One in three Afghan troops leave army: NATO

One in three Afghan soldiers still leave the army each year, but NATO remains on track to raise the number of security forces to 305,000 by October, an alliance general said on Wednesday.

The NATO training mission gets enough recruits to keep up with the high number of departures, which reached an annual attrition rate of 32 percent, according to its head, Lieutenant General William Caldwell.

Boosting the ranks of Afghanistan's security forces is a vital element of NATO's plan to begin handing command of the battlefield to Afghans this year, and start withdrawing some foreign troops, with the goal of giving them full control nationwide by 2014.

The attrition rate among Afghan troops is "not a trend across the army," Caldwell told reporters during a visit to NATO and European Union headquarters in Brussels.

But it is particularly high among battalions facing a fierce Taliban insurgency in southern Afghanistan, the US general said, blaming the attrition in part on weak Afghan leadership.

"It's not men who are leaving perhaps because they don't want to continue serving, but they either are continuously engaged in insurgent operations and not really getting a break or their leadership is not properly taking care of that," he said.

To keep up last year, the NATO training mission had to recruit 110,000 new soldiers and police to boost security forces by 70,000, a member of the training mission said, meaning that 40,000 men had left the ranks.

To reach its goal of 305,000 security forces this year, NATO will need to train 86,000 police and soldiers to add 35,000, according to a NATO document, meaning 51,000 men are expected to drop out.

Attrition includes soldiers who leave the army for various reasons, including desertion, the end of active duty and medical discharge.

The high number of recruits is allowing NATO to continue to increase the number of security forces "but also replenish any attrition that takes place," Caldwell said.

"We are on track right now to reach the approved growth goal by the international community of 305,000 Afghan national security force members by October of this year," he said.

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