November 12, 2012 Joel Brinkley / San Francisco Chronicle & Steve Chao / Al Jazeera
Now it can be told: US government auditors are finally acknowledging that Afghan security forces will be incapable of defending the nation from the Taliban after Western forces withdraw in 2014. What does this mean? The Taliban, obviously determined to return to power, most certainly will retake most of the nation. The hapless Afghan army will probably just run away.
HELMAND PROVINCE (November 11, 2012) -- As the deadline for the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan draws closer, the Afghan army is preparing to take over full responsibility of security operations. The country's military, which has been trained by NATO forces, is trying to prove that it can properly fight the Taliban on the frontlines.
Afghan Army a Lost Cause for US Joel Brinkley / San Francisco Chronicle
(November 9, 2012) -- Now it can be told: US government auditors are finally acknowledging that Afghan security forces will be incapable of defending the nation from the Taliban after Western forces withdraw in 2014.
What does this mean? The Taliban, obviously determined to return to power, most certainly will retake most of the nation. The hapless Afghan army will probably just run away. That's what it did almost as soon as the Soviet Union, the last foreign occupier, pulled out.
Does that mean the United States has simply wasted hundreds of billions of dollars and 2,000 American lives? Not entirely. The war's original purpose was to wreak revenge on al Qaeda for the 9/11 attacks, to capture or kill its leadership and destroy its training camps.
That was accomplished. But in short order, al Qaeda simply moved to other unstable states - Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, Algeria ... the list is long. The Obama administration's long-stated fear is that when Western forces leave Afghanistan, al Qaeda might return. The Taliban would certainly welcome them back.
My view: Be our guests. It would be far easier to attack them in Afghanistan than in some of their other current locations - particularly Pakistan. Now that al Qaeda has bases all over the world, why is holding on to Afghanistan so important anyway?
In its new quarterly report, the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction, a federal agency Congress established in 2008, said its audits found that the Afghan army "will likely be incapable of fully sustaining Afghan National Security Forces facilities after the transition in 2014." The army's record at this is disheartening.
In February, American soldiers turned over a forward operating base west of Kabul to their Afghan counterparts. When they returned in August, the Americans found what they described as a "dismal scene." The Afghan soldiers hadn't kept up the generator and were down to three hours of electricity a day. Nearly all of their vehicles had broken down. They had no working night-vision goggles, so they were largely defenseless after dark.
Stories like that are rife. In one eastern base near the Pakistan border turned over to the Afghans this year, the new tenants allowed the place to run down so severely that they finally abandoned it and deserted. But they left behind their chickens; they had turned the water-well building into a chicken coop.
If Afghan security forces cannot maintain forward operating bases, they won't be able to defend most of the country. It's just that simple.
Not surprisingly, the Pentagon offered only qualified endorsement of the inspector general's report. "There are problems that do come up, and obstacles," Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said recently. "But our commitment to the strategy remains sound," adding that "overall, we think the process is going well."
That's a typically overoptimistic military statement. Can you imagine any Pentagon officer ever saying: "This is hopeless. We can't win"?
Well, Congress doesn't buy it.
"America's 'Can do!' response to the challenge" in Afghanistan "is admirable," the congressional Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan reported. "But human and financial resources have limits, and long-term costs are seldom considered when short-term plans are being framed."
By that, the commissioners were saying, US military and civilian agencies almost never take into account whether the host country has the skills and financial resources to maintain a big, expensive project after the United States leaves, leading to "vast amounts of spending with little or no benefit."
Even with the discouraging experiences over the last decade, Congress is continuing to appropriate billions for army "sustainment" - buildings and equipment for Afghan soldiers who are incapable of maintaining them. The total appropriated so far is $9 billion.
In fact, the special inspector general noted, "the US has surpassed its goals in procuring equipment" for the Afghan army, even though the Afghan army and police "do not have the capability to operate and maintain garrisons and training centers built for them."
The inspector general made the same point that the congressional commission stressed: "Billions of dollars of US taxpayer funds will be at risk of going to waste."
What's so perplexing is that Congress chartered both the special inspector general's office and the congressional commission, whose staff spent three years studying the problem.
Still, Congress is blithely ignoring their conclusions - including this one from its own commissioners: Spending money on a project "is wasteful if it does not fit the cultural, political and economic norms of the society it is meant to serve, or if it cannot be maintained."
(c) 2012 Joel Brinkley Joel Brinkley, a professor of journalism at Stanford University, is a Pulitzer Prize-winning former foreign correspondent for the New York Times.