Afghan security forces, civilians face 50 percent surge in attacks, U.S. watchdog says

A Pentagon spokesperson said the Taliban’s level of violence is “unacceptably high and directly threatens the peace process.”
Image: Afghan security forces leave the site of an incident after an attack at the university of Kabul
Afghan security forces leave the site of an incident after an attack at Kabul University on Nov. 2, 2020.Omar Sobhani / Reuters

Enemy attacks against Afghan security forces and civilians increased by 50 percent in the third quarter of 2020, according to the Pentagon’s Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) quarterly report to Congress.

Citing data provided by the U.S. military command in Afghanistan, the SIGAR report says the number of attacks rose by that percentage from the period of April through June to July through September and are “above seasonal norms.”

But the SIGAR report said U.S. command in Afghanistan would not specify the number of attacks. The command has classified an increasing amount of information about Afghanistan in the last three years – including Afghan civilian casualty data, the number of enemy-initiated attacks, Afghan National Security Forces casualty numbers and assessments of performance by Afghan military and police, the SIGAR report says.

In February, the U.S. and the Taliban signed an agreement in Doha, Qatar, that called for foreign troops to leave Afghanistan by May 2021 in exchange for guarantees from the Taliban, including that they would not attack U.S. and other coalition troops.

Since then, attacks against U.S. and foreign troops have decreased, but assaults on Afghan military and police have accelerated, including a deadly Taliban offensive against Helmand Province’s provincial capital earlier this month.

“The Taliban’s level of violence against the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces and the Afghan people is unacceptably high and directly threatens the peace process," Pentagon spokesperson Major Rob Lodewick said Wednesday. "As General (Scott) Miller has stated multiple times, the Taliban need to immediately stop offensive actions and reduce their violence across the country."

The New York Times reported the Taliban conducted two attacks on U.S. military installations in recent months, but neither attack resulted in U.S. casualties. SIGAR asked the U.S. command in Afghanistan whether there have been any suspected or confirmed Taliban attacks since the signing of the peace agreement, which would violate the deal, but the command declined to provide an unclassified response.

The Afghan government held peace talks with Taliban officials beginning on September 12 in Doha, Qatar. The talks were intended to create a power-sharing agreement for Afghanistan and for a permanent ceasefire. But the talks have stalled as both sides debate procedural issues.

Even though the Taliban are not upholding their end of the agreement, the U.S. continues to draw down troops from the country, from nearly 14,000 at the beginning of the year, down to an expected 4,500 this month and eventually about half that in early 2021.

“Further troop reductions in the current security environment, when the timeline for a concluded peace settlement is also unknown, could impact continued U.S. support to and development of Afghanistan’s security institutions,” the SIGAR report says.

“Particularly important will be how DOD continues to provide adequate oversight of the billions of dollars per year it executes to pay, equip, train, and sustain the ANDSF in the years ahead, and whether it can continue contract oversight and an effective level of train, advise, and assist support for the force.”

The coronavirus has also swept through Afghanistan, with SIGAR reporting that an estimated 10 million Afghans likely have the virus, including more than half of the population in the capital city of Kabul and more than one-third of the country’s total population.

The pandemic has pushed the country’s poverty rate from 55% to 68%, the report says.