When Aziz Gilan was posted last year to help try to secure a notorious district south of the Afghan capital, his police unit should have been around 80 strong.
Instead when he was deployed to Baraki Barak in Logar province, shortages meant the headcount was only 25 and in the months of fighting with the Taliban that followed it dwindled further.
As bombs and ambushes mounted, nine of his colleagues were killed and six more badly wounded.
Such casualty rates among Afghan forces are not unusual. More than 17 years after the Taliban regime was ousted and after America alone has ploughed more than £60bn into the Afghan security forces, they are dying at the rate of hundreds per month.
The scale of attrition is now under renewed attention as Donald Trump tries to cut a deal with the Taliban to end the conflict and withdraw American troops.
As US and Taliban envoys met today in Doha for their fifth round of talks, Afghan troops told the Telegraph that without continued American support they believed their forces would collapse.
Casualty figures have long been classified by the Afghan government, but the president, Ashraf Ghani, in January declared that 45,000 had “paid the ultimate sacrifice” since he took office.
That number indicates around 850 Afghan security personnel have been killed per month on average. While Western military and diplomatic sources said they believed that figure to be wrong, they admitted Afghan troops deaths were high. In December, the general chosen to lead US Central Command said they were not sustainable.
Mr Gilan, who gave a false name because he is still serving, said: “It’s clear that without the support of the foreigners, that our government can’t do anything.”
His own deployment in Baraki Barak had ended with severe injuries when his armoured car hit a homemade mine. The three police he was travelling with all died and he was blasted with shrapnel.
Before that his unit had been surrounded for 45 days, unable to be relieved and existing on nothing but boiled potatoes, he said. Over the years, many of his comrades had chosen to desert when the chance arose and had failed to return from leave.
The failures of the Afghan forces were not due to a lack of funding, but an incompetent level of senior leadership who cared nothing for the men, he alleged.
Fazel Rahman, a soldier convalescing from a head wound after he was ambushed in Faryab province, said shortages were such that he had been sent into combat even though he was supposed to be a cook.
“We had a great shortage of soldiers. Everyone had to do soldiering. Everyone had to pick up a gun,” he said.
“If the Americans go, then in one day then it will collapse. In one day,” Mr Rahman said, also using a false name. “Most people who go home on holiday and never come back.”
Ashraf Ghani has said the heavy casualties are proof that his forces are now fighting for their own country, and not relying on foreign forces to battle the Taliban.
Casualties for the US-led military coalition peaked in 2010 at 710 killed as Barack Obama surged tens of thousands of troops into the country to fight the Taliban. Last year the total had dropped to 13 Americans killed.
Despite the heavy casualties, Afghan troops were not surrendering en masse as had happened to Iraqi troops in the face of Islamic State group, said Haroun Mir, a Kabul-based political analyst.
He said: “Afghan troops are fighting and they are dying, they are not shying away from it. There is a lot of will, the problem is the management.”
America is still pumping more than $5bn a year into Afghan security forces.
“In the 1990s [when fighting the Taliban] we didn’t have anything. Now we have everything, but we don’t have leadership,” he said.
A senior Western official said the Afghan tactic of trying to secure ground with isolated checkpoints was partly responsible for the high death toll.
The official said: “There’s no question that they are taking very serious casualties. The Afghan forces deploy themselves in static checkpoints which get attacked and overrun. It’s a cause of some frustration.”
The Afghan forces are supposed to have a headcount of 352,000, but current manning levels are at 308,000.
While the casualty figures are sobering, estimates of how much territory the Afghan forces can control are also stark. By the end of 2018, the Afghan government was estimated “to control or influence” 54 per cent of districts, down from 72 per cent three years earlier.
Massed attacks on Kunduz and Ghazni have seen the Taliban temporarily take control of parts of major cities in recent years.
“No one wants an abrupt withdrawal of political and military support because we know what that looks like,” the official said. “The feeling is that as long as the Afghan force is paid for, it won’t collapse. There’s no prospect of the Afghan government losing permanent control of a major city. The Taliban haven’t got the ability to take and hold ground.”
Mr Gilan said once he had recovered from his wounds, he was unlikely to return to the police. After six years in some of the country’s toughest postings, he felt he had done enough. He also had no desire to serve under commanders who cared little for their men.
“I like my job, but unfortunately this government doesn’t care about the officers or the soldiers,” he said.