‘I will never rejoin’: Record casualties take toll on Afghan forces

November 23, 2018

KABUL -- After losing countless comrades to better-equipped Taliban fighters and having his salary stolen by superiors, Afghan soldier Beg is fed up and plans to quit the army. He is not alone.

Afghanistan’s beleaguered security forces have long seen high rates of attrition. But now, as the Taliban maintain the upper hand in the 17-year conflict, casualties are reaching what experts warn are unsustainable levels.

Since the start of 2015, when local forces took over from US-led NATO combat troops to secure the country, nearly 30,000 Afghan soldiers and police have been killed, President Ashraf Ghani revealed this month — a figure far higher than anything previously acknowledged.

That is an average of around 20 soldiers killed per day.

“If the casualty rate continues like this, the day will come when we will have no one left to recruit,” warned military analyst Atiqullah Amarkhail.

The shocking mortality rate has sent already shaky morale to new lows, with many soldiers questioning how much further they should push their luck.

In the third quarter of 2018 the number of soldiers and police deployed across the war-torn country fell to 312,328 — nearly 9,000 fewer than just one year ago, and the lowest level for any comparable period since 2012, a US watchdog said in October.

Reasons for attrition included fatalities, and soldiers going AWOL or declining to re-enlist, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) said, citing the US defense department.

Beg is one who has no intention of going back.

“There have been days when I have lost five to 10 colleagues in fighting,” said the 26-year-old, who is based in the northern province of Jowzjan. As with other military sources in this story, AFP is using only his surname to protect his identity.

“I have survived two Taliban sieges of our unit and God helped me escape,” he continued.

It’s an increasingly big “if”, as the number of security forces killed in action appears to be accelerating. Estimated figures for 2015 show 5,000 killed that year, with the remainder of the 28,529 casualties revealed by President Ghani dying since then.