Afghanistan watchdog: Government control lowest ever

The US watchdog for Afghan reconstruction reports that the security situation has reached an all time low. Since the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) began tracking district control three years ago, Afghan government controlled or influenced districts has declined 16% to 55.5%. In the same period, insurgent control/influence rose 5.5% and contested districts increased 11%.

As of late July, the US military assesses that the government controls/influences 226 districts and that the Taliban controls/influences 49. The military identifies 132 districts as contested. By comparison, Long War Journal assesses that the government controls 145 districts, the Taliban controls 52, and 199 are contested.

Since the prior quarterly report, Resolute Support downgraded eight districts from government influenced to contested, three of which are in Faryab province. The military also downgraded three districts from contested to insurgent activity.

Even as the military admits worsening security, its assessment remains overly optimistic. For example, despite clear evidence to the contrary, the military assesses improved security in Ghazni. The New York Times identified five Ghazni districts that were being administered remotely because the government was forced to flee. In all five, the military either maintained its assessment or increased an assessment of government control. In Nawa, a traditional Taliban stronghold, the military’s assessment changed from High Insurgent Activity to Insurgent Activity. The military assessed Giro as Afghan government influenced, from contested in its prior assessment. FDD’s Long War Journal assesses that the Taliban controls 12 of Ghazni’s 19 districts, whereas the military only admits insurgent activity in one. The military refuses to use the term insurgent control and does not use its highest classification “High insurgent activity” anywhere in Ghazni.

FDD’s Long War Journal has independently tracked the status of Afghanistan’s districts using press reports, information provided by the US and Afghan governments, and the Taliban. The US military is providing the best case scenario of the status of Afghanistan’s districts, as the example of Ghazni province shows. This is also true in many other provinces in Afghanistan, including in Helmand, Uruzgan, Kunduz and Farah, where the Taliban controls or contests many more districts than the US military admits.

According to LWJ‘s study, the Taliban currently controls 52 districts (13 percent) and contests 199 (50 percent). While many of these districts are in rural areas and have low populations, they are crucial to the Taliban’s insurgency. The Taliban uses these rural areas to recruit fighters, operate training camps, tax the residents, spread its radical ideology and launch attacks on more populous areas under government control. Over the past six months, the Taliban launched major incursions into the provincial capitals of Farah and Ghazni by staging its forces in districts outside of the cities.

Afghan security forces are struggling to maintain force strength, due to both record high casualties and other factors. The US military continues to restrict public assess to metrics related to force development. For over a year, the military has only permitted the release of ANDSF casualty figures in a classified annex.

“From the period of May 1 to the most current data as of October 1, 2018, the average number of casualties the ANDSF suffered is the greatest it has ever been during like periods. May was the most active month, accounting for 26% of all casualties during this five month period. The preponderance of casualties during this time period came as a result of either checkpoint operations (52%) or patrolling (35%). Trends indicate that the number of checkpoint casualties is increasing while the number of patrol casualties is decreasing,” the military told SIGAR.

Force strength is also at the lowest since 2012. For the first time, US Forces Afghanistan did not allow SIGAR to release any information on Army and Police attrition.

The report also highlighted the failed counter-narcotics mission in Afghanistan. According to SIGAR’s head John F. Sopko, “Those efforts have cost U.S. taxpayers more than $8 billion since 2002, yet Afghanistan’s opium crisis is worse than ever.”

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

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  • J Wilson says:

    The Taliban doesn’t have a “radical” ideology.. the have a FUNADMENTALIST ideology. There is a subtle, but important difference.

  • irebukeu says:

    Does anyone know where the metrics of cell phone connectivity can be found in Afghanistan?
    I have not seen any stories about cell phone usage in Afghanistan in quite a while. I believe the Taliban had a habit of forcing cell phone towers to shut down at night. Do the cell phones in Garmsir work at night? Is there cell phone reception in Sangin during the day?

  • Ernest Sternberg says:

    I am have not been to Afghanistan, but am in regular conversation with a high official (friend from college days) in the Afghan government. He points out the continued stability of the cities, particularly Kabul, which has grown tenfold since 2000, burgeoning from refugees from the countryside and returnees from Pakistan. Kabul is spread out an porous–it is no citadel. Yet, Kabul residents seem to be heavily against the insurgency. There are no insurgent neighborhoods to my knowledge. The city is the new Afghanistan, with more inter-ethnic mixing, more worldly outlook, and more hatred for Taliban primitives. That would suggest that hackneyed comparisons to the Afghan resistance to the Brit or Russian invasions are just that–they were from times when Afghanistan was rural. But Kabul is no picnic–the giant squatter settlements have no water service. Now, what’s needed is policy directed at building urban security.

  • So what is the total number of distrcts in Afghanistan? A rather critical figure not mentioned anywhere here.


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