WASHINGTON — The Afghan government’s control over the country dropped to 55.5 percent in the just completed quarter of 2018, its lowest percentage of influence since measuring began in 2015.
The Pentagon’s Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) said Thursday that Afghan security forces “made minimal or no progress in pressuring the Taliban over the quarter” that ended Sept. 30.
The report also said that Kabul failed to gain “control over influence” over any new districts or population areas.
Holding territory is one of the few public metrics that Pentagon officials have acknowledged are important in being able to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table, which is the declared U.S. strategy in Afghanistan. Pressuring the Taliban to talk peace is another key element, Pentagon officials have also repeatedly said.
Both appear elusive, according to the new SIGAR report.
“The Afghan government controls or influences districts in which
about 65% of the population lives, unchanged since October 2017,” the report said.
The report also noted that “Though the exact numbers are classified, Resolute Support said that the average number of (Afghan military) casualties from May 1 to October 1, 2018, is the greatest it has ever been during like periods.”
(Speaking Tuesday night, Defense Secretary James Mattis said more than 1,000 Afghan troops were killed or wounded in the last months. “The Afghan lads are doing the fighting, just look at the casualties, over 1,000 dead in August and September — 1,000 dead and wounded in August and September, and they stayed in the field fighting.” Mattis said during remarks at the U.S. Institute of Peace.)
The SIGAR report noted that just before it went to press Gen. Austin Scott Miller, the new commander in Afghanistan, narrowly “escaped unharmed from an October 18, 2018, attack that killed Kandahar’s police and intelligence heads and gravely wounded its provincial governor.”
“It was a reminder of the violence that continues to torment Afghanistan and the difficulty of imposing security anywhere in that long-troubled country,” the report said.
The quarterly report also looked at counter-narcotic efforts by the U.S. and others, and concluded that there is a high cost, low return from the effort.
“From 2002 through September 2018, the United States has committed an average of more than $1.5 million a day to help the Afghan government combat narcotics,” the report said. “As of September 30, 2018, U.S. counternarcotics-related appropriations for that purpose had reached $8.88 billion.”
Yet despite the effort, the narcotics trade has increased, according to the report.
Citing U.N. statistics, the report said opium poppy cultivation has increased from an estimated 201,000 hectares in 2019 to 328,000 hectares this year. (A hectare is about 2.5 acres. The 328,000-hectare opium cultivation area “is equivalent to 1,266 square miles, or 20 times the land area of Washington, DC.,” the report said.)
Poppy cultivation is four times greater than it was in 2002, the first full year of U.S. presence in Afghanistan, the report said.