President Joe Biden has said a number of things about Afghanistan in defense of his disastrous withdrawal strategy that’s playing out that have proven not to be true, but the most egregious fib may be inflating the actual size of the Afghan army.
U.S. Army Gen. Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also inflated the size of the Afghan army, but a July 31 report from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction said as of late April, the Afghan army had 182,071 soldiers in addition to a police force of 118,628 — meaning Biden was combining the two.
The Taliban quickly routed Afghanistan, rolling into Kabul on Sunday with nary a shot being fired because the Afghan army put up no resistance, yet Biden was adamant on July 6, 2021, that this would never happen, saying “the Afghan troops have 300,000 well-equipped, as well equipped as any army in the world, and an air force, against something like 75,000 Taliban.”
The president went on to say that “they clearly have the capacity to sustain what is in place,” adding that “the likelihood there’s going to be the Taliban overrunning everything and owning the whole country is highly unlikely.”
ALERT – This video of Biden saying Taliban will not take over Afghanistan has gained 10 million views and you know whypic.twitter.com/lBm5mK26e1
— Insider Paper (@TheInsiderPaper) August 19, 2021
Yet, that’s precisely what happened. And Biden repeated the claim on Monday, “We trained and equipped an Afghan military force of some 300,000 strong — incredibly well equipped — a force larger in size than the militaries of many of our NATO allies.”
And while that force effectively vanished into thin air, SIGAR showed a much smaller military:
IG report said July 31 that as of late April there were 300,699 Afghan National Defense & Security Forces on paper, but only 182,071 were military while 118,628 police – & SIGAR said numbers were already lower due to the Taliban offensive in May thru July.https://t.co/oP2FTni7KV
— Jerry Dunleavy (@JerryDunleavy) August 18, 2021
In testimony before Congress on June 17, Milley did differentiate between the Afghan army and police, but pushed his total even higher than the president.
“Right now, the government of Afghanistan is holding and they have approximately about 325,000 to 350,000 person security force — army and police force,” he said at the time.
Milley stuck to his guns at Wednesday’s press conference, in questioning the Afghan army’s will to fight.
“They had the training, the size, the capability to defend their country. This comes down to an issue of will and leadership. And, no, I did not, nor did anyone else, see a collapse of an army that size in 11 days,” he said.
Even the forever friendly fact-checkers at The Washington Post gave them “three Pinocchios,” describing the president’s comparison to NATO forces a “bogus claim.”
The paper cites an annual report from the International Institute of Strategic Studies, which it called the “gold standard” in determining size and capabilities of the world’s armies, to say the Afghan military was even smaller.
According to a 2021 report from IISS, Afghanistan had an active force of only 178,800 — 171,500 in the army and 7,300 in the air force, the Post reported.
“Reports suggested that already high losses and high levels of desertion further increased in 2020,” the IISS report said. “There was reported 22% personnel shortage in mid-2019, and there are problems in retaining key specialists including pilots and special-operations troops.”
In noting the counting of police, the Post pointed out that the police forces report to the Interior Ministry, not the Defense Ministry, and were utilized to guard the border, staff security checkpoints, and try to hold territory that had been cleared of insurgents.
A report this week from Anthony Cordesman, who is with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, cited the SIGAR total, but said even here the numbers were not what they appeared.
“The few Afghan Army and Air Forces units that were highly effective were also increasingly stressed by excessive combat assignments as well as by political allocation to other assignments of marginal value,” Cordesman wrote in a report. “Only a small fraction of the 182,071 personnel supposedly in the Army and Air Force could be used effectively, and the total force suffered a 25% annual turnover rate due to losses and desertions by 2020.”
In effect, it appears everyone knew the Afghan force was not as large and formidable, except for President Biden and the U.S. military’s top officer.
Or the commander in chief and his top military advisor were being dishonest.
Here’s a quick sampling of a few responses to the story from Twitter:
Seeing all these comments about the 300,000 strong Afghan army. Let me tell you it was perhaps 50,000 strong. Those were numbers of paper to justify funds siphoned elsewhere. Well known in DC and the White House
— Bruno Maçães (@MacaesBruno) August 18, 2021
This is not a small mistake.
— Marianne Banas (@mernbanas) August 18, 2021
Milley is going to throw Biden under the bus with both hands.
— lwill (@lwillaford) August 18, 2021
There could have been half a million of them and the only thing that would have changed is the amount of dollars we had to spend renting them until our eventual departure.
— Travis Byrd (@travisbyrdjr) August 18, 2021
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