KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- A $200 million U.S.-funded program to bolster literacy rates in Afghanistan's security forces has been plagued by weak oversight and accountability, according to a report from federal inspectors published Tuesday that suggests half of Afghan police and soldiers still might not be able to read or write.
The NATO-led coalition had set a goal of having 100 percent of Afghan military and police reach the equivalent of first-grade-level literacy, and for at least half to reach third-grade level, by the end of 2014. To achieve that, it set up a literacy training program via three U.S.-funded contracts.
The Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction said in a report released Tuesday that three years later, some command officials estimated that half of the security forces were illiterate as of February 2013 and believe the literacy targets might be "unrealistic" or "unattainable."
The report cited a long list of shortcomings: poorly defined requirements for literacy classes, no means of overseeing contractors or the quality of the instruction and high rates of attrition in the security forces making it impossible to tell if literacy-training graduates are still serving and can be counted as success stories.
It also challenged NATO's assertion the program has been successful, saying the coalition's ability to measure improved literacy rates is "limited" and confidence in hitting targets had been based on a training size half of what is expected to be in place in 2014.
Special Inspector General John Sopko described the training program as "very poorly done," expressing incredulity at the lack of oversight and reliable metrics.
"Here we are, years into this process when we promised to do this training and we're very unsure about the results. That's pathetic," Sopko said. "With the drawdown and now with the Afghans taking the lead, this could go to the proverbial 'place in a handbasket' real fast."
The Afghan Ministry of Education estimates that only about one-third of the Afghan population can read or write while about 13 percent of recruits for the security forces are literate, according to the inspectors.
The impetus for the literacy program was based on the ideabelief that literate security forces are easier to train, more capable and better understand rule of law. With first-grade level skills -- which can mean reading and writing short words and one's name, counting up to 1,000 -- security forces can better track equipment, weapons and their own pay, cutting down on corruption and increasing efficiency.
Those skills will take on even greater importance in Afghanistan as the NATO mission winds down ahead of a withdrawal of combat troops by 2014 -- and should have been a priority, according to Sopko.
"Obviously this was not a priority of NATO and the U.S. government, otherwise we would have done a better job of it," he said. While attaining 100 percent literacy might have looked good on a press release, "we're not going to win this war and help the Afghans based upon good PR."
Instead of getting required hours of training, some 45 percent of police personnel recruited between July 2012 and February 2013 were sent directly into the field without getting any literacy instruction, the report stated.
Getting security forces to show up also has been a problem: one estimate put overall course attendance for army and police officers at only some 50 percent since February 2011.
In response to the report's publication, ISAF said it has implemented new literacy and language training contracts for the Afghan National Security Forces to improve delivery and oversight.
"Under the new contracts, metrics for service delivery and performance are more stringent," it said.
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