U.S. Oversight Report: Afghanistan ‘Even More Dangerous Than It Was a Year Ago’

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(CNSNews.com) – Things are going from bad to worse in Afghanistan, according to a report released Friday by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), the the largest U.S. oversight organization in Afghanistan.

“[I]n this reporting period (October through December 2015), Afghanistan proved even more dangerous than it was a year ago, the report says.

“The Taliban now controls more territory than at any time since 2001. Vicious and repeated attacks in Kabul this quarter shook confidence in the national-unity government. A year after the Coalition handed responsibility for Afghan security to the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF), American and British forces were compelled on several occasions to support ANDSF troops in combat against the Taliban.”

And that’s just the beginning of the 230-page report, which also details Afghanistan’s failing economy, rampant corruption, lack of basic institutions, and shrinking population.

Many young Afghans are fleeing the country. The report notes that “Afghans accounted for 20% of the million-plus migrants to the European Union in 2015, second only to Syrians fleeing their own civil war.”

President Obama formally ended U.S. combat operations in Afghanistan in December 2014. The U.S. role has now shifted to counter-terrorism as well as training, advising and assisting the Afghan security forces.

But according to SIGAR, U.S. forces are still being drawn into fighting the Taliban. “During the Kunduz siege in October, General Campbell (the U.S. commander in Afghanistan) reported U.S. forces engaged in heavy fighting for five consecutive days and nights.”

From January 2015, when the non-combat mission began, through January 5, 2016, 11 U.S. military personnel have been killed in action, and ten others have died in non-hostile situations, for a total of 21 U.S. military deaths. During this period, 79 U.S. military personnel were wounded in action.

According to the Defense Department,approximately 8,950 U.S. forces were serving in Afghanistan as of December 30, 2015, and President Obama has said that number will drop to 5,500 at the end of this year. (Both the current commander in Afghanistan and his soon-to-be-confirmed replacement have indicated that 5,500 troops may not be enough.)

Not only is the Taliban stronger than ever, the report says, but other groups are expanding their presence in Afghanistan. The report specifically mentions al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) — a relatively new offshoot of al-Qaeda that operates primarily in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India — and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant-Khorasan Province (ISIL-K).

SIGAR is required by law to conduct audits of any major contract, grant, or agreement entered into by any department or agency of the U.S. government that involves taxpayer funding for the reconstruction of Afghanistan.

But the report notes that “the lack of security has made it almost impossible for many U.S. and even some Afghan officials to get out to manage and inspect U.S.-funded reconstruction projects.”

Other findings from the report show how difficult (and expensive) it will be for the U.S. to create a functioning nation where none exists, amid a growing terrorist presence that we’ve been trying to eradicate for 14 years.

— Every other South Asian economy grew faster than Afghanistan’s in 2014 and 2015, a trend the Asian Development Bank (ADB) expects to continue in 2016.

— The Afghan government acknowledged that the speed, scale, and depth of its economic crisis and associated human costs is unsustainable. Although it is working with the IMF and other donors on long-term reforms to the economy, the government reported that the country is suffering from a major economic downturn that has led to “large-scale job loss, deep popular unhappiness, widespread human suffering, and a large upswing in out-migration as disillusioned Afghans leave for Europe
and beyond.”

— The government said it miscalculated the economic costs of the Coalition withdrawal. Lower foreign military spending has reduced demand for services, leading to tens of thousands of jobs lost, and negatively impacted domestic demand for products and services. Meanwhile, the strength of the insurgency has caused the government to spend more on the military and less on job-creating investments, reducing its ability to provide jobs for an estimated 700,000 Afghans entering the workforce annually.

— Afghanistan’s public health is beset by many challenges—tuberculosis, polio, poor maternal health, and one of the world’s highest levels of child malnutrition, according to the World Bank.

–Afghanistan has one of the lowest rates of electrification in the world, with an estimated 25–33% of Afghans connected to the power grid.

— Afghanistan’s lack of transportation infrastructure hinders internal commerce, foreign trade, and economic growth.

On Thursday, President Obama’s nominee to be the next U.S. commander in Afghanistan also said the security situation in Afghanistan is deteriorating, and he assured senators he will do a thorough review of American troop levels needed to stabilize the nation.

Army Lt. Gen. John W. “Mick” Nicholson Jr. told the Senate Armed Services Committee he will have a better sense of conditions in Afghanistan within 90 days if he is confirmed by the Senate. He agreed with senators that troop strength must be determined by conditions on the ground.

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