Afghan Desertion Rates Soar as US Withdraws

Officials blame poor Afghan leadership, but increase a concern
By Mark Russell,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 4, 2011 6:11 AM CDT
This picture taken on Dec. 17, 2010, shows Afghan National Army soldiers looking on at their base in Musa Qala district in Helmand province.   (Getty Images)

(Newser) – Desertions from the Afghan army are soaring this year, amounting to one in seven of the country's 170,000 soldiers in the first six months of 2011, and casting doubts on the government's ability to maintain its own security, reports the Washington Post. The trend—more than twice the desertion rate of last year—especially worries officials as the United States is beginning to withdraw troops from Afghanistan.

Afghanistan soldiers are not punished for desertion, a policy designed by President Hamid Karzai to help recruiting and allow soldiers to return to their homes during harvest season, but many officials think the time has come to end that rule. American and Afghan experts blame poor leadership and corruption for the high desertion rates. “We’re not seeing any linkage to the amount of fighting they’re doing,” said one US military official. “It really boils down to leadership.”

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