Violent attacks in Afghanistan jumped to record levels in the last quarter of 2019 compared with previous years, a US government watchdog has said, underscoring the 18-year-long conflict’s continued toll on the country.
There were 8,204 attacks between October and December last year – up from 6,974 in the same period in 2018 – according to a report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) released on Friday.
This represented the highest number of attacks in the same three-month period of any year since recording began in 2010.
September, when the first round of presidential voting was held, was the worst month of 2019 with the highest number of casualty-causing attacks.
“A turbulent last six months resulted in increases in overall enemy attacks [6 percent] and effective attacks [4 percent] in 2019 compared to the already high levels reported in 2018,” SIGAR said in its quarterly report to the US Congress.
Thirty-seven percent of the attacks resulted in people being killed or injured, the report said.
The capital, Kabul, and other urban areas have seen a rare stretch of more than two months without large-scale bomb attacks that frequently rock the city and cause mass causalities.
Despite the lull, which has come as the United States and the Taliban continue talks over a possible deal for American forces to leave Afghanistan, fighting in rural provinces has continued unabated, with reports of skirmishes appearing daily.
SIGAR noted that attacks appeared to mirror progress in US-Taliban talks, with incidents dropping earlier in the year, then picking up again after US President Donald Trump temporarily halted negotiations in September.
The Pentagon has also continued to up the tempo of operations, with US warplanes dropping more bombs on Afghanistan in 2019 than at any other time in 10 years, according to the US Air Force.
The US and the Taliban are continuing to wrangle over a possible agreement that would see US troops begin to leave Afghanistan in return for security guarantees.
The US, which invaded Afghanistan and toppled the Taliban government in 2001, wants the armed group guarantees that Afghanistan will not become a haven for “terrorists”, while the Taliban is focused on ensuring the withdrawal of all US-led foreign forces from the country.
The US has for months been calling on the Taliban to reduce violence, but both sides have said little in recent days about the status of talks, while the Kabul government wants the US to push for a full ceasefire.
SIGAR’s report also found that Afghanistan’s security forces struggled to take the fight to the Taliban, relying on US support for more than half of their ground operations.
SIGAR also highlighted a slight increase in the number of casualties among Afghan military members, who have sustained significant losses over the past five years.
The majority of casualties among Afghan forces, like in previous years, came from Taliban attacks on checkpoints.