Report faults U.S. for being too optimistic about Afghan security capabilities

A look inside the partnership between U.S. Marines and Afghan soldiers in an area in southern Afghanistan called Marja
By Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The U.S. military has systematically overstated or failed to adequately measure the capabilities of Afghan security forces, whose performance is key to the Obama administration's exit strategy for the war, according to a new government audit.

Efforts to prepare and equip Afghan forces are also plagued by a shortage of U.S.-led coalition trainers and mentors and a corrupt and inadequate Afghan logistics system, the report by the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction said.

The coalition did not challenge the findings and acknowledged significant ongoing problems. But it said the report, released Monday, was outdated and failed to take sufficient account of recent improvements in the training program.

(See a PDF of the full report.)

Gen. David H. Petraeus, whom President Obama nominated last week to head U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, is likely to face questions about the effort to train Afghan security forces at a confirmation hearing Tuesday. Under the administration's plan, the U.S.-led coalition will begin transferring control of some areas to Afghan security forces beginning in July 2011.

Sen. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told reporters Monday that plans for coalition forces to outnumber their Afghan counterparts in an upcoming offensive in Kandahar were "totally unacceptable."

"It runs exactly contrary to what needs to be done in terms of the success of this mission, to put Afghans more in front," Levin said. "What's going on? Why is that true? Why is that still the case?"

According to the Kandahar plan presented to NATO leaders in Brussels this month by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, who was ousted as coalition commander by Obama last week, the operation will include 11,850 mostly American foreign troops and 8,500 Afghan military and police personnel.

Levin said he would also press Petraeus on his support for the July 2011 U.S. withdrawals. At a recent hearing, Petraeus hesitated when asked to voice his support for the deadline, which many in the military oppose, then emphasized that it would mark the beginning of a transition to Afghan control that would have a pace and scope that would depend on "conditions on the ground."

Levin and other Democrats have pressed the administration for a commitment to speed up the turnover of control to Afghan forces. But senior Republicans have charged that the deadline, set by Obama when he announced a new strategy and a surge in U.S. forces to Afghanistan last December, only encouraged Taliban insurgents to wait for a U.S. departure.

Lawmakers are also expected to ask Petraeus whether he plans to alter McChrystal's rules of engagement, including restrictions on coalition air attacks and ground operations, which some troops have said endanger them and put them at a disadvantage in fighting the Taliban. But the rules, designed to avoid civilian casualties, are drawn directly from the U.S. Army's counterinsurgency manual, which Petraeus authored.

Levin said that most Democrats still support the war strategy but warned of "the beginnings of a fraying of that support."

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