The number of contested districts in Afghanistan has risen, according to the quarterly report released today by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR). Resolute Support, NATO’s command in Afghanistan, meanwhile continues to soft-pedal the security situation and invent new classifications for the status of districts.
Although Afghan forces succeeded in denying the Taliban insurgency control of new districts, the government forces also failed to control more districts themselves. The stalemate undermines confidence in the government and its legitimacy which ultimately favors the insurgent.
Afghan security forces “failed to improve its control over Afghanistan’s districts, population, and territory since last quarter: instead, district and territorial control became slightly more contested between the government and the insurgency,” SIGAR noted. The assessment uses data provided by Resolute Support. In Resolute Support’s district-level assessment, four districts fell out of government influence: Khash Rod, Nimroz; Nahri Sarraj, Helmand; Surkh Rod, Nangahar; and Washer, Helmand. The security situation in Hesark, Nangahar also declined from Contested to Insurgent Activity, according to the military’s assessment.
In this release, Resolute Support continues to invent new terminology to obfuscate the extent of Taliban control in Afghanistan. The military reclassified 11 districts as “High Insurgent Activity.” While this is a more accurate description than “Insurgent Activity,” as these districts were previously classified, it is still an understatement. The Taliban controls these districts, according to the ongoing study by FDD’s Long War Journal, in addition to many others that Resolute Support refers to as Insurgent Activity and even Contested.
Of the 40 districts that LWJ assesses as Taliban controlled, Resolute Support classifies 11 as High Insurgent Activity, 14 as Insurgent Activity, and 15 as merely Contested.
Resolute Support classified the following districts as High Insurgent Activity: Warduj and Yamgan (Girwan) in Badakhshan; Nawa in Ghazni; Kohistanat in Sar-i-Pul; Baghran, Dishu, Musa Qala, Nowzad, Nawa, and Reg (Khanashin) in Helmand.
The classification of “High Insurgent Activity” obscures the fact that the Taliban controls these districts and gives the impression that the Taliban merely operates there. Baghran in Helmand has been under Taliban control since the US invasion in 2001; it has never fallen under the control of the Afghan government. The other four districts are clearly under Taliban control. Nawa in Ghazni has been under Taliban control since 2014. Warduj and Yamagan have been under Taliban control for well over two years. Kohistanat has changed hands multiple times and is currently controlled by the Taliban.
In some instances, Resolute Support’s assessment is blatantly incorrect. For example, the military maintains that the Afghan government controls Ghazni City, the capital of the eponymous province, despite clear evidence of Taliban influence. Waza Khwa in Paktika is listed as contested, however the district has been firmly under Taliban control since 2016.
These deceptive assessments of the Afghan government’s progress and territorial control mislead the American public and policymakers about the state of play in Afghanistan. Without a clear-eyed view of the Taliban’s strength and disposition, the United States cannot advance security in the country.
The report highlighted the recent deployment of the Army’s new train and advice unit, the Security Force Assistance Brigade (SFAB). SIGAR describes the SFABs as “customized, well-resourced problem solvers that tackle the various ANDSF force elements’ issues individually as they arise.” SIGAR noted a few potential issues, particularly with the “evolving mission” of the unit. First, the new unit may be prioritizing security in the capital over reform throughout the country. SIGAR reported that SFAB teams were redeployed from contested areas, like Kandahar, to Kabul City in an effort to secure the capital following a series of major attacks. SIGAR also noted that despite hopes that the SFAB advisor teams would be deployed to advise “rank-and-file” ANDSF that have previously lacked exposure to Coalition advisers, the SFAB units have focused on higher-level decision makers.