Wed, May 02, 2018 - Page 6 News List

Afghan forces shrinking: US watchdog

RAMPING ATTACKS:Insurgent groups control 14.5% of districts to the government’s 56.3%, and have wrested control of 3% more of the population since August 2016

AFP, WASHINGTON

Friends and relatives of Agence France-Presse Afghanistan chief photographer Shah Marai pray as they gather at his burial on Friday in Gul Dara, Afghanistan.

Photo: AFP

The Taliban and other insurgent groups are gaining control over increasing numbers of the Afghan population, and the strength of local security forces has declined sharply, a US government watchdog said yesterday.

The report from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) paints a grim picture of the security situation in Afghanistan and comes even as the Pentagon asserts that Afghan troops and US-led NATO forces are making steady progress in the grueling, 16.5-year-old conflict.

It also comes on the heels of another deadly day in the capital, when twin blasts killed at least 25 people, including Agence France-Presse chief photographer for Afghanistan Shah Marai and eight other journalists.

The strength of the Afghan security forces dropped by about 10 percent over the course of a year, falling to a total size of 296,409 personnel in the army and police forces as of Jan. 31, SIGAR said.

Militants including the Taliban and the Islamic State group have stepped up their attacks on Afghan troops and police in recent months, sapping morale already hit by desertions and corruption.

US forces used to provide SIGAR with the number of Afghan troops being killed — more than 5,000 each year — but that information is now classified at the request of the Afghan government.

The Taliban and other insurgent groups now control or influence 14.5 percent of Afghanistan’s 407 districts — the highest level since SIGAR started recording such data in late 2015 — while the government controls 56.3 percent of the districts, with the remainder considered “contested.”

The varying population sizes of each district means that since August 2016, Afghan government control over its people has decreased.

“The overall trend for the insurgency is rising control over the population [from 9 percent in August 2016 to 12 percent in January],” the SIGAR report says.

The document also found increasing numbers of civilian deaths, as the Afghan air force has stepped up its operations and NATO has reduced its air strikes.

The facts on the ground tell a different narrative than the one pushed by the Pentagon, which says that the Taliban are weary and have elements willing to negotiate for peace.

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