With shrinking numbers of Afghan security forces, the amount of territory government holds also continues to decline, a US watchdog reported Wednesday.
In their last quarterly report to congress, the Special Investigator General for Afghanistan (SIGAR) reported that the personnel strength of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) as of October 31, 2018, was 308,693 personnel – the lowest it has been since the Resolute Support mission began in January 2015.
According to the report, the ANDSF strength decreased by 3,635 personnel in the previous quarter, and by 3,983 since the same period in 2017
SIGAR reported that according to the Department of Defense, the ANDSF’s total goal was 352,000 personnel – which meant the last quarter’s strength was only at 87.7 percent – 43,307 personnel short.
However, SIGAR stated that the strength numbers they have reported “should not be viewed as exact: CSTC-A and SIGAR have long noted many data consistency issues with ANDSF strength numbers.”
SIGAR stated that ANDSF strength numbers were Afghan-owned and that RS cannot validate the data for accuracy.
On the issue of casualties, SIGAR stated that USFOR-A continued to classify ANDSF casualty data this quarter at the
request of the Afghan government.
However, last week Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said in Davos at the World Economic Forum that about 45,000 Afghan security personnel have “paid the ultimate sacrifice” since he became president in September 2014.
“That number indicates that in those roughly 53 months, around 849 Afghan security personnel have been killed per month on average,” the report read.
But Ghani said on November 12 that from 2015 to November last year, 28,529 Afghan security personnel had been killed.
That figure reflects an average of at least 620 Afghan security personnel killed per month over those 46 months.
These figures are higher than some previous years’ data reported to SIGAR.
RS stopped providing unclassified data on ANDSF casualties in July 2017, and the most recent, unclassified figures they reported
were 2,531 ANDSF killed in action in roughly the first five months of 2017.
“This figure represents a much lower monthly KIA average of 506 personnel than President Ghani indicated. ANDSF reported to SIGAR casualties in 2015 averaged 525 KIA per month but were higher in 2016, at an average of 667 KIA per month.”
On the issue of Afghan National Army attrition rates, SIGAR said these averaged at approximately 2.5 percent over the quarter.
The report stated that this percentage accounts for attrition alone, not the total decrease in force strength listed.
On Afghan National Police attrition rates, SIGAR said these averaged approximately 2.2 percent over the quarter.
On control, SIGAR reported that data collected shows that as of October 22, 2018, control of Afghanistan’s districts, population, and territory became somewhat more contested, Afghan government control or influence continued to decline, and insurgent control or influence increased slightly since July 2018.
“The percentage of the population in districts under Afghan government control or influence—largely stagnant from May 2017 through July 2018 at around 65 percent - decreased in October to 63.5 percent.
“The Afghan government’s control or influence of its districts decreased by nearly two percentage points since July to 53.8 percent,” reported SIGAR.
The watchdog also reported that the Afghan government’s control or influence over the population declined this quarter.
“According to RS, as of October 22, 2018, 63.5 percent of the population (21.2 million of an estimated 33.3 million total) lived in areas under Afghan government control or influence, down roughly 500,000 people (and 1.7 percentage points) since the previous quarter.
“However, this quarter’s figure represents a slightly smaller decline (0.6 percentage points) in population under government control or influence compared to the same period in 2017.
The insurgency meanwhile slightly increased its control or influence over areas where 10.8 percent of the population (3.6 million people) lived, a 0.3 percentage point increase since last quarter but a decrease from the 12 percent reported in October 2017.
“The population living in contested areas increased to 8.5 million people (25.6 percent of the population), a nearly two percentage-point increase compared to the same period in 2017,” read the report.
SIGAR reported that according to RS, as of October 22, 2018, there were 219 districts under Afghan government control (74) or influence (145), 53.8 percent of the total number of districts.
“This represents a decrease of seven government-controlled or influenced districts compared to last quarter and eight since the same period in 2017,” read the report.
SIGAR stated that insurgent control or influence of Afghanistan’s districts increased marginally: there were 50 districts under insurgent control (12) or influence (38) this quarter.
“This is an increase of one district since last quarter, but a decrease of eight compared to the same period in 2017. Therefore, 12.3 percent of Afghanistan’s districts are now reportedly under insurgent control or influence,” read the report.
The number of contested districts—controlled or influenced by neither the Afghan government nor the insurgency—increased by six since last quarter to 138 districts, meaning that 33.9 percent of Afghanistan’s districts are now contested.
Overall, the report summarizes SIGAR’s oversight work and updates on developments in the four major sectors of reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan from October 1 to December 31, 2018.
It also includes an essay highlighting developments from the Geneva Conference on Afghanistan held in November and reports back on 14 audits, inspections, reviews, and other products assessing US efforts to build the Afghan security forces, improve
governance, facilitate economic and social development, and combat the production and sale of narcotics.
During the reporting period, SIGAR criminal investigations resulted in three arrests, federal indictments of five persons, one criminal information, three sentencings, one guilty plea, $140,000 in criminal fines, restitutions, and forfeitures, and approximately $2.2 million in savings to the US government.