SIGAR said in a quarterly report released on May 1, but with figures from January, that members of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) and the Afghan National Police (ANP) had seen a combined personnel drop of 10.6 percent in the year prior, Sputnik News reported at the time.
The 274-page quarterly report to covered a range of topics regarding the status of the US' reconstruction of Afghanistan, but the sharp decline in Afghan security personnel made most of the headlines. The US has been trying to bolster these Afghan forces since 2002, one year after invading the country, and continues to rely on them as an integral part of its long-term plan to retake the rest of the country from the Taliban.
"Building up the Afghan forces is a top priority for the US and our international allies, so it is worrisome to see Afghan force strength decreasing," SIGAR Special Inspector General John Sopko commented after the initial report.
But just two weeks after the report, on May 15, SIGAR released a "supplement" to it, blaming US Forces-Afghanistan (USFOR-A) for "erroneous reporting" that led to the number of ANSF and ANP forces being reported as 296,409 individuals, whereas the correct number is 313,728. SIGAR was informed of the error by the USFOR-A on May 10.
"USFOR-A said the error in their original figures had been mostly due to their failure to account for the transfer of most of the Afghan Border Force (ABF), previously an Afghan National Police (ANP) force element, from the ANP to the Afghan National Army (ANA)," the report says. "While the ABF personnel had already been dropped from the original ANP figure, they had not been added to the ANA figure. USFOR-A did not indicate what other factors contributed to their erroneous reporting."
Those accounted for 17,000, about half, of the missing forces, according to Lt. Col. Martin O'Donnell, the high-level press official for Resolute Support, the official name of the US mission in Afghanistan.
According to the new numbers, the Afghan National Army saw a 6,861-person increase in members, while the national police still saw a significant loss of 24,841 between January 2017 and January 2018.
The updated report also chastised USFOR-A for other reporting errors, such as sending SIGAR classified information but only afterward, informing them of its classification.
"In light of the problems described above, SIGAR respectfully requests the appropriate Congressional committees and the Secretary of Defense remind all DoD components of their statutory duty to provide accurate and timely data concerning the ANDSF for SIGAR's quarterly reports," Sopko said, concluding the report.