The United States officially ended its combat operations in Afghanistan, a country that a U.S. watchdog says has a fiscally unsustainable force with questionable capabilities to fight terrorist groups and a growing opium economy perpetuated by widespread corruption.
U.S. and NATO combat operations in Afghanistan officially ended on Dec. 8 with a flag lowering ceremony, marking one of the final steps in the transition to the train and assist mission expected to start Jan. 1.
The new mission, dubbed Operation Resolute Support, will involve “training, advising and assisting Afghan security institutions and Afghan national security forces at the ministerial, institutional and operational levels,” according to the Pentagon.
The train and advise mission is expected to be different for the 10,800 soldiers who will still be in Afghanistan at the beginning of next year, 1,000 more than previously planned.
Nevertheless, The Associated Press reports, “With President Barack Obama’s recent move authorizing U.S. forces in Afghanistan to carry out military operations against Taliban and al-Qaida targets, America’s longest war will in fact continue for at least another two years.”
In a report released Dec. 10 by John Sopko, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), efforts to build the capacity of the Afghan National Security Force (ANSF), which includes the national army and police force, are part of the high-risk list of programs vulnerable to significant waste, fraud, and abuse.
A capable ANSF is necessary to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a safe haven for terrorists, notes the report.
The U.S. has committed more than $104 billion to reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan, including nearly $62 billion to establishing an Afghan force that is capable of taking on al Qaeda, the Taliban, and other terrorist groups.
NATO, which, along with the U.S., has been in charge of training the Afghan forces, “has warned that much work remains to be done to develop and maintain a modern army and national police, and to build ministerial capacity in military and police planning, budgets, program operation, acquisition, and personnel processes,” mentions SIGAR report.
Sustaining the Afghan National Security Force Post-2014
SIGAR reports that Afghanistan will likely be incapable of fiscally sustaining the ANSF after 2014.
“NATO expects that the Afghan government would pay at least $500 million annually to sustain the ANSF beginning in 2015, with the aim that it assume full financial responsibility for its own security forces by 2024,” reports the inspector general.
However, the report adds that even under the most optimistic economic growth scenarios, the Afghan government will not be able to fully fund its forces by 2024.
According to SIGAR, while overall budget expenses in Afghanistan were $5.4 billion in 2013, the country’s government’s domestic annual revenues were only about $2 billion, less than half of the total expenditures.
“Much of the more than $104 billion the United States has committed to reconstruction projects and programs risks being wasted because the Afghans cannot sustain the investment without massive continued donor support,” notes Sopko.
SIGAR notes that ISAF is refusing to make public the current status of ANSF’s capability to fight the insurgency as it has done in the past.
“ISAF said classification would protect the operational security of the ANSF,” states the report. “SIGAR maintains that there is no evidence that the public release of aggregated data on ANSF capabilities has or could deliver any tactical benefit to Afghan insurgents and argues that the classification does a disservice to the interests of informed national debate.”
Corruption, which SIGAR considers “one of the most serious threats to the U.S.-funded Afghanistan reconstruction efforts,” is also listed as a high-risk area in the report.
Testifying as a former commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in April, Gen. John Allen (retired) said, “The existential threat to the long-term viability of modern Afghanistan is corruption.”