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President Joe Biden and Gen. Mark Milley misled about the size of the Afghan army in the months leading up to the fall of Kabul, citing numbers that did not take into account things such as casualties, capture, and capitulation.
Biden said Monday, “We trained and equipped an Afghan military force of some 300,000 strong, incredibly well-equipped, a force larger in size than the militaries of many of our NATO allies.”
He made similar claims about the size of the Afghan military during his July 8 speech.
That number is misleading, however.
The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction released a report on July 31 which noted that, as of the end of April, 300,699 Afghan National Defense and Security Forces personnel were enrolled in the Afghan Personnel and Pay System but only 182,071 of them were Afghan National Army members, including Afghan Air Force, while 118,628 were actually part of the Afghan National Police, which reported to the Interior Ministry instead of defense.
Moreover, the watchdog emphasized, “ANDSF personnel strength reported for this quarter does not reflect the loss of personnel to casualties, surrender, capture, or fleeing to other countries that occurred during the Taliban offensive from May through July.”
Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also got the size of the ANDSF wrong during Senate testimony on June 17, claiming that “right now, the government of Afghanistan is holding and they have approximately about 325,000 to 350,000 person security force — army and police force.”
Those numbers were inflated, at minimum, by 25,000 to 50,000 — although, as SIGAR pointed out, the numbers were likely even further off than that due to the then-ongoing collapse of the Afghan forces.
A 2021 report on “The Military Balance” by the International Institute of Strategic Studies contended that Afghanistan had only 171,500 members in the army and 7,300 in the air force, according to the Washington Post, and that Afghanistan had 99,000 “paramilitary” forces — its national police.
And a new report released on Tuesday by national security analyst Anthony Cordesman at the Center for Strategic and International Studies said, “the actual combat ready core of Afghan Army forces was very small, grossly overburdened with combat assignments, and forced to fight at unsustainable levels” and that “these problems were compounded by dependence on active U.S. intelligence, combat troop support, airpower, and contractors.” The report added: “Only a small fraction of the 182,071 personnel supposedly in the Army and Air Force could be used effectively.”
The Taliban largely completed their sweep across Afghanistan on Sunday as they took the capital of Kabul amid a chaotic U.S. evacuation of its embassy following an ill-planned military withdrawal.
Milley told the House on June 23: “Our joint force is currently conducting a safe, responsible, and deliberate strategic retrograde from Afghanistan in good order, while ensuring continued support for the Afghan National Security Force.”
“There’s a range of outcomes here,” Milley told the Senate in June, adding, “Will that military disintegrate, will the government collapse, will the Taliban come in?”
But he added: “I would also say that is not a certain outcome. There are many other outcomes that are possible, and we’re gonna work to have those outcomes achieved as opposed to the worst-case outcome. This is not a done deal yet. It’s the president’s intent to keep an embassy open, to keep our security forces around the embassy, and to continue to work with the Afghan government, to continue to fund the Afghan security forces, and to keep that situation from devolving into the worst case.”
SIGAR noted in late July that “the news coming out of Afghanistan this quarter has been bleak,” and “the overall trend is clearly unfavorable to the Afghan government, which could face an existential crisis if it isn’t addressed and reversed.”
The watchdog also warned: “U.S. military contractors are also being withdrawn from Afghanistan, as stipulated in the February 29, 2020, U.S.-Taliban agreement. These contractors provide an array of functions, including logistics, maintenance, and training support for ANDSF ground vehicles and aircraft; security; base support; and transportation services. Their loss could significantly impact ANDSF sustainability, in particular their ability to maintain aircraft and vehicles.”
Nevertheless, Milley said in a July 21 press briefing: “The Afghan Security Forces have the capacity to sufficiently fight and defend their country, and we will continue to support the Afghan Security Forces where necessary in accordance with the guidance from the president and the secretary of defense."
"A negative outcome, a Taliban automatic military takeover, is not a forgone conclusion.”
He added that the “strategic momentum appears to be sort of with the Taliban.”
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby was still saying on Friday that although “we are certainly concerned by the speed with which the Taliban has been moving,” the Defense Department still believed “it still is a moment for Afghan National Security and Defense Forces” and that “no outcome has to be inevitable.” Kirby said on Friday that “Kabul is not, right now, in an imminent-threat environment.”
Rep. Michael McCaul, a Texas Republican, said the State Department painted a “rosy picture” about Afghanistan as opposed to the increasingly “grim” intelligence community assessments.
Just over a month ago, Biden claimed: “The likelihood there’s going to be the Taliban overrunning everything and owning the whole country is highly unlikely.” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on June 7, “I would not necessarily equate the departure of forces in July, August, or by early September with some kind of immediate deterioration in the situation.”
The intelligence community has defended itself, with a senior intelligence official telling the Washington Examiner that “a rapid Taliban takeover was always a possibility.”
Thomas Joscelyn, the senior editor at the Long War Journal, told the Washington Examiner he believed the military likely misjudged the Taliban.
“I think the intelligence community knew that Kabul could fall this year but probably didn’t see it unfolding this quickly. The issue is that U.S. military leaders clearly didn’t think Kabul would fall this quickly. They overestimated the strength of Afghan forces and underestimated the strength of the Taliban and al Qaeda,” Joscelyn said.
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Original Author: Jerry Dunleavy
Original Location: Biden and Milley misled about Afghan army numbers