Billions of aid dollars, no solution to Afghanistan’s security problems
“Green on blue” attacks — attacks by Afghan police and military trainees against U.S. forces — are on the rise. In the past two weeks alone, ten U.S. troops have died at the hands of their Afghan allies. Insider attacks accounted for 32% of U.S. fatalities in Afghanistan this month.
The uptick in insider attacks is just the most recent sign that U.S. efforts to build local security forces in Afghanistan — efforts that cost U.S. taxpayers billions of dollars each year — are foundering.
Ten years and billions of dollars after the U.S. embarked on efforts to improve Afghanistan’s security forces, corruption is still a big problem. Afghan military and police have been accused of participating in a wide range of criminal activities, from accepting bribes to drug trafficking to selling donor-provided equipment.
Corruption is just one of many roadblocks for U.S. efforts to build capable security forces in Afghanistan. Low literacy is another. According to LtGen. William Caldwell, head of the ISAF training mission in Afghanistan, the literacy rate for Afghan security force recruits is about 14 percent. Illiterate recruits find performing routine security tasks, like checking IDs, difficult.
The many obstacles U.S. trainers face in Afghanistan have limited the success of the program. LtGen. Curtis Scaparrotti, the deputy commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, has said that few Afghan security units, “probably one percent,” can operate without support from the U.S. and allies.
Limited evidence of success hasn’t stopped the U.S. from pouring billions into efforts to build up the Afghan security forces. In fact, the U.S. has spent over $52 billion on security aid to Afghanistan from 2002 through 2012.
Most of that total (about $50 billion) went directly to the Department of Defense efforts to train and equip the Afghan Army and Police. The Department of State also contributes to Afghan security efforts through Foreign Military Financing and International Military Education and Training, programs that cost more than $1 billion over the past ten years.
Each year, efforts to improve Afghanistan’s security capabilities cost U.S. taxpayers billions of dollars. The U.S. contributed $11.2 billion in 2012. The budget request for 2013 is $5.8 billion. As the ANSF program shifts from building up to sustaining the force, costs will decline further, to an estimated $4.1 billion per year after 2014.
Even that amount is unaffordable for Afghanistan, which relies on foreign aid for about 90 percent of its budget. the The IMF estimates that Afghanistan will not be able to finance its own security spending until at least 2023.
Ten years and more than $52 billion later, Americans are realizing that the our Afghanistan policy was based less on an understanding of U.S. strategic interests and more on the belief that by spending billions we could reshape Afghanistan. The only question is whether policymakers will realize it too, or whether they will continue to spend billions of dollars on an unnecessary war while underinvesting in more important national security priorities.