By: Devika Kandelwal
January 4 2022
There is no consensus on the size of the Afghan military force.
There is no consensus on the size of the Afghan military force. On 16 August, President Joe Biden made a speech in the light of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, and the chaos that Afghanistan has plunged into since. He said, "We spent over a trillion dollars. 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. We gave them every tool they could need." We decided to fact check the figure of 300,000 quoted by Biden. According to CNN, this figure has previously been quoted by several media outlets, the U.S. military, and think tanks. However, the figure is unreliable. Experts told CNN that "the 300,000 figure significantly overstated the number of Afghans who were available to fight." A report published in July 2021 by Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) also included the figure of 300,000, but that came with a disclaimer "that data about the Afghan forces had been of questionable accuracy for years." A Washington Post article states that one of the key problems to identify the accurate figure of the Afghan soldiers is of so-called "ghost" fighters. Ghost fighters refer to soldiers and police officers who do not report for duty and are only listed on the employee rolls so people can collect their salaries. This issue has made it extremely difficult to accurately determine how many soldiers actually report for duty and are an active part of Afghan troops. SIGAR's report from July also mentions that it has repeatedly expressed "serious concerns" about corruption, mentioning "the existence of ghost soldiers and police" and "the questionable accuracy of data on the actual strength of the force." CNN also reported that the 300,000 figure counts both military personnel and the police. CNN quoted Anthony Cordesman, the Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank, and a former federal official saying that it is "fundamentally dishonest to count police as troops, since they were not sufficiently trained or equipped to fight Taliban forces." Jonathan Schroden has studied the Afghan forces as director of the Countering Threats and Challenges Program at CNA and estimates that the "true number was likely in the range of 150,000 to 200,000 people."