|US troops and Afghan National Army soldiers
conduct a joint security patrol in Kandahar province
© AFP/File Romeo Gacad
WASHINGTON (AFP) – The US military hopes to slash the cost of training Afghan forces over the next several years, partly because commanders expect the Taliban insurgency to decline, a top US general said Monday.
The United States has forecast that the annual price tag of training and equipping Afghan security forces in coming years would drop to about $6 billion but the officer overseeing the effort, Lieutenant General William Caldwell, said the cost likely will be much less.
“So what I will tell you is, from the efforts that have been ongoing here, it’s going to be significantly lower than that ($6 billion),” Caldwell told reporters by video link from Kabul.
Caldwell did not offer estimates as to how much money could be saved in coming years.
The general’s comments come amid growing pressure to scale back US defense spending — including the cost of the Afghanistan war — as politicians struggle to tackle the government’s budget deficit and debt.
Caldwell’s prediction that the Taliban would gradually recede has been echoed by some other senior officers, but violence levels remain high and the insurgency has proved resilient as it exploits safe havens in neighboring Pakistan.
The US military’s top officer told lawmakers last week the Pentagon was looking to reduce the cost of building up the Afghan security forces, which are due to take over from NATO-led troops by the end of 2014.
The Pentagon has proposed spending $12.8 billion in 2012 on training and arming the Afghan army and police, with the force due to expand to 352,000 by November 2012.
Caldwell said the NATO-led mission had found ways to save money in the training effort. Fans were being installed at Afghan bases instead of air conditioning units and boots and uniforms were being bought from Afghan firms instead of US companies, he said.
The general said Afghan security forces are improving steadily and that they performed heroically in fending off a September 13 attack on the US embassy and NATO headquarters.
Only two battalions out of about 180 were now able to operate independently, and even then they required some logistical or other support from NATO forces, he said.
Once Afghan troops and police take the lead throughout the country by 2015, the force will still need some support from the NATO-led coalition to help with intelligence and air power, he said.
© AFP — Published at Activist Post with license