WASHINGTON — Afghanistan's military and police aren't on track to meet President Barack Obama's 18-month timetable for starting to withdraw U.S. troops, according to a report released on Monday by an independent watchdog group.
Despite assurances last week by Army Gen. David Petraeus, the newly appointed U.S. Commander in Afghanistan, that the Afghan National Security Forces are making significant progress in anticipation of Obama's July 2011 deadline, the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction said that the benchmarks that are being used to assess the security forces are misleading.
"Serious challenges affect U.S. and Coalition assessment efforts, including security conditions, mentor shortages, and inadequate training," the report said. "Further, systemic (Afghan security force) deficiencies have undermined efforts to develop unit capabilities."
An independent, effective Afghan military and police force are key for U.S. troops to begin their departure from a nearly nine year conflict that's cost more than 1,100 American lives, it said.
The report's criticisms of Afghan military training range from logistics problems to drug abuse and illiteracy.
The report points to shortcomings in the Capability Milestone system that's used to assess the progress of training Afghan forces. The inspector general found that the system, implemented in 2005, has unreliable assessments, inconsistent results, outdated information and disincentives for overall improvement.
"(The) ratings have not provided consistent and reliable measures of progress toward the goal of developing self-sustaining security forces for Afghanistan," the report said.
The Pentagon had no comment.
According to the report, the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan and the Defense Department have stated their concerns about the rating system. The International Joint Committee said it plans to implement a new system, which the special inspector general's report said will to be more consistent and reliable.
"Without such measures, decision makers will not have a clear understanding of the extent to which progress is being made in developing Afghan security forces capable of independently conducting operations, and ultimately securing Afghanistan," the report said.
Last week, Petraeus testified that the Afghan National Security Forces are on their way to securing their country in accordance with the 18-month withdrawal timetable.
"Afghan security forces are now on track to meet their targeted end-strength objectives by the end of this year, based on improvements that have been made in recruiting and in reducing attrition," Petraeus said.
With the 65,000-troop increase since January 2009, the Afghan combat missions have demonstrated a "gradual but important progress", Petraeus said.
Petraeus estimated the size of the Afghan National Security Forces at about 231,000.
According to U.S. military statistics, however, the goal for the number of Afghan trainees for October 2011 isn't close to being met. The target is to have approximately 300,000 Afghans training for the police and military by that time. Currently, there are roughly 224,000 in training.
Petraeus will testify Tuesday before the Senate Armed Services Committee, which is part of his confirmation as the replacement for Gen. Stanley McChrystal as the top commander in Afghanistan. McChrystal was ousted by Obama last week and announced his retirement from the Army Monday.
ON THE WEB
MORE FROM MCCLATCHY