Afghanistan Security:

Afghan Army Growing, but Additional Trainers Needed; Long-term Costs Not Determined

GAO-11-66: Published: Jan 27, 2011. Publicly Released: Jan 27, 2011.

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Developing capable Afghan National Army (ANA) forces is a key element of the U.S. and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)-led coalition effort to counter the insurgency and create sustainable security in Afghanistan. Since 2002, the United States, with assistance from NATO and other coalition nations, has worked to develop the ANA. The Department of Defense (DOD) leads U.S. efforts to train and equip the ANA. U.S. agencies have allocated about $20 billion in support of the ANA since 2002 and have requested $7.5 billion more for fiscal year 2011. GAO examined (1) the extent of progress made and challenges faced in expanding the size of the ANA, (2) the extent of progress made and challenges faced in developing ANA capability, and (3) how much estimated future funding will be needed to sustain and further grow the ANA. GAO reviewed DOD and NATO documents and met with officials in Washington, D.C.; Tampa, FL; Brussels, Belgium; and Kabul, Afghanistan.

Between January 2010 and July 2010, the ANA grew from 104,000 to 134,000 personnel, reaching the interim growth goal set by the Afghan government and international community 3 months ahead of schedule. Officials cited increased recruitment of new soldiers and higher training capacity as factors that enabled the growth. The ANA has also generally achieved its goal of drawing proportionally from Afghanistan's major ethnic groups, with some key exceptions. However, the ANA faces challenges, including high rates of attrition--the loss of soldiers from the force before they complete their contracts--and absenteeism. In particular, high attrition could impact the ANA's ability to meet its end size goal of 171,600 by October 2011. The Afghan government and international community have set an objective of having the Afghan army and police lead and conduct security operations in all Afghan provinces by the end of 2014. As of September 2010, no ANA unit was assessed as capable of conducting its mission independent of coalition assistance. About two-thirds were assessed as effective with limited coalition support. Efforts to develop ANA capability have been challenged by difficulties in staffing leadership positions and a shortage of coalition trainers, including a shortfall of approximately 18 percent (275 of 1,495) of the personnel needed to provide instruction at ANA training facilities. Neither DOD nor NATO has completed an analysis of ANA sustainment costs. Such analysis is important given that, as of January 2010, the International Monetary Fund projected that it will take until at least 2023 for the Afghan government to raise sufficient revenues to cover its operating expenses, including those related to the army--highlighting Afghanistan's continued dependence on external sources of funding. In addition, DOD and NATO studies indicate that growth of the ANA beyond the current end goal of 171,600 may be needed--potentially up to a force size of 240,000 personnel. Any such growth will necessitate additional donor assistance. GAO recommends that the Secretary of Defense, in conjunction with international partners, take steps to eliminate the shortage of trainers; clarify what ANA growth beyond the current end goal, if any, is needed; and develop estimates of the future funding needed to further grow and sustain the ANA. DOD concurred with GAO's recommendation regarding trainers. DOD partially concurred with the need to develop growth and cost estimates for the ANA.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD partially concurred with GAO's recommendation, and, in February 2011, produced a budget document indicating that the additional $7.1 billion the department was requesting for ANA development in fiscal year 2012 would provide the resources necessary for growth of the ANA beyond its then-current end goal of 171,600 personnel. Subsequently, a February 2012 DOD budget document indicated that the $6.5 billion ultimately enacted for ANA development in fiscal year 2012--about $600 million below the requested amount--was sufficient to support ANA growth up to the new end goal, approved in June 2011, of 195,000 personnel by October 2012.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that DOD, Congress, and other decision makers have sufficient information to weigh future funding options in support of Afghanistan's security, the Secretary of Defense, in conjunction with international partners, should identify the funding required for such growth.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD partially concurred with GAO's recommendation and, in April 2011, issued a report to Congress clarifying that the ANA might need to grow to a size of 195,000 personnel--a goal that was approved by the Afghan government 2 months later, according to DOD.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that DOD, Congress, and other decision makers have sufficient information to weigh future funding options in support of Afghanistan's security, the Secretary of Defense, in conjunction with international partners, should clarify the extent to which the ANA may need to grow beyond its current internationally approved end goal.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD concurred with GAO's recommendation and reported in April 2011 that the United States had engaged extensively with coalition partners throughout early 2011 to increase their commitments of trainers. Subsequently, in October 2011, DOD reported that the shortfall in instructors for the ANA had dropped to 13 percent.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that the ANA receives the training it needs to become capable of operating independent of coalition forces, the Secretary of Defense should work with international partners to eliminate the ongoing shortfall in training personnel for the ANA.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD partially concurred with GAO's recommendation and subsequently produced annual estimates of the cost to sustain the ANA and the Afghan National Police through fiscal year 2017.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that DOD, Congress, and other decision makers have sufficient information to weigh future funding options in support of Afghanistan's security, the Secretary of Defense, in conjunction with international partners, should develop detailed estimates of future ANA sustainment costs.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

 

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