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Military


Freedom's Sentinel - 2016

The security situation in Afghanistan did not improve in 2016. The numbers of the Afghan security forces were decreasing, while both casualties and the number of districts under insurgent control or influence were increasing.

Insurgent attacks continued across Afghanistan by the end of 2016 with the Taliban remaining the greatest threat to the Afghan government. With a strength estimated by U.S. Forces-Afghanistan (USFOR-A) to number 25,000 to 35,000 full or part-time fighters, the Taliban launched a series of attacks on 6 provincial capitals in October 2016, following its stated campaign strategy of capturing at least 1 provincial capital in 2016.

Aided by U.S. airstrikes, however, the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF or Afghan security forces) repelled the attacks and maintained control over all provincial capitals and population centers. The extent of Afghan government territorial control or influence decreased 6 percent since August 2016. At the end of the quarter, the government maintained control or influence in 233 (57 percent) of the 407 districts in Afghanistan, while the Taliban controlled or influenced 41 districts (10 percent), with the remainder considered “contested.”

Although meetings to restart the peace process were held between Taliban and Afghan representatives in the Persian Gulf state of Qatar during the quarter, no further developments in the process occurred. The relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan remained tense this quarter, with sporadic cross-border artillery attacks occurring along their shared border. However, the NATO-led Resolute Support Mission (Resolute Support) facilitated more frequent dialogue between senior Afghan military officers and their Pakistani counterparts this quarter in an effort to improve border relationships.

During his nomination hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee in January 2016, then-Lieutenant General John W. Nicholson Jr., commander of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, said Afghanistan had an air-power shortfall.99 General Nicholson, in a press conference on December 2, provided details of Department of Defense (DOD) plans to replace Afghanistan’s aging Russian-made Mi-17 helicopter fleet with U.S.-made UH-60 “Black Hawk” helicopters. DOD reported that the current Mi-17 fleet in Afghanistan is in a state of steady decline due to higher-than-anticipated utilization rates and accelerating attrition that need to be addressed in the coming years. General Nicholson also stated that Afghan requests for Russian technical assistance for the Mi-17s had not been fruitful.

In November 2016, DOD requested $814.5 million from Congress as part of an amendment to the fiscal year (FY) 2017 Oversees Contingency Operation Budget to purchase and upgrade obsolete U.S. Army UH-60A Black Hawk helicopters for Afghanistan. The budget request would also fund additional A-29 Super Tucano light attack aircraft, MD-530 helicopters, and an armed variant of the single-turboprop C-208 utility aircraft.

On December 23, 2016, President Obama signed the Fiscal Year (FY) 2017 National Defense Authorization Act, authorizing up to $4.26 billion for the Afghanistan Security Forces Fund (ASFF). The ASFF is the United States’ principal fund to build, train, equip, and sustain the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF). President Obama pledged to recommend to his successor that the United States continue to seek funding for the ANDSF at or near current levels through 2020.

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) reported that 8,397 conflict-related civilian casualties occurred between January 1 and September 30, 2016, a 1% decrease compared to the same period in 2015.120 UNAMA found that antigovernment elements, responsible for 61% of the civilian casualties, were perpetrating illegal and indiscriminate attacks and were deliberately targeting civilians.

U.S. Forces Afghanistan (USFOR-A) reported that approximately 57.2% of the country’s 407 districts are under Afghan government control or influence as of November 15, 2016, a 6.2% decrease from the 63.4% reported last quarter in late August, and a nearly 15% decrease since November 2015.

USFOR-A attributed the loss of government control or influence over territory to the ANDSF’s strategic approach to security prioritization, identifying the most important areas that the ANDSF must hold to prevent defeat, and focusing less on areas with less strategic importance. Under its new Sustainable Security Strategy, the ANDSF targets “disrupt” districts for clearance operations when the opportunity arises, but will give first priority to protecting “hold” and “fight” districts under its control.



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