Deadly attacks against the Afghan army have surged in the first quarter of the year with insider attacks increasing by 82 percent, as US and NATO troops begin to withdraw from the country after 20 years, according to a US watchdog.
In a quarterly report published on Friday, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) found that attacks on Afghan security forces, mainly by the Taliban rebel group, surged 37 percent over the January-March period from a year earlier.
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The insider attacks – meaning when security forces are targeted by Taliban infiltrators within their ranks – jumped 82 percent, and casualties from them doubled, read the report without specifying.
“The complete withdrawal of US troops and US defence contractors from Afghanistan will test whether the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces can sustain themselves and defend the Afghan government without direct US and Coalition military support,” the report said.
US President Joe Biden announced in mid-April the decision to withdraw US forces by September, postponing a May 1 deadline reached in a deal by the previous administration of Donald Trump and the Taliban.
The SIGAR report did not specify the overall number of casualties, saying the data is classified.
But according to the US-led military coalition figures, it said, 115 Afghan military personnel were killed and 39 wounded in 31 insider attacks in the first three months of this year.
Since the US-led invasion of 2001 and subsequent overthrow of the Taliban government, armed groups’ activities shrank, then began to grow again as the conflict stretched on for about 20 years. Now, as the withdrawal date is nearing, even American officials acknowledge publicly being in the dark about the Taliban’s strength.
“By many measures, the Taliban are in a stronger military position now than at any point since 2001, though many once-public metrics related to the conduct of the war have been classified or are no longer produced,” read the report.
It calculated that the Afghan government controlled just 54 percent of those districts as of October 2018, the lowest number recorded since public tracking began in November 2015. Of the remaining districts, the US government described 34 percent as contested and 12 percent as being under rebel control.
The report noted that the Afghan government and particularly Afghan security forces remain highly dependent on US support, both financial aid and manpower.
“The basic risk facing the current and any potential post-peace Afghan government is whether future foreign assistance levels during this uncertain period will be sufficient to prevent its collapse,” said John Sopko, the SIGAR head.
The pullout will involve about 2,500 US service members, 7,092 other forces in the US-led coalition, and 16,832 civilian contractors for the Pentagon who were in the country at the beginning of April.
Some contractors are crucial to keeping the Afghan military’s aircraft flying, the report noted.
A recent report from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported fighting across the country, with some 90,000 people internally displaced since the start of this year alone. Since 2012, some 4.8 million people have been displaced from their homes and not returned to a country of 38 million.
Nearly 50,000 Afghan civilians have been killed along with more than 2,000 US troops in the 20 years of war – the longest overseas war for the US.