Afghanistan Watchdog: Government Control Lowest Ever
The U.S. watchdog for Afghan reconstruction reports that the security situation has reached an all time low. Since the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) began tracking district control three years ago, Afghan government controlled or influenced districts has declined 16% to 55.5%. In the same period, insurgent control/influence rose 5.5% and contested districts increased 11%.
As of late July, the U.S. military assesses that the government controls/influences 226 districts and that the Taliban controls/influences 49. The military identifies 132 districts as contested. By comparison, Long War Journal assesses that the government controls 145 districts, the Taliban controls 52, and 199 are contested.
Since the prior quarterly report, Resolute Support downgraded eight districts from government influenced to contested, three of which are in Faryab province. The military also downgraded three districts from contested to insurgent activity.
Even as the military admits worsening security, its assessment remains overly optimistic. For example, despite clear evidence to the contrary, the military assesses improved security in Ghazni. The New York Times identified five Ghazni districts that were being administered remotely because the government was forced to flee. In all five, the military either maintained its assessment or increased an assessment of government control. In Nawa, a traditional Taliban stronghold, the military’s assessment changed from High Insurgent Activity to Insurgent Activity. The military assessed Giro as Afghan government influenced, from contested in its prior assessment. FDD’s Long War Journal assesses that the Taliban controls 12 of Ghazni’s 19 districts, whereas the military only admits insurgent activity in one. The military refuses to use the term insurgent control and does not use its highest classification “High insurgent activity” anywhere in Ghazni.
FDD’s Long War Journal has independently tracked the status of Afghanistan’s districts using press reports, information provided by the U.S. and Afghan governments, and the Taliban. The U.S. military is providing the best case scenario of the status of Afghanistan’s districts, as the example of Ghazni province shows. This is also true in many other provinces in Afghanistan, including in Helmand, Uruzgan, Kunduz and Farah, where the Taliban controls or contests many more districts than the U.S. military admits.
According to LWJ‘s study, the Taliban currently controls 52 districts (13 percent) and contests 199 (50 percent). While many of these districts are in rural areas and have low populations, they are crucial to the Taliban’s insurgency. The Taliban uses these 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. Over the past six months, the Taliban launched major incursions into the provincial capitals of Farah and Ghazni by staging its forces in districts outside of the cities.
Afghan security forces are struggling to maintain force strength, due to both record high casualties and other factors. The U.S. military continues to restrict public assess to metrics related to force development. For over a year, the military has only permitted the release of ANDSF casualty figures in a classified annex.
“From the period of May 1 to the most current data as of October 1, 2018, the average number of casualties the ANDSF suffered is the greatest it has ever been during like periods. May was the most active month, accounting for 26% of all casualties during this five month period. The preponderance of casualties during this time period came as a result of either checkpoint operations (52%) or patrolling (35%). Trends indicate that the number of checkpoint casualties is increasing while the number of patrol casualties is decreasing,” the military told SIGAR.
Force strength is also at the lowest since 2012. For the first time, U.S. Forces Afghanistan did not allow SIGAR to release any information on Army and Police attrition.
The report also highlighted the failed counter-narcotics mission in Afghanistan. According to SIGAR’s head John F. Sopko, “Those efforts have cost U.S. taxpayers more than $8 billion since 2002, yet Afghanistan’s opium crisis is worse than ever.”