ANSF troop totals shrinking, still short by 20,000

Afghan National Security Forces have shrunk by 4,000 troops and policemen from last year and are still 20,000 people short of the numbers they expect to have in place by the end of next year, according to the government watchdog overseeing Afghanistan war spending.

The growth of a trained ANSF is considered one of the most important components of the U.S.-NATO plan to pull Western troops home and end international participation in combat there. Top Pentagon and congressional leaders frequently track and point to the importance of building Afghan forces.

The total number of people, or "end-strength," has shifted in the past year, however, as allies lowered their expectations for what size force Afghans could build and reconsidered what was needed to fill the gaps left by departing international troops.  

For several years the U.S. worked to build an Afghan force of 352,000 personnel. Last May, NATO leaders meeting in Chicago agreed to a smaller force of 228,500. But in February at NATO headquarters in Brussels, then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the allies and Afghan President Hamid Karzai were reconsidering the ANSF end-strength goal of 352,000.

But the Afghan army, air force, and police all are short of their goals, said John Sopko, the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR), in his latest quarterly report to Congress, released Tuesday. Sopko's two primary concerns as U.S. troops withdraw are overseeing the billions in direct assistance given to Afghanistan and examining the security needed to protect contractors and other government agencies still working there.

There is some confusion about what date that ANSF end-strength goals are to be met, Sopko contended. According to the inspector general, DOD has stated that the target of 352,000 ANSF is tied to December 2014.  But previously DOD had stated the Afghan army and police personnel goals were set for December 2013.

Looking at that date, last December, the Afghan National Army ranks were 11,559 people short of its final goal of 187,000 personnel. The police, by February 2013, were 6,000 people short of its final goal of 157,000. The Afghan Air Force has a final target of roughly 6,000 personnel by the end of next year, yet remains 1,000 short.

"This quarter, the ANSF force strength was 332,753 (181,834 assigned to the ANA and Afghan Air Force and 150,919 assigned to the ANP). This is 4,763 fewer than the 337,516 ANSF force strength in March 2012, and 19,247 fewer than the end strength goal," Spoko wrote.

The decline from 2012 is because Afghanistan previously was counting its civilian personnel in its troop totals, further masking the shortfall of uniformed personnel. 

In short, the Pentagon has no reliable way of tracking ANSF troop totals, he found.

"SIGAR and others have reported that determining ANSF strength is fraught with challenges. U.S. and Coalition forces rely on the Afghan forces to report their own personnel strength numbers, which are often derived from hand-prepared personnel records in decentralized, unlinked, and inconsistent systems. [Combined Security Transition Command - Afghanistan] reported last quarter that there was no viable method of validating personnel numbers."