billion so far on the effort, the U.S. goal of creating a largely self-sufficient Afghan army is far from being attained, the report says.
"Despite billions of dollars of international investment, army combat readiness has been undermined by weak recruitment and retention policies, inadequate logistics, insufficient training and equipment and inconsistent leadership," said the report. "The U.S. emphasis on rapid expansion of the army, in response to the growing insurgent threat, could strain (the U.S.-led military training program) and outpace the capacity of Afghan leaders to manage an inherently unwieldy system."
A conflict between Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak, a member of Afghanistan's dominant Pashtun tribe, and chief of staff Gen. Bismullah Khan, a Tajik, "has caused deadlocks over control of staff, resources and operations, severely impeding the army's development," the report says. "It has also fueled corruption within the MOD (Ministry of Defense) and ANA and bred subversion within the military."
Nevertheless, the report concludes: "The army enjoys more popular support than many other state institutions, and its development is much further along than the ANP's (Afghan National Police). "There is, however, no guarantee that the army can sustain its current rate of growth, and many challenges remain including lack of leadership, low literacy, and poor logistics capabilities. While factionalism and corruption within the defense ministry pose as serious a threat to the army as the insurgency (and) . . . further expanding the army without addressing these underlying problems could worsen rather than improve security."
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