You can now read 5 articles in a month for free on Read as much as you want anywhere and anytime for just 99¢.

Afghan Army struggles to recruit, keep competent soldiers

KABUL — The first thing Colonel Akbar Stanikzai does when he interviews recruits for the Afghan National Army is take their cellphones.

He checks to see if the ringtones are Taliban campaign tunes, if the screen savers show the white Taliban flag on a black background, or if the phone memory includes any insurgent beheading videos.

Continue reading below

Often enough they flunk that first test, but that hardly means they will not qualify to join their country’s ­manpower-hungry military. Now at its biggest size yet, 195,000 soldiers, the Afghan army is so plagued with desertions and low reenlistment rates that it has to replace a third of its entire force every year, officials say.

The attrition strikes at the core of America’s exit strategy in Afghanistan: to build an Afghan National Army that can take over the war and allow the United States and NATO forces to withdraw by the end of 2014. The urgency of that deadline has only grown as the pace of the troop pullout has become an issue in the American presidential campaign.

The Afghan deserters complain of corruption among their officers, poor food and equipment, indifferent medical care, and, probably most troublingly, a lack of belief in the army’s ability to fight the insurgents after the US military withdraws.

On top of that, recruits now undergo tougher vetting because of concerns that enemy infiltration of the military is contributing to a wave of attacks on international forces.

Loading comments...

Wake up with today's top stories.

Want each day's news headlines delivered fresh to your
inbox every morning? Just connect with us
in one of the following ways:
Please enter a valid email will never post anything without asking.
Privacy Policy
Subscriber Log In

You have reached the limit of 5 free articles in a month

Stay informed with unlimited access to Boston’s trusted news source.

  • High-quality journalism from the region’s largest newsroom
  • Convenient access across all of your devices
  • Today’s Headlines daily newsletter
  • Subscriber-only access to exclusive offers, events, contests, eBooks, and more
  • Less than 25¢ a week
Marketing image of
Marketing image of