Taliban controls or contests 40 percent of Afghan districts: SIGAR

Both the Taliban and the Afghan government have slightly increased the number of Afghan districts under their control over the past three months, but the security situation remains virtually unchanged, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) said in its most recent quarterly report to United States Congress.

The Taliban controls 11 districts and influences 34 of Afghanistan’s 407 districts (11 percent), while the Afghan government controls 97 districts and influences 146 (60 percent). Twenty-nine percent of Afghanistan’s districts remain contested. Taliban control of Afghan districts has increased one percent, while Afghan control has increased by 2.5 percent, according to SIGAR.

SIGAR’s assessment is based on data provided by US Forces-Afghanistan (USFOR-A) and Resolute Support, NATO’s mission in Afghanistan. Both USFOR-A and Resolute Support have underestimated and understated the Taliban’s control of districts in the past.

Most recently, in March, when the Taliban overran Sangin in Helmand province, Resolute Support denied the district center was overrun and instead claimed it was relocated several miles away while the old complex was bombed to “rubble and dirt.” Or, when the Taliban seized control of half of Kunduz City in October 2016, Resolute Support claimed the city was under Afghan military control. Resolute Support responded similarly when the Taliban overran Nawa district in October 2016.

The SIGAR report also identified what FDD’s Long War Journal has previously described as a belt of bases in the south that stretches across the provinces of Helmand, Kandahar, Uruzgan, Zabul, and Ghazni which are used to attack nearby provincial capitals.

USFOR-A identified the regions/provinces with the largest percentage of insurgent controlled or influenced districts as Uruzgan Province, with four of its six districts under insurgent control or influence (a one-district improvement since last quarter), and Helmand with nine of 14 districts under insurgent control or influence (a one-district decline since last quarter),” SIGAR noted. “The region with the most districts under insurgent control or influence is centered on northeastern Helmand Province and northwestern Kandahar Province, and includes the Helmand/Kandahar border area, Uruzgan Province, and northwestern Zabul.”

“Less vital areas”

Previously, the US military justified the loss of territory to the Taliban by claiming the Afghan government’s “new Sustainable Security Strategy” calls for abandoning districts that are “not important.” Now, the US military is saying that the Afghan military is “placing less emphasis on less vital areas.”

“USFOR-A attributes 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 placing less emphasis on less vital areas,” SIGAR notes.

This strategy neglects the fact that the Taliban views these “less vital areas” as critical to its insurgency. The Taliban uses theses districts to raise funds, recruit and train fighters, and launch attacks on population centers. Additionally, Taliban allies such as al Qaeda run training camps and operate bases in areas under Taliban control. This strategy was explained by Mullah Aminullah Yousuf, the Taliban’s shadow governor for Uruzgan, in April 2016.

The Taliban has utilized its control of the rural districts to directly threaten major population centers. Last year, the Taliban was able to threaten five of Afghanistan’s 34 provincial capitals. The government lost control of more than half of Kunduz City for more than an entire week last fall.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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  • irebukeu says:

    “less Vital areas” such as areas where the crops are grown and where the water comes from.
    Well as long as the USA is going to be the ‘milk maiden’ guess ‘who’ is going to be clamping down on ‘what’? Oh we in a wringer now. Seeing the futility in all of it so clearly as most do by this late date what will be the reaction to the reality denied for so long by so many with disbelieving eyes?
    More of the same of course at a much higher cost and with more loss of life.
    But enough…

  • Frank Dunn says:

    Is Afghanistan worth anymore US blood? Why not conduct an air assets only campaign to kill Taliban and ISIS leaders? While a withdrawal of our ground forces would greatly weaken the Afghan government and its military, not to mention endanger its citizens, what are our realistic options? Our current force level of 8,800 is too small while the thought of returning 35,000 to 50,000 ground troops, assuming even this number is sufficient, would strain our military while opening Trump to even more vicious media attacks.

    Due to its remoteness, an air only campaign would still require US forces to protect air assets. But this would seem more practical than enlarging our ground efforts in that challenging and unchanging country. And, if we do face a threat in this region, it is from a greatly strengthened Iran, and not the Taliban.

  • Steve says:

    I’m not saying throw in the towel, but someone help me understand the lack of progress in Afghanistan after all the lives and treasure that have been spent…Thanks!

  • Timothy Blair says:

    I agree with you Frank. How long will it takes for the US to realize that the much bigger threat to the stability of the middle east is Iran. Have we not understand that Iran is reviving their once mighty Persian empire. Behind Iran, or I should say, besides Iran are China and Russia.

  • nihonsuki says:

    I would like to suggest a long term truce between the United States with al qaeda and the Taliban. The Taliban are still fighting strong, in spite of their casualties from 2016. The Kabul government is still among the most corrupt in the world, in spite of 14 years to become functional, including 8 years under international policy experts like Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, John McCain, and John Kerry. The Trump administration will likely have less expert leadership.

    Nations ‘allied’ to the USA are working with al qaeda branches in Syria, and Yemen. http://presstv.ir/Detail/2017/05/01/520183/Yemen-AlQaeda-AQAP-Qasim-alRimi-Saudi-Arabia-US-UN-Houthis-Hadi-Hudaydah A formal truce will allow the United States to leave the Middle East, thus lowering the cost of military operations, and let the locals go at it.

  • Arjuna says:

    Terrible idea. Airpower only (almost only) got to this awful stalemate. The ISI is the root of the Taliban problem. Thwart them, you thwart the Taliban. They train and arm the fighters and give sanctuary to the leaders. Put PK on the State Sponsors list and make a deal with Russia and China that all three major powers will oppose Pakistan and their ISI terrorists. Iran is not a threat to America, unless America interferes with Iran (telling it what it can and can’t own weapons-wise).
    Protecting Trump from media attacks is a NatSec priority? Good grief. The man can’t tell Syria from Iraq and he’s our CinC? Ouch.

  • irebukeu says:

    The borders have to be controlled. Anything less is just a game. Afghanistan cannot control its borders. Pakistan will not play. Iran will not play.

  • irebukeu says:

    Make a deal with China to abandon Pakistan? What do we give China for this? Why not just leave the region and let china worry about how to protect its lithium and copper?

  • Foluso says:

    Are there any graduate education programs to enable politicians and military commanders to understand factors that inevitably lead into “quagmire” situations, and strategies for extracting themselves (both politicians and soldiers) from the same? Not only the US, but also Russia, China, UK, DPRK, ROK, Japan, Argentina (to name a few) are desprately in need of such education! Somebody could make a huge amount of money by practicalizing the lessons of history into a dedicated program called “Quagmire Management”, all these “Strategy” and “Policy” and “Peace” think tanks in reality only help the military industrial complexes make more money…

  • kimball says:

    Arjuna , you think like me exactly!! Isolate ISI/ Pak is a part, but UAE / Saudi are lying through their teeth too. How many thousand radical Madrassas have they sponsored??

    It is hugely complex, so called universities in Pakistan are infested with radical Islam and Abdul Aziz has his own Vatican in the Lal Masjid Mousqe.

    If India and China brokers an understanding , Iran will follow and Russia is no friend of radical Islam. Pakistan is an open sore, it rots, population has gone from 49 to 189 millions in 55 years. It is a mess and so Arjuna, please tell me, what is the answer??

  • kimball says:

    Iran will not play?? They have suffered heavily in lives lost in the battle of drugsmuggling. They should be supported and maybe EU will.

  • irebukeu says:

    American success as defined by America is not on the table for Pakistan or Iran. They will not just do what you want for the greater western good. Iran can control its border with Afghanistan as best it can but Afghanistan doesn’t have one chance in one thousand of doing so. Since Pakistan and Iran’s goals are not the same as America or Afghanistan’s… good luck with getting them to play.

  • banurdasche says:

    Are they as much a threat as the once mighty Russians or the even once mighter Manchus? iran is the only nation in the middle east – shy the land o’the shriners – that the US hasn’t detabilized yet. Gawd, being the fastest gun in town has to get tiresome. And dangerous.

    How about leaving prople in peace? It used to work.

  • Baldur Dasche says:

    Until the US comes up with a smarter plan than ‘pay your dues to support our mission’, it can expect to keep on piling up debt trying to ‘do’ Afghanistan – essentially alone. Last time anybody looked, that was 3 trillion smackeroos – not that anybody’s counting. But by the time the current crop of warriors are being wheeled out to Vet’s Day parades, there may not be any debt, or Vet’s day. Or anything.

    That’s the logical extension of what’s happening now.

  • Baldur Dasche says:

    Quagmire? As in getting stuck sending yourself into beggary and not being at all able to pacjk up and go home with honer (like Putin in ukraine?) ? That’s doable – but not if it’s on the other side of the globe.

    Projecting ‘power’ is one thing if done right and done well. Projecting ‘malevolent’ wins no hearts or minds and projecting stupid is just asking for a repeated kick in the pants. “Quagmire” shouldn’t be an aspect of any of them.


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