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Despite US Military Optimism, Watchdog Says ‘Few Signs of Progress' in Afghanistan

Despite US Military Optimism, Watchdog Says ‘Few Signs of Progress' in Afghanistan

Tuesday, 22 May, 2018 - 05:45
In this photograph taken on May 19, 2018, Afghan security forces patrol, after recapturing control of the city from Taliban militants, in Farah. HAMEED KHAN / AFP
Asharq Al-Awsat
Upbeat assessments of an improving security situation in Afghanistan do not line up with the facts on the ground, a US government watchdog said Monday, pointing to "few signs of progress" by President Donald Trump's South Asia strategy in the war-torn nation.

"This quarter, US officials stated that the Taliban was not achieving its objectives and that momentum was shifting in favor of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF)," the Pentagon's Office of the Inspector General said. 

"However, available metrics showed few signs of progress."

The top US commander in Afghanistan, General John Nicholson, in November said the fight had "turned the corner" in the longest war in American history, and predicted that the Afghan security forces will expand government control of the population from about 64 percent now to 80 percent over two years.

But the inspector general said there had been "little positive change" in the first quarter of 2018, with just 65 percent of the population living in areas under government control or influence.

At the same time, the number of Afghan security force personnel dropped from 331,708 to 313,728 -- a figure that is 11 percent below its authorized strength of 352,000.

"This shortfall, at a time when there is an increased emphasis on building the lethality of the ANDSF, renews concerns about recruiting, retention, and casualty rates of the ANDSF and the overall effectiveness of the ANDSF," the report states.

Trump unveiled his South Asia strategy last year to convince the Taliban through diplomatic, military and social pressure it cannot win and must reconcile.

"During this quarter there was little publicly available evidence that the actions to increase pressure on the Taliban were having a significant impact," the report notes.

In February, the Afghan government offered the Taliban the chance to start a reconciliation process with no preconditions, and the US has suggested Taliban elements want to negotiate. But attacks have continued unabated.

Pentagon spokesman Colonel Rob Manning said the US remains committed to its "train, advise and assist mission" to help the Afghan security forces.

"Chaos and progress can coexist -- and that's exactly what we feel is happening in Afghanistan," Manning said.

"Given the different audiences that US military officials have in mind when they make these (public) announcements, there is simply a very strong incentive to accentuate and even embellish the positives, (and) to minimize the negatives," said Michael Kugelman, with the Wilson Center think tank in Washington.

"It is a war that many Americans don't support and don't understand and yet it is war that is probably going to continue for the foreseeable future ... it is just like Vietnam," Kugelman said.

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