A new report paints a bleak picture of U.S. efforts to secure Afghanistan, more than 16 years after the United States invaded the South Asian nation following the September 11 terrorist attacks.
U.S. involvement in Afghanistan now amounts to the longest conflict in American history, but the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction or SIGAR says the recent onslaught in U.S. military attacks has failed to increase the Afghan government's control over its population. It said that in October alone, the U.S., with 11,000 troops in Afghanistan, dropped 653 munitions on enemy combatants, a record since 2012 and three times that in October 2016.
With heightened warfare, the report said that U.S. casualties are increasing, too, with 11 service personnel killed in the first 11 months last year, twice the number killed in action in the same periods in 2015 and 2016.
SIGAR, in its quarterly report Tuesday to Congress and the Defense and State departments, said that despite $8.7 billion in U.S. aid for counter-narcotics efforts, opium production is up 87 percent in the last year in Afghanistan and lands under opium cultivation by 63 percent, both all-time highs.
The report warned that U.S. and Afghan officials have adopted unrealistic expectations for the development of untapped mineral resources in the country. Even with nearly a half billion dollars in U.S. aid, the report said that mining revenues only supplied three-tenths of one percent of Afghanistan's $6.5 billion national budget. It said that any future efforts by Afghanistan to extract the minerals should be met by the U.S. with "polite skepticism, caution, risk management and vigilance for unintended consequences."
SIGAR says the Afghan mining efforts have been "stymied by insecurity, corruption, weak governance and a lack of infrastructure."
John Sopko, the special inspector general responsible for the report, criticized the U.S. Defense Department for ordering his office to not release already public data on specific districts in Afghanistan, such as the number of people living there, "controlled or influenced by the Afghan government or by the insurgents, or contested by both."
"This development is troubling for a number of reasons, not least of which is that this is the first time (the inspector general's office) has been specifically instructed not to release information marked 'unclassified' to the American taxpayer," Sopko said.
He added, "Historically, the number of districts controlled or influenced by the government has been falling since SIGAR began reporting on it, while the number controlled or influenced by the insurgents has been rising -- a fact that should cause even more concern about its disappearance from public disclosure and discussion."
Violence in Afghan
In the Afghan province of Farah, residents say the Taliban has overrun a number of security check points, killing a number of soldiers on a near daily basis. A former governor of Farah, Mohammad Arif Shah Jahan, told RFE/RL that the Taliban is trying hard to turn the province into a hub and a supply corridor in the southwestern part of the county. A former police chief, General Maroof Folad, claims an estimated 6,000 insurgents operate in the province.
The report noted the Asia Foundation, which promotes the improvement of lives across the continent, found in its annual survey that only slightly more than half of Afghan respondents believed that reconciliation with Taliban insurgents in the country was possible and that about 16 percent of Afghans had "a lot" or at least some sympathy for the Taliban.
The report also cited NAI, an organization supporting open media in Afghanistan, as saying there were 167 incidents of violence against journalists in Afghanistan last year, with the insurgents involved in 40 percent of the attacks on journalists and the government 37 percent.
Deadly violence is an almost daily occurrence in Afghanistan.
Eleven members of the Afghan National Army were killed Monday and 16 others wounded in an early morning attack on a military academy in Kabul.
On Saturday, an ambulance packed with explosives blew up on a crowded street in central Kabul, killing more than 100 people and injuring hundreds more.
Taliban militants claimed responsibility for that attack.
Three days earlier, on January 24, militants stormed the office of international aid agency Save the Children in the city of Jalalabad, killing at least five people and wounding 12 others. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility. And on January 21, at least 22 people, including four Americans, were killed in an attack on the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul. The 14-hour siege was claimed by the Taliban.