US casualties in Afghanistan highest since 2015, says report

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The Afghan insurgency and US casualties in the first quarter of this year were at the level highest since 2015, when the United States drastically reduced its military presence in Afghanistan, says an official report released this week.

The report by the office of the Special Inspector General Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) also shows that between January and March 2018, US forces dropped a total of 1,186 munitions in Afghanistan, the highest since 2013, when SIGAR began compiling its quarterly report for the US Congress.

This is over two and a half times the number dropped in the first quarter of 2017. Statistics released by the US Air Force’s Central Command Combined Air Operations Centre shows that the United States dropped 378 munitions in January, 469 in February, and 339 in March 2018 during 215 missions.

The SIGAR report points out that in the first quarter of 2018, the insurgency’s control over districts was also at its highest level since SIGAR began receiving district control data in November 2015.

The report includes data collected by the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNMA), which documented 10,453 civilian casualties from January 1, 2017, through December 31, 2017. The casualties included 3,438 deaths and 7,015 injuries. Men were the majority of civilian casualties, 58 per cent, followed by children,30pc, and women,12pc.

UNAMA attributed 6,768 civilian casualties (2,303 deaths) to anti-government forces and 2,108 civilian casualties (745 deaths) to pro-government forces.

In 2017, 11 US troops were killed and another 102 were wounded in the country. This is a slight increase from the 10 US troops killed in 2015 and nine killed in 2016, but a significant increase in the number of wounded from both 2015 and 2016, which was 75 and 71, respectively. Two US military members were killed and 22 were wounded in Afghanistan so far in 2018.

The overall level of civilian casualties remained unchanged in the first quarter of 2018, but the number of high-casualty events in urban areas increased.

“An unusually intense period of violence in Kabul over the winter months reflected a shift in the insurgents’ tactics to launching successive attacks on civilians in the capital due to increased pressure from the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces (ANDSF) in the provinces,” the SIGAR report observes.

One such attack occurred on January 27 when the Taliban detonated a massive car bomb near the Ministry of Interior headquarters in Kabul that killed at least 103 people and injured 235 others.

Also, the US-backed Afghan government’s control over districts is at its second-lowest level. In January 2018, the insurgency had 12 percent of the Afghan population, 23pc were contested while 65 percent were under the government’s control.

In August 2016, the insurgency had 9pc of the population, 23pc were contested while 69pc of the population lived in government-controlled areas.

Similarly, the insurgents occupied 14pc of Afghanistan’s historical district in January 2018, while 29pc were contested and 56pc were with the government.

In January 2016, the insurgents occupied 6pc of the districts, 23pc were contested and 71pc were with the government.

The provinces with the largest percentages of insurgent controlled or influenced districts are Uruzgan, Kunduz and Helmand.

Afghan President Asharf Ghani’s offer came during a period characterised by fewer security incidents across the country, but also stalemated control of population, districts, and land area, the report adds.

The US Military Times newspaper, however, warns that “the stalemate over the country may not bode well for US and Afghan officials hoping to broker a political settlement with the Taliban.”

The SIGAR report also shows a 4,818-person decrease in the Afghan Army and a 23,210-person decrease in the National Police in January 2018 compared to January 2017.

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