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Report: Afghan Security Forces See Drastic Decline

By William Gallo May 01, 2018

The number of Afghan security forces declined sharply over the past year amid worsening violence, according to a U.S. government watchdog's latest assessment of the conflict.

Afghan police and army forces saw an almost 11-percent decline, according to the report released Tuesday by the Special Inspector General on Afghanistan Reconstruction, or SIGAR.

Afghan forces suffered unprecedented casualties in 2017, reportedly losing about 10,000 personnel, according to a recentNew York Times article.

SIGAR was not able to publicly disclose the number of Afghan forces killed, because that information continues to be classified by Washington and Kabul.

The violence has led to increased reports of Afghan military desertions, but that information too has been classified.

In 2017, the Afghan National Police shrunk by more than 23,000 people. The Afghan National Army saw a 4,818 person decrease.

The U.S.-backed government controls just over half of the country's districts, the report says, despite an expanded U.S. military campaign in the country.

Insurgents control or influence 14.5 percent of Afghanistan's districts, as of January 31, 2018, according to SIGAR. That is the highest level recorded since SIGAR began publishing the district control data in 2015.

Kabul controls 56.3 percent of the districts, with the remaining areas contested.

A stalemate

Senior U.S. military officials repeatedly have acknowledged the nearly 17-year-old conflict remains a stalemate, even while touting some successes under the new strategy announced by President Donald Trump in August.

Trump's strategy appeared to commit the U.S. to Afghanistan indefinitely. It involves pressuring Pakistan to end its support for Afghan militants, supporting Kabul's effort to engage the Taliban in peace talks, and dropping more bombs on the country.

More bombs in 2018

The U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan dropped more bombs during the first quarter of 2018 than it has in the same period in any of the last 15 years, according to a VOA analysis of monthly data released by the Pentagon.

The violence in Afghanistan is expected to worsen as fighting picks up during the warmer months. Last week, the Taliban announced the start of its annual spring offensive, rejecting Afghan President Ashraf Ghani's offer of peace talks without preconditions.

Islamic State also has carried out numerous high-profile attacks, including a twin suicide bombing in Kabul on Monday that killed at least 26 people, including nine journalists.

Afghan defense

U.S. officials have pointed to successes, including the increasing capability of the Afghan military, which began conducting airstrikes two years ago. The Afghan air force carries out between 4 to 12 airstrikes every day, according to the Afghan Ministry of Defense.

Reacting to the report Tuesday, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis insisted the Afghan military is being made more capable.

"You'll notice that more of the force are special forces, advised and assisted, accompanied by NATO mentors," he told reporters. "And these are the most effective forces, so the expansion there is why the enemy has been unable to take any district centers, any provincial centers or make any advances there."

"We'll stand by the Afghan people. We'll stand by the Afghan government and the NATO mission will continue as we drive them to a political settlement," Mattis added.

Disclosure hurdles

The U.S. Congress created SIGAR to provide independent oversight of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan. The organization provides quarterly updates to lawmakers.

Over the past year, SIGAR has complained that U.S. and Afghan military officials have classified certain key metrics about the conflict, effectively preventing the data from appearing in the quarterly reports.

This quarter, SIGAR said Kabul and Washington provided more data than the preceding two quarters. For instance, the latest SIGAR report contained data about who controls what districts in Afghanistan.

However, information related to Afghan defense force casualties and other key figures about Afghan military readiness continues to be restricted.

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