Outside of larger cities such as Kabul and Kandahar, buildings for Afghan army and police units are often just mud huts - or don't exist at all, Kenneth Moorefield, a Pentagon assistant inspector general, said at a hearing held by the independent Commission on Wartime Contracting. Roads need to be built to remote sites so supplies can be shipped, but attacks by the Taliban and insurgent groups discourage contractor convoys from making the trips.
Complicating matters more, when a spot for a security building is selected, it must be cleared of land mines, Moorefield said. And that often leads to competing claims of ownership of the land by individuals and families.
"Resolving these claims can sometimes delay projects for over a year," he said.
Moorefield said the challenges are greater for the Afghan police than the army, which is a more respected and stable institution. Corruption and illiteracy are significant problems within the police forces, he added.
Expanding and improving the Afghan army and police is a key element in President Barack Obama's strategy for stabilizing Afghanistan so U.S. troops can begin to come home in July 2011.
Army Maj. Gen. Richard Formica, who until last month was in charge of the U.S. command overseeing the training of Afghan security forces, offered a more optimistic assessment that the mission can be accomplished with additional resources. Obama is sending 30,000 more American forces to Afghanistan, including qualified training personnel and mentors.
The contracting commission estimated that since 2002, the U.S. has committed nearly $31 billion to training, equipping, and supporting the Afghan security forces. Despite the investment, Formica said a "culture of poverty" has hung over the command's experience in Afghanistan.
"It is not just the fourth or fifth poorest country in the world, but it is in our approach to what we do - the result of long-standing shortage of resources," Formica told the commission. "When I was in Iraq in 2004, if we needed something, we got it. But in Afghanistan we have had to figure out how to do without it."
The top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, has set the goal of building the Afghan security force to 400,000 by 2013 - up from roughly 94,000 Afghan police officers and 97,000 soldiers.
Formica said it's essential to achieve those numbers in order to hand off security responsibilities to the Afghans.
"I recognize it's not without risk," Formica said after the hearing. "But there's no alternative."