Afghan troops quitting as Americans exit

With the U.S. drawdown from Afghanistan underway, Afghans are leaving their security forces faster than Americans and NATO allies can recruit them. International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) officials confirmed on Wednesday that Afghan recruiting has slowed since last year, citing an unexpected level of attrition, or troops exiting the ranks, in the Afghan army. The ...

Manjunath Kiran/AFP/Getty Images
Manjunath Kiran/AFP/Getty Images
Manjunath Kiran/AFP/Getty Images

With the U.S. drawdown from Afghanistan underway, Afghans are leaving their security forces faster than Americans and NATO allies can recruit them.

International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) officials confirmed on Wednesday that Afghan recruiting has slowed since last year, citing an unexpected level of attrition, or troops exiting the ranks, in the Afghan army.

The U.S. government's lead watchdog over wartime spending, John Sopko, Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR), sounded an alarm in his latest quarterly report to Congress, released on Tuesday. Spoko said that ANSF troop totals had fallen by 4,000 last year and were 20,000 short of the end-strength goal of 352,000 personnel.

With the U.S. drawdown from Afghanistan underway, Afghans are leaving their security forces faster than Americans and NATO allies can recruit them.

International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) officials confirmed on Wednesday that Afghan recruiting has slowed since last year, citing an unexpected level of attrition, or troops exiting the ranks, in the Afghan army.

The U.S. government’s lead watchdog over wartime spending, John Sopko, Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR), sounded an alarm in his latest quarterly report to Congress, released on Tuesday. Spoko said that ANSF troop totals had fallen by 4,000 last year and were 20,000 short of the end-strength goal of 352,000 personnel.

U.S. officials long have stated that a key factor governing the yet-to-be-determined speed and size of the American troop withdraw is the ability to stand up in their stead the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), which includes military and police personnel. 

"Lower recruitment, coupled with several months of higher than average levels of attrition in the ANA [Afghan National Army], resulted a net decrease," ISAF said, in a statement provided to the E-Ring through Pentagon spokesman Cmdr. Bill Speaks.

As of March 2013, the ANSF stood at 336,365 personnel. ISAF said as the total ANSF nears its 352,000 end-strength target, "fluctuation" was expected and "recruitment targets were lowered to slow growth."

"While the coalition and the Afghan government have placed a ceiling of 352,000 on the total strength of the ANSF," ISAF argued, "the focus of the training mission is now on the quality of the force; developing the right balance of seniority, skills, and specialization that are vital to their long term sustainability and success."

Kevin Baron is a national security reporter for Foreign Policy, covering defense and military issues in Washington. He is also vice president of the Pentagon Press Association. Baron previously was a national security staff writer for National Journal, covering the "business of war." Prior to that, Baron worked in the resident daily Pentagon press corps as a reporter/photographer for Stars and Stripes. For three years with Stripes, Baron covered the building and traveled overseas extensively with the secretary of defense and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, covering official visits to Afghanistan and Iraq, the Middle East and Europe, China, Japan and South Korea, in more than a dozen countries. From 2004 to 2009, Baron was the Boston Globe Washington bureau's investigative projects reporter, covering defense, international affairs, lobbying and other issues. Before that, he muckraked at the Center for Public Integrity. Baron has reported on assignment from Asia, Africa, Australia, Europe, the Middle East and the South Pacific. He was won two Polk Awards, among other honors. He has a B.A. in international studies from the University of Richmond and M.A. in media and public affairs from George Washington University. Originally from Orlando, Fla., Baron has lived in the Washington area since 1998 and currently resides in Northern Virginia with his wife, three sons, and the family dog, The Edge. Twitter: @FPBaron

More from Foreign Policy

An illustration shows George Kennan, the father of Cold War containment strategy.
An illustration shows George Kennan, the father of Cold War containment strategy.

Is Cold War Inevitable?

A new biography of George Kennan, the father of containment, raises questions about whether the old Cold War—and the emerging one with China—could have been avoided.

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on the DISCLOSE Act.
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on the DISCLOSE Act.

So You Want to Buy an Ambassadorship

The United States is the only Western government that routinely rewards mega-donors with top diplomatic posts.

Chinese President Xi jinping  toasts the guests during a banquet marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on September 30, 2019 in Beijing, China.
Chinese President Xi jinping toasts the guests during a banquet marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on September 30, 2019 in Beijing, China.

Can China Pull Off Its Charm Offensive?

Why Beijing’s foreign-policy reset will—or won’t—work out.

Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar chairs a meeting in Ankara, Turkey on Nov. 21, 2022.
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar chairs a meeting in Ankara, Turkey on Nov. 21, 2022.

Turkey’s Problem Isn’t Sweden. It’s the United States.

Erdogan has focused on Stockholm’s stance toward Kurdish exile groups, but Ankara’s real demand is the end of U.S. support for Kurds in Syria.