Taliban control of Afghan districts remains ‘unchanged,’ according to SIGAR

The battle between the Afghan government and the Taliban “remains a stalemate” and the number of districts under Taliban control or influence is “unchanged” since the last assessment by the US military was made more than five months ago. The Afghan government continue to cede “less vital areas” in order to “prevent defeat.”

That assessment, provided by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) in its most recent quarterly report to United States Congress, is likely the best possible scenario provided by the US military. SIGAR’s evaluation is based on data provided by US Forces-Afghanistan (USFOR-A) and Resolute Support, NATO’s mission in Afghanistan.

The only problem is both USFOR-A and Resolute Support have significantly underestimated and understated the Taliban’s control of districts in the past.

According to the report, the Taliban continues to control 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.

According to SIGAR, Kunduz province has the largest percentage of districts under Taliban control or influence (five of seven). Uruzgan (four of six Taliban controlled or influenced) and Helmand (nine of 14) round out the top three.

USFOR-A’s assessment of Helmand, for example, demonstrates that the US military is painting the rosiest picture possible when it comes to determining the extent of Taliban control. USFOR-A claims that only nine of 14 districts are Taliban controlled or influenced, however the situation is far more dire than that. The Taliban now controls six of the province’s 14 districts (Baghran, Dishu, Khanashin, Now Zad, Musa Qala, and Sangin) and contests another seven, including the provincial capital (Lashkar Gah, Nahr-i-Sarraj, Nawa, Kajaki, Nad Ali, Marjah, and Garmsir), according to data compiled by FDD’s Long War Journal.

In other words, 13 of Helmand’s 14 districts are at the very least contested – much more than the assessment of nine by USFOR-A.

Al Qaeda has taken advantage of the security situation in Helmand and is known to operate in southern Helmand. Fighters from al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent have reportedly trained at camps located in Helmand’s Dishu and Khanashin districts as recently as 2014. The town of Baramacha in Dishu is a known hub of jihadist activity. The camps are believed to be operational to this day. [See FDD’s Long War Journal report, Al Qaeda operates in southern Helmand province.]

Another key indicator that USFOR-A’s data is skewed to present a more positive picture of the security situation is the identification of a problem area in southern Afghanistan. This region was previously described by FDD’s Long War Journal 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 and districts. According to SIGAR:

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. This region alone accounts for one-third of the 45 districts currently under insurgent control or influence.

While USFOR-A does not provide data on Taliban control or influence on a province by province basis, it did identify the Taliban threat in two provinces: Helmand and Uruzgan. According to USFOR-A, there are 13 districts controlled of influence in Helmand and Uruzgan combined. If one-third of the 45 districts (15) controlled or influenced by the Taliban reside in the region, then this means only two districts in Zabul and Kandahar are Taliban controlled or influenced. The data clearly shows otherwise.

The Taliban clearly controls three districts in northern Kandahar (Miya Nishin, Khakrez, and Ghorak) and two more in Zabul (Khak-e-Afghan and Arghandab). Several others, including Arghastan, Khakrez, Maruf, Maiwand, and Shah Wali Kot in Kandahar, are contested.

Like in Helmand, al Qaeda has taken advantage of the security situation in Kandahar province to established bases. Up until Oct. 2015, al Qaeda ran two large training camps in Shorabak district. US forces killed more than 150 al Qaeda fighters while raiding the camps.

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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  • Paddy Singh says:

    The American are a pitiable and inadequate lot in every war they undertook since Vietnam. They have nothing to boast about, no history and except for bloodshed, they have nothing to show

  • James says:

    Yes folks, after 16 years, it looks like those tail bunnies haven’t even made it to midfield yet (the 50-yard line), and there’s already a bunch of Monday morning quarterbacks out there wanting to just ‘cut and run’ from this thing. I say give our troops the resources they need to get the job done, and they will get the job done.

    Why don’t we just buy Afghanistan’s opium production, and then just sell it to the major pharmaceutical companies? This isn’t an ‘all or nothing’ proposition. It could be done in increments (much like how the Taliban is now trying to take over the whole country).

  • irebukeu says:

    Mr Singh, you do not say nice things. The American military when they take the field Own that field as long as they are ordered to and will be as nice to the locals as they are told to be whatever the cost is to them. The American people in many of these interventions realize the land we find ourselves in isn’t worth the cost in American lives to hold and they react accordingly at the ballot boxes.
    We are a pretty big nation here Mr Singh and have been kept safe here for a couple generations by those that came before us (may their names never be forgotten). These newer generations of Americans never had their feathers pulled hard but we are all a proud and ernest people and we will fight if it comes to fight night. Woe be to those who we fight when we are wrong ( looking at you Saddam). I would remind you that war is about fighting and fighting is about killing.
    That having been said, I find myself sometimes agreeing with you in your comments but not today.

  • irebukeu says:

    James, where do you propose running American supply lines from? Russia? Pakistan? Who do you trust more. Pakistan or Russia?

  • JoeO says:

    We got the job done when we got Osama. It’s over now.

  • Joseph M Martin says:

    Afghan government has lasted longer that I expected.

  • Dirk D. says:

    I agree with James. Supply lines? Do the raw processing there in-country (Set up a lab facility right at Bagram- built in security) and fly the Morphine out on chartered UPS/Fed-Ex freighters.

  • kimball says:

    make friends with Iran and run them from the Med!!

  • irebukeu says:

    Supply lines. How do the soldiers Get into Afghanistan? Through Russia or Pakistan? Where do the artillery shells get into the country from? All those storage containers that get rented and never paid for, they get into the nation from where? Where do all the trucks and Humvee and Bradley fighting vehicles come from and who pays. Are you proposing the total occupation of a nation, borders and all for the production of a drug that can be grown in a greenhouse somewhere? Is the price of the drug to be passed on to the end user like it is with heroin or will the US government borrow the trillions to secure the production of this drug. If you have thought this through then lets talk. I don’t want to be wrong any longer than I have to be.
    James isn’t saying ‘lets buy the heroin from the Taliban and everything is fine’. He is saying lets protect the farmers that grow poppy (so that they can supply, I suppose, both the worlds heroin market and the legal the worlds morphine market). He doesn’t say how the Taliban can be kept out or how he can control the actual supply of the drug in the production cycle while the growers are growing out in unprotected fields.
    The legal opium growing happens in Turkey and is under tight controls. This will not be possible in Afghanistan but I’m all eyes if someone has an idea on how it can be done.

  • Drew says:

    You don’t really believe that, do you? Osama bin Laden’s death did nothing to prevent the surge of foreign fighters into Iraq and Syria and in no way shape or shape was a setback for the Taliban. Killing bin Laden was merely a symbolic victory and showed our willingness for revenge but was useless strategically. Afghanistan is far from stabilized and the Afghan government doesn’t have the means of defeating the Taliban anytime in the next decade. Also, Al Qaeda as well as ISIS have established a great many training camps in Afghanistan in the last 6 years. Keep in mind that organizations like al Qaeda and ISIS don’t require any one country to operate out of meaning our initial invasion of Afghanistan, despite it’s successful appearance, did practically nothing to cripple their global network. Further, even if we were to successfully rid Afghanistan of the Taliban al Qaeda and ISIS alike their fighters would simply migrate elsewhere and continue their insurgency operations. The best thing we can do now is try and contain the fallout from this civil conflict by building a military alliance with India, Russia, Iran and the other central Asian countries and continue to pressure Pakistan into ramping its operations against the Taliban in Waziristan. Iran’s IRGC has long supported the Taliban but their incentives for doing so was the significant presence of US forces in Afghanistan, a neighboring country. But in the Arab Spring chapter Iran has much to lose from the instability in Afghanistan especially when Wahabi extremist groups like Al Qaeda and ISIS are continuing to take refuge their. An alliance of nations with vested interests in the region needs to be formed in order to stop the constant Spread of foreign fighters…if we can keep the Taliban in one country we can effectively choke them out.

  • David Thoenen says:

    Call it cut and run or whatever. After sixteen years it’s time to get the hell out and let the Afghans fight it out. OR recognize that Pakistan is the real enemy and go after them with every tool we have. We’ve spend enough blood and treasure fighting our “ally”.


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