As many as five Afghan Army brigades can operate independently compared with a single unit that had a similar capability last year, according to Marine Corps General Joseph Dunford, the head of the coalition military forces in Afghanistan.
The Afghan National Army has “one corps, five brigade headquarters, and 27 battalions capable of operating independently,” Dunford, the head of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, told the Senate Armed Services Committee today in prepared testimony.
In December, a Pentagon report to Congress said one out of 23 Afghan National Army brigades was capable of operating independently and none of the seven corps-level forces had the capability.
President Barack Obama has said that a bulk of the 66,000 U.S. forces now in Afghanistan will return by the end of 2014, after which a smaller number of troops may continue to train and advise Afghan forces as well as carry out counterterrorism operations. Although Obama hasn’t yet said how many troops will remain in the country after 2014, the U.S. has indicated that about 8,000 to 12,000 allied troops are likely to stay.
The Afghan army and police together number about 352,000 and NATO plans to maintain that size beyond 2016.
Even with the Afghan army’s increased independence, Dunford said the country’s military faced several challenges. Attrition, or troops leaving the military, was averaging about 5,000 a month or about 2.7 percent, exceeding the target of about 1.4 percent, Dunford said. The military also faces shortages of non- commissioned officers, he said.
As Afghan troops lead as many as 80 percent of the continuing operations they’re also suffering casualties, mostly from roadside bombs, because the army has fewer explosive ordnance teams than required, Dunford said. The Army has 59 bomb teams compared with an authorized 230, and the police force has 14 out of a required 88 teams, Dunford said. “This gap will likely endure through 2015.”
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