Newly released casualty figures reveal significant losses among the Afghan security forces
“We are making progress” is a claim frequently uttered in Washington and in Kabul. But however this progress looks like, it comes at a price. According to ISAF figures released on Tuesday, this year, members of the Afghan security forces are getting killed and wounded at a rate of over 500 per month.
The figures show that the Afghan National Army averages 243 killed and wounded per month, while the Afghan National Police suffered 292 casualties. Unsurprisingly, Afghan casualty rates are significantly higher than coalition casualties, which have been declining since 2011. From January to the end of September 2012, a total of 345 international troops died as a result of the conflict in Afghanistan.
There are several reasons for these alarming figures. The problem is, this is not a temporary development, which may be reversed at some point. Already, data compiled by Afghan officials indicates that casualty rates among the Afghan security forces are on the rise. As NATO wraps up its mission, this trend is likely to worsen. It’s time to acknowledge the transition has a price. And this time, it’s the Afghans paying.
Marco Seliger, a veteran German defense reporter with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung has had access to previously unknown figures cited during a recent confidential parliamentary briefing by the German Federal Ministry of Defense. The numbers, compiled by Afghan officials reveal a new worrying trend.
In the time between January 1 and September 30, 2012, at least 1,545 members of the Afghan security forces were killed. During the same period in 2011, Afghan security forces suffered 1199 fatalities. This constitutes an increase of 28.8 percent, or 346 deaths. Those figures comprise personnel from both the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police.
A certain degree of caution is required when dealing with Afghan casualty figures. Different time frames, methodologies, the cherry-picking of information and politicized interpretations all lead to diverging, contradictory or skewed results. Often, there is no way to independently verify any of these figures.
Already, Afghan forces are responsible for the security of 75% of the Afghan population. Despite the increased burden, they have begun to receive less support from the coalition. Also, they do not possess the same level of protective equipment as most coalition forces have. Their greater geographic dispersion and their increased profile vis-a-vis the population, and by extension the insurgency all increase the risk of suffering casualties.
Yet high casualty rates aren’t the only problems the Afghan security forces suffer from. Both the Afghan army and the Police have experienced relatively high attrition rates, which puts an enormous pressure on those forces. They need to lure more recruits into service in order to fill the gap caused by the significant losses in personnel. To put the problem in context: About a third of the total force needs to be replaced every year.
The Afghan security forces have experienced unprecedented growth rates over the last few years and now stand at 337,187 personnel according to ISAF. Yet this year alone the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police have lost 27 and 15 percent of their personnel respectively. This means that this year alone, about 50,490 ANA troops and 23,550 ANP officers need to be recruited to fill the attrition gap. NATO leaders have already announced plans to reduce Afghan force levels to 230,000 troops after 2014. But a continuous recruitment drive is needed to sustain this new level as well.
What the Afghan forces lose here goes beyond mere numbers and personnel. High attrition rates lead to a qualitative degeneration of the Afghan security forces. Fresh recruits need time to gain experience and develop the skills they need to survive. And with the 2014 deadline approaching fast, time is something neither the coalition nor the Afghans have in abundance.
Other factors compound the strain the transition has put on the Afghan forces. A wave of insider attacks has undermined the trust between the coalition and the Afghan security forces. This hampers cooperation and jeopardizes the international exit strategy, which depends to a great extent on cooperation. And finally, there is the question of readiness. A recent report by the International Crisis Group generated some controversy when its leading author suggested that the Afghan forces were “overwhelmed and underprepared” to assume security responsibility. The report pointed out that the highly factionalized Afghan forces still rely heavily on the coalition for logistics as well as supply and air support. There are already some signs that the Afghan forces may fold if left without support.
In the absence of a political settlement and amid the ongoing deadlock of the conflict, the Afghan security forces are likely to suffer an increasing number of casualties. The drawdown of international troops somewhat eases the pressure on the U.S. and other NATO leaders who preside over the coalition. Now the burden has clearly shifted towards the Afghan forces. Despite assurances of continued support the staying power of the coalition is exhausted. And In the end, it is cheaper to have the Afghans paying the price for the mess.
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