Afghan Deaths Soar to Highest as US Weighs Strategy

A Taliban attack on a military base outside Mazar-i-Sharif last month killed  at least 144 recruits. (File Photo)A Taliban attack on a military base outside Mazar-i-Sharif last month killed  at least 144 recruits. (File Photo)

Almost 16 years after the US-backed ouster of the Taliban, Afghanistan remains in the grip of a war with “shockingly high” death rates among security forces and a record number of casualties among civilians, the US government watchdog monitoring the country’s reconstruction efforts said.

“Civilian casualties rose to 11,418 last year, the highest since the United Nations began keeping records in 2009. In the first six weeks of this year, 807 Afghan soldiers were killed,” John Sopko, the US special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, said in a quarterly report to Congress issued late Sunday, Bloomberg reported.

Sopko’s report provides a reality check for the Trump administration and Defense Secretary James Mattis who visited Afghanistan in April ahead of an expected recommendation to US President Donald Trump about future troop levels and strategy.

The Obama White House announced in July that 8,400 US troops would remain in Afghanistan into this year rather than cutting the force to 5,500 as originally planned. Now, that number could increase by several thousand if Trump is persuaded by his generals to send more troops.

“Afghan military and police forces have grown, taken lead responsibility for the country’s security and show increased effectiveness,” Sopko said in the report.

“Yet serious problems persist. A dangerous and stubborn insurgency controls or exerts influence over areas holding about a third of the Afghan population.”

The situation has only worsened since the report was completed. It does not include more than 140 Afghan troops killed and 150 wounded in a five-hour-long suicide attack at an army base on April 21.

Complicating matters, Russia may be providing support to Taliban forces, a move that prompted Mattis to say the US may have to confront Moscow over “violations of international law”.

Russian officials and the Taliban deny the accusations. Russia’s special envoy for Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov, said in a March 30 interview that the charges are an invention by the Afghan government and its allies to “justify their own failure on the battlefield”.

Still, Russia has said it supports the Taliban’s demand for foreign troops to withdraw from the country. The Taliban’s widening control of key areas only makes it harder for the US to extract itself from its longest-ever war.

Taliban insurgents last week began their annual spring offensive under the name of “Operation Mansouri”, spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed said in an emailed statement.


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