U.S. trained & equipped soldier of the Afghan National Army, Nangalam, Afghanistan, 2009 (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Jennifer Cohen)…
General Joseph Dunford, the highest US and Nato commander in the country, said that the security forces’ weekly death toll regularly tops 100 and therefore they may need five more years of western support before they can fight independently.
He added that it was too early to tell whether Nato had been right to end combat operations and only offer training and support in the war torn country this Spring.
He said that both Nato and Afghan commanders viewed the number of men being lost as “serious”, telling the Guardian: “I’m not assuming that those casualties are sustainable.”
The rapidly expanded security forces, now 350,000 strong, have grasped the basics but struggle to support themselves in areas varying from logistics and planning to intelligence-gathering and back-up in difficult battles.
The west officially shifted their role in Afghanistan from combat to support and training in June, and General Dunford said that “time is going to tell” whether that was the correct decision.
His comments highlight a rift between the views of western politicians keen to end a bloody and expensive war and military commanders on the ground who see Afghan forces struggling to cope.
All Nato combat troops are due to leave by 2014, and President Barack Obama has said that in 17 months the transition to Afghan control will be complete, although he has promised a follow up Nato training mission.
However, no firm date has been set for the end of assistance, and General Dunford told the Guardian that western troops may need to remain until 2018 to tackle problems from the air force to intelligence.
“I look at Afghan security forces development as really kind of three to five years,” General Dunford said, adding that this could include a combat role such as close air support.
The US is currently negotiating a long-term security deal with Kabul to pave the way for wider western co-operation, but Washington has warned that unless a Bilateral Security Agreement is agreed in the next few months they will be forced to remove all their troops…
Despite the heavy losses the Afghans have managed to remain “resilient,” General Dunford added, preventing the Taliban from accomplishing and ensuring 80 per cent of the population is secured from violence.
The Afghan defence ministry no longer publishes monthly death tolls because of concerns about morale, and the interior ministry said that 1,792 police officers had been killed since March.