Under 30,000 local forces remain at their posts in Afghanistan
Afghan security forces shrink as insurgent groups gain control
The number of security forces in Afghanistan shrunk by nearly 11 per cent in the past year, a US government watchdog said on Tuesday, paving the way towards an increasingly precarious situation.
There are just under 30,000 forces in war-torn Afghanistan as of January 31, a meager number for a country that witnessed eight terrorist attacks in the capital alone this year.
According to Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), the Taliban and other insurgent groups exert control over 14.5 per cent of Afghanistan. This, says the watchdog, is the highest level since SIGAR began recording this type of data three years ago.
The Taliban and ISIS have both stepped up their attacks on Afghan troops and police, as well as civilians. SIGAR figures provided by US forces showed that more than 5,000 local troops were killed each year. This information was recently rendered classified by the Afghan government.
The government, meanwhile, controls 56.3 per cent of the districts, with the remainder considered "contested."
Last week the Taliban announced the start of their annual spring offensive, in a move that reiterated their rejection of an offer for peace talks by President Ashraf Ghani.
The announcement of the Al Khandaq campaign, named after the so-called Battle of the Trench, fought by the Prophet Mohammed to defend the city of Medina in the early days of Islam, marks the start of the fighting season.
Hundreds of people have died recently in a series of high-profile attacks in Kabul, while heavy fighting has been ongoing in different parts of the country, despite Mr Ghani's offer in February of peace talks "without preconditions".
The most recent attack in Kabul claimed the life of 25 people, including ten journalists, in the deadliest day for the country's media since 2001.
Fighters are targeting journalists in Afghanistan because they are weakened and want more news coverage in order to undermine the country's electoral process ahead of an expected vote in October, Pentagon chief Jim Mattis said on Monday.
"We anticipated that they would do their best to try to bring bombs right into Kabul," he said in reference to insurgent groups.
Since responsibility for security began transitioning to the Afghan government in 2014, green on green attacks, in which ANDSF personnel are attacked from within their own ranks, often by an insurgent infiltrator, have been a consistently severe problem.
The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) attributed the majority of civilian casualties in 2017 (65 per cent) to anti-government groups which included civilian casualties caused by the Taliban (42 per cent), ISIS in Afghanistan (10 per cent), and unspecified anti-government groups (13 per cent).
Last week SIGAR faulted the World Bank and Afghanistan’s government for failing to shield billions of dollars in aid from potential waste or misuse, saying that long-identified weaknesses remain in a programme that provides 40 per cent of non-military expenditures in the country.
Billions of dollars of reconstruction cash are flowing into Afghanistan with limited accounting of where and how the funds are being spent. This is another sign of the troubles the US, its allies and President Ashraf Ghani’s government are having in improving governance while staving off advances by the Taliban and ISIS.