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What happens after U.S. troops leave Afghanistan?
In some cases, the local Afghan military units simply stop fighting the insurgents.
According to the Pentagon’s latest official Afghanistan progress report, released Friday, the departure of U.S forces from Afghanistan is shifting the balance of power in some areas and prompting local Afghan military commanders to forge quiet truces with the Taliban insurgents they have battled for years.
“Some communities and security sector elements are adapting to the changed environment by establishing accommodations between insurgents and elements of the [Afghan National Security Forces],” according to the report.
This is occurring mostly in the Pashtun-dominated areas of southern Afghanistan, particularly in Helmand province.
“In some areas, these accommodations stem from ANSF fears of being isolated and overwhelmed by what they perceive as a superior insurgent force. … However, some local insurgent commanders may also be entering into agreements in recognition of ANSF strength and capability,” the report said.
The disclosure was one of many in the report that paints an unusually gloomy picture of the 12-year-old war and emphasizes the need to keep some U.S. troops there beyond 2014.
“After 2014, [the Afghan National Security Forces] sustainability will be at high risk without continued aid from the international community and continued Coalition force assistance,” the 120-page report concludes in its summary.
The report is likely to be the last semiannual update before the White House makes a final decision about how many — if any — U.S. troops should stay in Afghanistan beyond December 2014, when the current mission is slated to end.
About 48,500 U.S. troops remain deployed in Afghanistan, a number that is on track to fall to 34,000 by February.
On a positive note, so-called insider attacks — when Afghan troops turn their weapons on the Western forces assigned to mentor them — have dropped significantly.
Only nine insider attacks were reported in the first nine months of 2013, compared to 35 during the same period last year.
The report emphasizes that Afghan troops are leading most combat operations, yet it also notes the Afghan National Security Force has had limited success.
“The ANSF has had some difficulty holding terrain decisively after clearing it in rural areas and along the highways. ... In most cases where ANSF checkpoints were overrun, the ANSF has subsequently recaptured the positions.”
The Afghan army’s annual attrition rate hovers above 30 percent, meaning that each year, one out of three Afghan troops quits and goes home. The root causes include “poor leadership; inadequate living and working conditions,” low pay and the need to return to family farms to help with seasonal harvests, the report says.
The ANSF still requires U.S. and NATO help with many vital missions, including nearly all aviation operations such as close-air support and medical evacuation; spare parts resupply and other logistical tasks; intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance; and medical services, the report said.
“A lack of trained maintenance technicians and spare parts, and a logistics system that struggles to resupply units in the field, adversely affects every branch of the ANSF,” the report said. “Previous coalition investments to field and equip an effective fighting force will be at risk if the ANSF is unable to develop enabling capabilities such as sustainment.”
The Afghan air force, for example, struggles to keep its fleet of Russian-made Mi-17 helicopters in working order.
Meanwhile, the Taliban insurgency remains a capable fighting force. The Taliban carried out attacks “with roughly the same frequency as in 2012,” the report said. “The insurgency maintained an operational tempo this year similar to the previous three years.”
The Taliban continues to contest the Afghan government’s control over some sparsely populated areas, “particularly in the south and east, and along portions of Highway 1 and other main facilitation routes,” according to the report.
Intelligence estimates suggest there are “dozens” of al-Qaida fighters currently operating in Afghanistan.