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Afghan Security Forces Shrinking as Taliban Regain Territory - Report

© AP Photo / Allauddin KhanTaliban fighters. (File)
Taliban fighters. (File) - Sputnik International
The size of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) has reached its lowest point in three years, insurgent control over territory in Afghanistan has increased, and the Afghan government’s influence inside the country’s borders continues to decline, a US watchdog report says.

ANDSF "personnel strength in October 2018 (308,693) fell to the lowest level it has been since the beginning of the [NATO] RS [Resolute Support] mission in January 2015," according to the US inspector general for Afghanistan. Afghan forces are authorized to field a combined force of 352,000 security personnel, which includes Afghanistan's police and military forces.

In a report to the US Congress, Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) wrote that since last October, Taliban and insurgent forces "contested" a greater part of the country's territory. Furthermore, "[T]he Afghan government's control or influence of its districts decreased by nearly two percentage points since July to 53.8 percent," according to SIGAR.

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All 296 pages of SIGAR's 42nd report were submitted to the US Congress Thursday.

The US Defense Department undercut the inspector general in the report by casting doubt on the validity of the district-stability data. At the end of the report, the department writes there is "uncertainty in the models that produce [the data]" and attempts to salvage its own public image by stating that decreasing Afghan government control is "not indicative" of how effective US President Donald Trump's South Asia Strategy has been.

Trump reportedly slashed the size of the US military contingency in Afghanistan by 7,000 in late December. SIGAR's report shoots down this notion, which had been repeated in international media and US publications. "General [Joseph] Dunford and the commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, General Austin Scott Miller, said subsequently that they had received no orders to begin a drawdown," the report says.

Meanwhile, the Department of Defense "told SIGAR on January 11 that they have ‘nothing to report' about whether the White House ordered the Pentagon to begin planning a troop drawdown in Afghanistan."

With the NATO Resolute Support mission that started in Afghanistan in 2015 during former President Barack Obama's second term bringing more advisers and trainers — and fewer armed combat squads — Afghan President Ashraf Ghani emphasized at the World Economic Forum in Davos last month that at least 45,000 Afghanis have made the ultimate sacrifice for their country, the Associated Press reports.

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The US pays the lion's share of the approximately $4 billion annual budget for Afghanistan's government to arm, train, compensate and sustain the ANDSF, AP notes.

The US military's publicly stated goal in Afghanistan is to help Kabul develop a self-reliant fighting force that would preclude the need for US support. "They [Afghan security forces] are fighting, and they are taking casualties, but they are also very offensive-minded, inflicting losses on the Taliban and [ISIS-Khorasan] daily, while expanding their capabilities and proficiency every day," said Gen. Joseph Votel, commander of US Central Command, in a January news release.

As officials in the US national security establishment continue to "spend the second half of their entire adult lives… trying to win this fight and banging their head against the wall over and over," as US Army Major Danny Sjursen eloquently told Sputnik News in early November, Votel said this month the Taliban are "not losing right now" and that little has changed since he described the fight against the Taliban as a "stalemate."

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