Pentagon: Afghan forces face challenges but ‘on track’ to take charge

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Training Afghan forces to fend for themselves in the defense of their nation is continually hampered by illiteracy, attrition and a shortage of non-commissioned officers, Pentagon officials said.

But the overall U.S.-led effort to enable the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) to take charge of Afghanistan’s security by 2014 is “on track,” defense officials told a House Armed Services subcommittee on Wednesday.

David Sedney, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia, said the ANSF now participates in more than 90 percent of all security operations in Afghanistan, and helps plan more than 40 percent of those missions.

“They are more in the lead than ever before,” Mr. Sedney said.

About half of the 40 percent of missions that Afghan forces helped plan were led by an Afghan commander, said Army Maj. Gen. Stephen Townsend, director of the Afghanistan/Pakistan coordination cell for the Joint Staff.

Yet challenges remain for the ANSF’s long-term development, the defense officials said.

Gen. Townsend noted that the Afghan army lacks 17,000 non-commissioned officers and the police lack 11,000.

Despite the challenges, Afghanistan’s army and police force are on track to meet their end-strength goal of 352,000 members by the end of September, the officials testified.

Those numbers should fall to 230,000 by 2017, depending on the security situation, which will be reviewed every six months, the officials said.

While $4.1 billion a year is the estimated cost to sustain the Afghan security forces after 2014, the cost would depend on the reductions in end-strength, Mr. Sedney said. He added that the goal is for Afghanistan to fund the forces by 2024.

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