A new report from the Government Accountability Office delivers a devastating blow to U.S. hopes of turning over security operations in Afghanistan to that nation’s military forces.

The report, released on Jan. 27 and based on assessments by NATO’s international force, discloses that not one Afghan army unit was able to operate independent of American-led coalition forces as of September 2010.

President Barack Obama has said U.S. troops will begin withdrawing from Afghanistan in July 2011, and he wants Afghan forces to take the lead on security operations by the end of 2014.

According to the GAO, the United States has spent $20 billion since 2002 developing the Afghan army, and another $7.5 billion is to be spent in fiscal 2011.

The report states that “as of September 2010, no ANA [Afghan National Army] unit was assessed” by the international coalition and American command “as capable of conducting its mission independent of coalition assistance.”

A unit is rated as being able to operate independently when it is “capable of planning, executing, and sustaining the full spectrum of its missions without assistance from coalition forces,” the GAO observes.

According to the GAO disclosures, there are many challenges that NATO and U.S.-led Afghan training missions face:

86 percent of Afghan army recruits are illiterate, and literacy training must be provided to enable units to achieve the technical skills required to operate independently.
As of October 2010, about one-quarter of non-commissioned officer positions in Afghan combat units were unfilled.
In any given month from January to September 2010, more than one-quarter of Afghan soldiers were absent from duty.