The United States has invested about $84 billion since 2002 to help create long-term security in Afghanistan—including providing and maintaining equipment for the Afghan defense and security forces.
The Government Accountability Office reviewed the capacity of these forces to operate and sustain U.S.-purchased weapon systems and equipment. GAO found that DOD lacks reliable information on how well most Afghan forces operate and maintain this equipment because it has little direct contact with the front-line units that make up about three-quarters of the Afghan forces.
Since the Resolute Support mission began in 2015, the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) have improved some fundamental capabilities, such as high-level operational planning, but continue to rely on U.S. and coalition support to fill several key capability gaps, according to Department of Defense (DOD) reporting. DOD has initiatives to address some ANDSF capability gaps, such as a country-wide vehicle maintenance and training effort, but DOD reports it does not expect the ANDSF to develop and sustain independent capabilities in some areas, such as logistics, for several years.
While DOD has firsthand information on the abilities of the Afghan Air Force and Special Security Forces to operate and maintain U.S.-purchased equipment, it has little reliable information on the equipment proficiency of conventional ANDSF units. U.S. and coalition advisors are embedded at the tactical level for the Air Force and Special Security Forces, enabling DOD to directly assess those forces’ abilities. However, the advisors have little direct contact with conventional ANDSF units on the front lines. As a result, DOD relies on those units’ self-assessments of tactical abilities, which, according to DOD officials, can be unreliable.
GAO’s analysis of three critical equipment types illustrated the varying degrees of DOD’s information. For example, DOD provided detailed information about the Air Force’s ability to operate and maintain MD-530 helicopters and the Special Security Forces’ ability to operate and maintain Mobile Strike Force Vehicles; however, DOD had limited information about how conventional forces operate and maintain radios and Mobile Strike Force Vehicles. DOD’s lack of reliable information on conventional forces’ equipment operations and maintenance abilities adds to the uncertainty and risk in assessing the progress of DOD efforts in Afghanistan.
GAO recommends that DOD develop options for collecting reliable information on conventional ANDSF units’ ability to operate and maintain U.S.-purchased equipment. DOD concurred with this recommendation.