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Watchdog: Pentagon gave inaccurate numbers on size of Afghan forces

Watchdog: Pentagon gave inaccurate numbers on size of Afghan forces
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The Pentagon gave a government watchdog incorrect figures on the size of Afghan security forces earlier this month, the watchdog said Tuesday.

The Pentagon recently informed the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) that the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) have 313,728 military personnel as of Jan. 31 — not the 296,409 the Pentagon previously told the inspector general, according to the watchdog's report, released Tuesday.

"This is the latest in a series of problems SIGAR has faced over the last three quarters with [Department of Defense] DOD’s responses to our requests for ANDSF information," the report said.

"SIGAR respectfully requests the appropriate congressional committees and the secretary of Defense remind all DOD components of their statutory duty to provide accurate and timely data concerning the ANDSF for SIGAR’s quarterly reports."

The new figure means that a 10-percent drop in the size of Afghan forces cited as alarming by critics of the 16-year-old war is not as steep, though the watchdog noted it still shows force “strength declined sharply.”

According to the new figures, Afghan security forces dropped by 17,980 from 2017 to 2018. The previous figures would have meant a 35,999-person decline.

In providing the new numbers, the Pentagon told SIGAR it previously failed to take into account that most of the Afghan Border Force was transferred from the purview of the Afghan National Police to that of the Afghan National Army, according to Tuesday’s updated report.

U.S. Forces Afghanistan “has not yet explained the reasons for the decline in the ANDSF force strength; SIGAR is following up with them,” the new report added.

SIGAR’s earlier report came out the same day twin bomb blasts in Kabul killed dozens, including 10 journalists.

In response to questions at the time about how the report and the bombings compare to earlier Pentagon statements that the situation in Afghanistan was improving, Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisUS mulls sending warships through Taiwan Strait amid China tensions Overnight Defense: US, South Korea cancel another military exercise | Dozen sailors injured in chopper crash on aircraft carrier | Navy vet charged with sending toxic letters US, South Korea cancel another military exercise MORE tempered previous optimism about the war.

He also indicated capabilities of Afghan forces matter more than numbers.

“The Afghan military is being made more capable,” Mattis told reporters. “You'll notice that more of the forces are special forces, advised and assisted, accompanied by NATO mentors and these are the most effective forces. So the expansion there is why the enemy has been unable to take any district centers, provincial centers, or make any advances there."