WASHINGTON - The United States has often overestimated the ability of Afghan military and police units to fight on their own, according to an independent report released Monday that calls into question the strategy to win the war and bring troops home.
The investigation is the first objective look at the rating system the military has used for the past five years to judge the effectiveness of Afghan troops. Its findings seem to contradict upbeat assessments recently provided by senior military commanders overseeing the war.
The capability of Afghan forces is considered the single biggest indicator of whether the war is going well and is seen as the linchpin in the U.S. strategy since the war began more than eight years ago.
Lawmakers are likely to use the latest findings to question President Barack Obama's handling of the war. Democrats say they are frustrated that Obama is sending more U.S. troops into combat without assurances that Afghan forces are close behind.
The United States has spent $27 billion on the effort - about half of the money it has poured into rebuilding Afghanistan. But the program has been hobbled by a lack of trainers, available Afghans and spikes in violence.
"The bottom line to this is that the system ... is flawed, it's unreliable and it's inconsistent," said Arnold Fields, who led the study as the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction.
Two weeks before he was fired by Obama, Gen. Stanley McChrystal told reporters that "their growth is on track" and "we're ahead of the plan." But the report found the system used to judge that success was deeply flawed. In some cases, units with the same rating would have different abilities. Also, highly rated units often regressed as soon as U.S. mentors withdrew.
Sen. Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat who chairs the Armed Services Committee, said that the United States should use a delay in major operations in the southern town of Kandahar until more Afghan troops can deploy to the fight. He called it totally unacceptable that there are only about 5,300 Afghan forces in Kandahar and 6,900 coalition troops being led by the United States.
Fields said that the NATO headquarters in Afghanistan was briefed on his findings in March. Officials agreed in April to change the rating system.
The Washington Post reported that about 700 U.S. and Afghan troops launched a major assault along Afghanistan's border with Pakistan in an attempt to destroy a growing insurgent haven and blunt rising violence in the area.
McChrystal to retire
Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who was fired last week as the top U.S. general in the stalemated Afghanistan war, told the Army on Monday he will retire. Col. Tom Collins, an Army spokesman, said McChrystal, 55, notified the service of his plans. The general submitted formal retirement papers, but it is not clear when he will leave because the process usually take a few months.