White House not ready to agree Afghan force buildup

WASHINGTON - The United States is putting off endorsing a plan to train tens of thousands of new Afghan security forces because of concern about the costs and the quality of recruits.

By (Reuters)

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Published: Sat 22 Jan 2011, 1:29 AM

Last updated: Mon 6 Apr 2015, 9:40 PM

Afghan and foreign officials in Kabul had been expected this week to endorse a plan to increase the Afghan security force from a target of about 305,000 for the fiscal year ending in October to up to 378,000 by October 2012.

But a White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity this week, said the White House was not ready to support a plan to increase the force that quickly.

The Obama administration is trying to balance pressure to cut spending and reduce a huge budget deficit with the need to quickly train tens of thousands of Afghan police and soldiers that can battle the Taliban as foreign troops draw down.

The United States has put more than $29 billion toward training and equipping Afghan security forces, more than half of all assistance provided to Afghanistan since the Taliban was ousted in 2001.

Some $9 billion was set aside for fiscal year 2010 alone.

The Afghan police and army now number around 266,000, but efforts to stand up local forces have been stymied by the rawness of recruits, many of whom can’t read or shoot, high attrition rates and questions about the troops’ loyalties.

Many commanders estimate a 400,000 force of police and soldiers will be needed to protect the whole country against the tenacious insurgency.

Last week, however, the Afghan Defense Ministry said local security forces will likely need to number more than 400,000 if they are to take over securing the country in 2014 as planned.

The Obama administration says it will begin withdrawing its force of about 100,000 soldiers in mid-2011 as Western nations try to put local forces in the lead by the end of 2014.

This will be a critical year in Afghanistan as Washington seeks to demonstrate progress to a skeptical US public despite record levels of violence.

Military commanders say a surge in foreign troops in 2010 succeeded in driving the Taliban out of key areas of southern Afghanistan, but it is unclear whether foreign troops can hold and expand these ‘security bubbles’.

The Obama administration, which lost control of the US House of Representatives to Republicans in elections in November, faces increased pressure to cut spending and rein in a $1.3 trillion budget deficit and a ballooning national debt.

The International Monetary Fund warned earlier this month that the United States must start down a path to cut the budget deficit relatively soon or face massive debt service costs.

Unlike Iraq, where oil exports allowed Baghdad to take over security costs, it is unlikely Afghanistan would be able to pay for anything but a small portion of the cost of standing up the local forces.

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