Afghans Desert Army in High Numbers

More Afghan soldiers deserting the army, NATO statistics show

By , Published: September 1 | Updated: Saturday, September 3, 10:23 PM

KABUL — At least one in seven Afghan soldiers walked off the job during the first six months of this year, according to statistics compiled by NATO that show an increase in desertion.

Between January and June, more than 24,000 soldiers walked off the job, more than twice as many as in the same period last year, according to the NATO statistics. In June alone, more than 5,000 soldiers deserted, nearly 3 percent of the 170,000-strong force.

Some Afghan officials say the figures point to the vulnerability of a long-standing Afghan policy that prohibits punishment of deserters. The rule, issued under a decree by President Hamid Karzai, was aimed to encourage recruiting and allow for some flexibility during harvest time, when the number of desertions spikes.

“I am personally in favor of removing that amnesty,” said Gen. Sher Mohammad Karimi, the chief of staff of the Afghan army. “We cannot turn a blind eye on the individuals who are doing something wrong.’’

As recently as September 2009, more Afghan soldiers had been quitting than joining the army, but that trend had been reversed by aggressive recruiting, salary increases and guarantees of regular leave.

Afghan and coalition military officials said they believe they can continue to make progress toward expanding the army to about 200,000 soldiers, despite the recent increase in desertions. But they acknowledged that it will be important for Afghanistan to reduce the dropout rate as the number of U.S. soldiers in the country begins to decline and as more of the security burden begins to shift toward the Afghan army.

“The army has got to figure out how to get their attrition down,” said Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, who oversees NATO’s efforts to build up the Afghan security forces.

The attrition statistics since 2010 were provided by NATO’s training command in Kabul in response to a request by The Washington Post. The Afghan ministry of defense keeps its own statistics on attrition that are generally slightly lower than NATO’s but hew to the same trends. The Afghan government’s tallies include soldiers who return after being gone long enough to be considered deserters; NATO’s stats at this time do not.

Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak said he doubted that dropouts would be a problem as Afghan forces took more responsibility in coming years.

“We have accelerated in a way which we have never accelerated before,” Wardak said in an interview last month, referring to the growth of the army. “In the beginning everybody was having doubt that we will not have recruits. But till today . . . there has been no problem with recruitment at all.”

Afghan and coalition officials said the soldiers who leave often complain about poor living conditions or commanders who do not allow a regular vacation schedule.

But Afghan and U.S. military officials also said poor leadership is a main reason soldiers desert the ranks. Those commanders who are corrupt or fail to ensure proper pay, food or vacation for their subordinates have higher attrition. These problems have been around for years, however, and coalition officials did not offer specific reasons for the rising attrition this year.

“We’re not seeing any linkage to the amount of fighting they’re doing,” said one U.S. military official who works with Afghan security forces. “It really boils down to leadership.”

Four months ago, Enayatullah, a 35-year-old soldier based in Kabul, traded in his $350-a-month salary to flip burgers at a high school cafeteria. Trained as a wrestler, he had been a member of a unit whose soldiers played for the army’s sports teams. When a new commander arrived and cut the daily food stipend and sent the soldiers on more missions to Wardak province, which is far more dangerous than Kabul, Enayatullah grew disgruntled. He quit, along with eight of his friends and fellow soldiers, he said.

“He made us all very disappointed,” Enayatullah said of the new commander. “I was happy with my profession. If they offered us what we had before, then we would be happy to go back.”

At one point this summer, the pace of desertions climbed to an annualized rate of 35 percent, though it has since declined.

NATO’s training command has developed an extensive plan to attempt to lower attrition further, saying an acceptable goal would be 1.4 percent per month — or about 17 percent a year. July’s attrition rate was 2.2 percent.

“If we’re in the same situation in 3.5 years” — when Afghans are scheduled to be in charge of their security — “then we have a problem,” said Canadian Maj. Gen. D. Michael Day, a deputy commander in NATO’s training mission in Kabul.

White House Sticking to Iraq Troop Timetable

White House sticks to Iraq troop timetable after day on which 70 are killed

By Ian Swanson – 08/15/11 02:55 PM ET, The Hill

The White House said Monday there are no changes in the timetable for U.S. forces to leave Iraq on a day in which attacks killed more than 70 people in the country.

U.S. troops are scheduled to leave Iraq in December under the status of forces agreement between the two countries, though it is possible some forces could remain in Iraq if that country’s government requests them.

“Obviously there have been attacks and we strongly condemn them,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said Monday on Air Force One.Carney noted that the general trend in Iraq is decreasing violence, but signaled the Obama administration would consider keeping some forces in Iraq if that country’s government wanted U.S. soldiers to remain.

“It doesn’t change where we are in the process of drawing down our troops or change the fact that we are, as we have said, in discussions with the Iraqis,” Carney said of the latest violence. “And if they make some kind of request, we would consider it.”

While President Obama is focused on the economy during a three-day barnstorming trip through the Midwest on a presidential bus, foreign policy worries, mostly centered on the Middle East, are taking up his time.

The White House is reportedly considering asking Syrian President Assad to resign amid growing violence in that country, and U.S. forces continue to back-up NATO assaults on Col. Moammar Gadhafi’s regime in Libya.

Meanwhile, U.S. forces are slowly departing from both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Next year’s presidential election is expected to focus on the economy, but Monday’s violence in Iraq is a reminder of the unpredictability of the conflicts the U.S. is involved in across the region.

On Syria, Obama had phone conversations over the last several days with the leaders of Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the United Kingdom. He has also spoken with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Carney said the White House is looking “together with a broad array of international partners” to increase pressure on Assad.

He added that it is “becoming increasingly clear” that Gadhafi’s days are numbered as his “isolation … grows more extreme.”

The violence in Iraq took place after the beginning of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, which had ushered in a period of relative calm in the country in the past.

Deadliest Single Incident for American Forces in the Afghanistan War

31 American Troops Killed In NATO Helicopter Crash In Afghanistan

By SOLOMON MOORE   08/ 6/11 09:18 AM ET   AP

KABUL, Afghanistan — A military helicopter crashed in eastern Afghanistan, killing 31 U.S. special operation troops and seven Afghan commandos, the country’s president said Saturday. An American official said it was apparently shot down, in the deadliest single incident for American forces in the decade-long war.

The Taliban claimed they downed the helicopter with rocket fire while it was taking part in a raid on a house where insurgents were gathered in the province of Wardak late Friday. It said wreckage of the craft was strewn at the scene.

NATO confirmed the overnight crash took place and that there “was enemy activity in the area.” But it said it was still investigating the cause and conducting a recovery operation at the site. It did not release details or casualty figures.

“We are in the process of accessing the facts,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Justin Brockhoff, a NATO spokesman.

But a senior U.S. administration official in Washington said it was apparently shot down by insurgents. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the crash is still being investigated.

The toll would surpass the worst single day loss of life for the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan since the war began in 2001 – the June 28, 2005 downing of a military helicopter in eastern Kunar province. In that incident, 16 Navy SEALs and Army special operations troops were killed when their craft was shot down while on a mission to rescue four SEALs under attack by the Taliban. Three of the SEALs being rescued were also killed and the fourth wounded. It was the highest one-day death toll for the Navy Special Warfare personnel since World War II.

With its steep mountain ranges, providing shelter for militants armed with rocket-propelled grenade launchers, eastern Afghanistan is hazardous terrain for military aircraft. Large, slow-moving air transport carriers like the CH-47 Chinook are particularly vulnerable, often forced to ease their way through sheer valleys where insurgents can achieve more level lines of fire from mountainsides.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Saturday gave the first public word of the new crash, saying in a statement that “a NATO helicopter crashed last night in Wardak province” and that 31 American special operations troops were killed. He expressed his condolences to President Barack Obama.

The helicopter was a twin-rotor Chinook, said an official at NATO headquarters in Brussels. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he was receiving his information from an Afghan officer in Kabul.

The crash took place in the Sayd Abad district of Wardak province, said a provincial government spokesman, Shahidullah Shahid. The volatile region borders the province of Kabul where the Afghan capital is located and is known for its strong Taliban presence.

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said in a statement that Taliban fighters downed the helicopter during a “heavy raid” in Sayd Abad. He said NATO attacked a house in Sayd Abad where insurgent fighters were gathering Friday night. During the battle, the fighters shot down the helicopter, killing 31 Americans and seven Afghans, he said, adding that eight insurgents were killed in the fight.

There have been at least 17 coalition and Afghan aircraft crashes in Afghanistan this year.

Most of the crashes were attributed to pilot errors, weather conditions or mechanical failures. However, the coalition has confirmed that at least one CH-47F Chinook helicopter was hit by a rocket propelled grenade on July 25. Two coalition crew members were injured in that attack.

Meanwhile, in the southern Helmand province, an Afghan government official said Saturday that NATO troops attacked a house and inadvertently killed eight members of a family, including women and children.

NATO said that Taliban fighters fired rocket propelled grenades and small arms fire at coalition troops during a patrol Friday in the Nad Ali district.

“Coalition forces responded with small arms fire and as the incident continued, an air strike was employed against the insurgent position,” said Brockhoff. He added that NATO sent a delegation to meet with local leaders and investigate the incident.

Nad Ali district police chief Shadi Khan said civilians died in the bombardment but that it was unknown how many insurgents were killed.

Helmand, a Taliban stronghold, is the deadliest province in Afghanistan for international troops.

NATO has come under harsh criticism in the past for accidentally killing civilians during operations against suspected insurgents. However, civilian death tallies by the United Nations show the insurgency is responsible for most war casualties involving noncombatants.

In south Afghanistan, NATO said two coalition service member were killed, one on Friday and another on Saturday. The international alliance did not release further details.

With the casualties from the helicopter crash, the deaths bring to 365 the number of coalition troops killed this year in Afghanistan and 42 this month.

Gen. Petraeus Ends Command in Afghanistan

Gen. David H. Petraeus ends his command in Afghanistan

By , Monday, July 18, 7:35 AM THE WASHINGTON POST

KABUL — Gen. David H. Petraeus relinquished his command of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan on Monday, handing the reins to Marine Gen. John Allen as the United States and its allies begin to withdraw troops from the country where they have waged war for nearly a decade.

Petraeus ends his tour in Afghanistan without conclusive signs that the counter-insurgency strategy he helped design has turned the tide in the war against the Taliban. The more than 140,000 NATO troops under his command have weakened the insurgency in some of its key strongholds in the south, but other parts of the country remain treacherous, and Taliban leaders still operate with relative impunity from Pakistan.

On Monday morning, three NATO troops were killed in a bombing in eastern Afghanistan. And the Taliban claimed responsibility for killing a senior adviser to Afghan President Hamid Karzai and a member of parliament in Kabul on Sunday night.

The Afghan government, meanwhile, has failed to deliver meaningful services into much of the countryside or reduce the corruption that has disillusioned the Afghan people and forced repeated confrontations with its coalition partners.

In a morning ceremony outside Petraeus’s Kabul headquarters, however, the military commanders and Afghan officials chose to emphasize positive developments from the past year, when Petraeus has been in charge.

Petraeus, who will return to Washington as director of the Central Intelligence Agency, said that coalition forces have wrested momentum from the insurgents in much of Afghanistan, and have taken away Taliban sanctuaries in Kandahar and Helmand.

And with the number of Afghan and coalition forces in the country up by some 80,000, the number of attacks on coalition troops declined in May, June and the first half of July in 2011, compared with the same period in 2010 — “contrary to the forecasts of significant further increases in insurgent attack levels this year,” Petraeus said.

Allen, who had been deputy commander at U.S. Central Command in Tampa, said that he would not ease the intensity of the coalition offensive, even as U.S. and other foreign troops begin to leave and Afghans take over security responsibility in several provinces.

“It is my intention to maintain the momentum of the campaign,” Allen said.

The Afghan defense minister, Abdul Rahim Wardak, took a swipe at those pushing for a faster withdrawal and an end to the long and costly American commitment to Afghanistan.

He said that once in Washington, Petraeus’s “broad intellect, his unmatched experiences, and knowledge of the ground realities will make him a counter-balance to all those short-sighted, politically inspired isolationists and the groups of Beltway bandits.”

“We have to assure our joint enemies that the will of the international community and the Afghan people remain unbroken,” Wardak said. “Any wavering of the resolve or premature drawdown and exit strategy will put in jeopardy all that we have achieved with so much sacrifices.”

The senior U.S. military officials in attendance at the ceremony, including Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, heaped praise on Petraeus for 37 years of military service.

Mullen called Petraeus “one of the most successful and storied generals of our time.”

“Dave has set the standard for wartime command in the modern era,” Mullen said. “There is no one, no one, in the pantheon of American military leadership who so perfectly symbolizes the scope of the effort of our armed forces.”