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Military Capabilities

Fighting in Afghanistan increases, but government’s territorial control does not

30 January 2018

Fighting in Afghanistan appears to be ramping up and the Afghan government appears to control slightly less territory, as the US commitment to the 16-year long conflict deepens.

The US Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction's (SIGAR's) latest quarterly report, published 30 January, shows a significant uptick in US air strikes and special operations missions – “a record high since 2012 and a more than three-fold increase from October 2016”, the report noted. The Trump administration has added several thousand troops there in recent months.

“These actions have yet to increase the Afghan government’s control over its population,” SIGAR added.

Two US Army soldiers rest during patrol in Afghanistan at the height of 'surge' operations. The US combat mission there ostensibly ended in 2014, but US troops are heading back to Afghanistan - although in lower numbers than the surge period. (US Army)Two US Army soldiers rest during patrol in Afghanistan at the height of 'surge' operations. The US combat mission there ostensibly ended in 2014, but US troops are heading back to Afghanistan - although in lower numbers than the surge period. (US Army)

The report said the US Department of Defense (DoD) and NATO’s 'Resolute Support' Mission is barring it from publishing the sort of metrics it has used for years, including how much territory the Afghan government controls and how the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) perform.

In a statement, 'Resolute Support' spokesperson Captain Thomas Gresback told Jane’s the coalition had not intended to bar the release of unclassified district, population, and land-area control data that had been provided previously.

“It was not the intent of 'Resolute Support' to withhold or classify information, which was available in prior reports. A human error in labelling occurred,” Capt Gresback said.

He told Jane’s that as of October 2017 “approximately 56% of the country’s 407 districts are under Afghan government control or influence, 30% remain contested, and approximately 14% are now under insurgent control or influence.”

SIGAR’s last quarterly report from October 2017 found that approximately 56.8% of the country’s 407 districts were under Afghan government control or influence (which at the time was a one-point decline over the prior six months and a more than six-point decline from the same period last year). About 13.3% of the country’s total districts were under insurgent control or influence at that time.

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