Washington: At least one in seven Afghan
soldiers have deserted during the first six months of this
year, complicating the security situation in the war-torn
country ahead of a gradual drawdown of US troops by 2014.
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 statistics compiled by NATO
that show an increase in desertion.
In June alone, more than 5,000 soldiers deserted, nearly
three per cent of the 170,000-strong force, The Washington
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 favour 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, the Post said.
Afghan and coalition military officials said they
believe they can 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 US
soldiers in the country begins to decline and as more of the
security burden begins to shift toward the Afghan army.
About 10,000 US troops are due to leave Afghanistan
this year, part of a gradual drawdown through the end of 2014.
US President Barack Obama said in June another 23,000
American troops would leave Afghanistan by the end of next
summer, leaving behind a 65,000-strong force and effectively
ending a surge of troops ordered in late 2009.
"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.
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 US military officials also said poor
leadership is a main reason soldiers desert the ranks.
NATO`s training command has developed an extensive plan to
attempt to lower attrition further, saying an acceptable goal
would be 1.4 per cent per month or about 17 per cent a year.
July?s attrition rate was 2.2 per cent.
"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.