US watchdog: Afghan forces struggle to regain ground as casualties mount

US watchdog: Afghan forces struggle to regain ground as casualties mount

The Afghan government has lost control of almost half the country to terrorist forces, the lowest levels of control since government officials began tracking the situation in November 2015, according to the latest oversight report.

The figures represented a bleak progress report on the U.S.'s longest war, now in its 18th year; however, a full assessment remains hard because of Pentagon restrictions on Afghan forces data, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction said.

As of September, it said the government controlled or influenced territory with about 65 percent of the population, stable since October 2017.

"While the districts, territory, and population under insurgent control or influence also decreased slightly, the districts, territory, and population "contested" - meaning under neither Afghan government nor insurgent control or influence - increased", it said.

Since late 2015, almost a year after the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation transition from a combat mission to one focused on training and advising Afghans, the numbers have shown overall insurgent gains. "Despite this, 2017 poppy cultivation is more than four times that reported by the UNODC for 2002, the first full year of the USA intervention in Afghanistan". "As Long War Journal has consistently demonstrated, the Taliban uses rural areas to recruit fighters, operate training camps, tax the residents, spread its radical ideology, and launch attacks on more populous areas under government control".

In July, the security forces consisted of 312,328 personnel - including 194,017 in the Afghan National Army and air force, and 118,311 in the Afghan National police - the lowest strength reported for comparable periods since 2012.

"ANDSF strength decreased by 1,914 personnel since last quarter and by 8,827 personnel since the same period previous year", according to SIGAR. "The ANDSF is roughly 40,000 personnel, or 11%, below their target strength of 352,000 personnel".

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Casualties among soldiers and policemen was one of the main reasons for the dip, according to the Defense Department.

Data from Afghanistan's NATO-led Resolute Support mission showed that government forces had "failed to gain greater control or influence over districts, population, and territory this quarter", the agency said.

The Afghan government no longer releases exact casualty figures but this month General Joseph Votel, head of US Central Command, said Afghan casualties were increasing from a year ago and were an issue "we are paying very, very close attention to".

General Joseph Votel, head of U.S. Central Command, said last month that Afghan casualties were increasing from past year. "SIGAR continues to urge transparency in data relating to the security aspects of Afghanistan reconstruction", the report said.

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan has documented civilian casualties in Afghanistan since 2009. "Meanwhile, the USA military says it has no counternarcotics mission in Afghanistan, and USAID says it will not plan, design, or implement new programs to address opium-poppy cultivation". A record 1,692 civilians were killed in the first six months of 2018, according to the SIGAR report, slightly more than the 1,672 civilians killed past year, and a massive increase from the 1,052 civilians killed in 2009.

The NATO mission, meanwhile, recorded just 5,500 civilian casualties between January 1 and August 15, and only 102 of those were caused by airstrikes - 29 by USA strikes and 73 by Afghan strikes.

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