Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Friday, March 23rd, 2018

High Desertion Rates Holding Back Afghan National Army


       High Desertion Rates Holding Back Afghan National Army

High turnover rates of recruits in the Afghan National Army has once again come under spotlight with a recent report presented to the U.S. Congress by U.S. government admitting that 1 out of every 4 new recruits or roughly 25% of new soldiers leave the Afghan National Army after the first few months. This figure of 25% is the desertion rate that is admitted by the U.S. Defense Department's report to American lawmakers.

The turnover rate, being separate from the desertion rate, stands much higher than the desertion rate of 25%. This means that potentially one out of every three newly recruited soldiers leaves the forces and gets replaced by new forces that consume unnecessary resources to reach the preparedness level of their predecessors. Until last year, it was hoped that the high desertion and turnover rates in the Afghan National Army had substantially come down in part due to higher pay and stricter regulations. This new report has quashed those hopes and presents yet another picture of our armed forces being bogged down by high rates of turnover among the recruits.

This grim statistics is a troubling fact for the U.S.-led international coalition and the training mission that is responsible for training and equipping of Afghan National Army in partnership with the Ministry of Defense. The Ministry and the international training mission have heavy burden on their backs as they are in the process of preparing the army to take the full spectrum of security responsibilities by the end of 2014. Other problems that plague the National Army and the National Police are extremely high illiteracy rates and rampant drug-use.

An overwhelming majority of the recruits in both the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police lack reading and writing skills in either Dari or Pashto. This has prompted the international training mission and the Ministry of Defense to hold crash courses in basic literacy for the new recruits to enable them to read and write in their mother tongues. For the recruits to rise through the ranks and undertake positions of Commissioned Officers, literacy skills in terms of being able to read and write are a must.

Running of literacy courses also aim to bridge the current leadership talent deficit that has held back the qualitative growth of Afghan National Army. Casual drug use, rampant among the soldiers both at the army and police, is another problem that has been troubling to both trainers and the leaders in the ranks. There are plenty of videos on internet showing the new soldiers of the army using drugs at breaks and when relaxing during patrols.

The impact of this 25% desertion rate and a yet higher turnover rate in the ranks of the Afghan National Army is proving burdensome and contributes to its slow pace of growth. The staggering amounts of funds spent on training, housing and maintaining tens of thousands of new recruits go wasted with the soldiers disappearing from their barracks. It commands yet much higher costs and resources to find, recruit and train and maintain substitute soldiers that can offset the losses due to abnormally-high desertion rates. This again works to further complicate the ongoing plans of the international training mission and the Ministry of Defense to increase the numbers in a short time while keeping the quality of new soldiers at an acceptable level.

The prevalence of very high turnover and desertion rates inside the Afghan National Army is troubling at a time when the transition of security responsibilities to government of Afghanistan has already started and is set to be completed by 2014. For a long time, presence of other problems in the army has been known. The fact that the Taliban have been able to infiltrate into the ranks of the army, amply documented by the recent discovery of rogue elements inside the army who were cooperating with Taliban, has been another disturbing issue concerning the army. Are these problems confined to only some areas of the Afghan National Security Forces or they are symptoms of larger problems that run deeper into the fabric of these forces?

The increase in the salaries provided to new recruits in the army does not seem to have prevented a sharp increase in the desertion rates. More than salaries and compensation, it is the increasingly dangerous zones of war now spreading throughout the country that seems to be the reason for the continued high turnover and desertion rates. A large number of soldiers become disheartened when they become aware that the areas they are going to be deployed are rife with IEDs and enemy fighters ready to attack. For example, one Afghan National Army commander in Southern Helmand province, when talking to Afghan media, said close to half of the soldiers in his unit have escaped duty unable to tolerate high levels of risk.

There is no doubt that the national security forces of Afghanistan comprised of the army and the police still have a long way to go before they find the ability to act as independent guardians of Afghanistan's territorial integrity and internal stability. More than half of the units in the army are yet to find the capability to act independently from the coalition forces, from planning stages to the final execution of military operations. Dependence on the international forces is rampant in the areas of intelligence gathering and executing operations with minimal damage to the forces and the surrounding civilians. The army units are still heavily dependent on international coalition for air power and support with the army's air corps still in its infant stages.

What seems to be the need of the hour is inculcating the army recruits with a much stronger sense of patriotism and awakening them to the sacred nature of their duty, which centers round protecting the motherland and the fellow countrymen. Without an unbending spirit of service and patriotic zeal and fervor, it will be difficult for the army and its commanders to rise to the occasion and provide security to the county and people at a time when the Taliban insurgency is at its fiercest.

The author is the permanent writer of the Daily Outlook Afghanistan. He can be reached at outlook afghanistan@gmail.com

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