ANSF unable to sustain self by 2014, warns watchdog

In its latest scathing audit about the state of Afghanistan, the independent U.S. watchdog for war spending said on Wednesday that country was likely “incapable” of sustaining its own security forces after 2014, in part because not enough Afghan troops and contractors know how to read.

A spokesman for the office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) said despite spending $800 million in NATO funding, the Afghanistan National Security Forces (ANSF) likely will not be able to keep up its facilities after 2014 due to inadequate troop levels and quality (literacy), and not-ready-for-primetime “budgeting, procurement and logistics systems.”

The report comes just weeks after a group of visiting Afghan generals in the Pentagon said they feared when the international community pulled out, in 2014, it would leave Afghanistan short of logistical capabilities, as well as basic equipment and intelligence assets.

The watchdog criticized the contractors tasked to run sustainment operations for Afghan forces while training Afghans in preparation for their 2014 takeover. It also took Afghans to task for not being able to handle basic organizational services, such as budgeting. SIGAR said that the key contract for such services to parts of northern Afghanistan would run short of funds 16 months before the end of the contract, in March 2014.

The report, titled, “Afghan National Security Forces Facilities: Concerns With Funding, Oversight, And Sustainability For Operation And Maintenance,” was released on Wednesday. The SIGAR office was created by Congress to keep tabs on billions of U.S. funds flowing through Afghanistan. The current SIGAR is John Sopko, who was sworn in last July and has hit the ground running with a faster pace and scope of auditing than was occurring previously.

NATO Training Mission –Afghanistan (NMT-A) obligated $800 million in 2011 to provide “operation and maintenance” (O&M) services “until the Afghan government is able to handle O&M,” SIGAR explains in its report. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers awarded two key contracts for the work. As of June, they covered 480 facilities, which SIGAR’s audit found handled roughly half of the Afghan army and police forces.

But by that time, the Afghan government only had filled fewer than half of the assigned positions on its side of the fence, citing among other reasons the lack of skills such as water treatment facilitators and the ability to read.

SIGAR recommended that the contractor ITT Exelis Systems Corporation (Exelis) begin doing the site visits it was supposed to have done, stepping up quality control.

“The complexity of these critical facilities requires skilled, experienced personnel who can operate and maintain them independently, which most Afghan personnel are currently unable to do. For example, Exelis officials told us that an individual must be able to read O&M and technical manuals and blueprints in order to operate power and waste water treatment plants.”

The Army Corps of Engineers said, according to the report, it agreed with SIGAR’s recommendations regarding the contractor.

In the Pentagon, Defense Department spokesman Cmdr. Bill Speaks, said, "Our mission is to make sure that Afghan National Security Forces are able to sustain their facilities after 2014. We welcome periodic audits that identify problems and obstacles to achieving that goal, and we will certainly make all necessary adjustments to our training to ensure we meet that goal." Speaks also said the U.S. and other countries already have committed to support the ANSF.

You can read more of the report here.