WASHINGTON – Civilian casualties and Taliban attacks in Afghanistan increase as the US withdrawal comes to an end and the Afghan military continues to collapse, according to a new quarterly report from a US government watchdog that describes a country ravaged by Covid-19 and violence.
The report of the Special Inspector General for the Reconstruction of Afghanistan, or SIGAR, found a “dramatic increase in enemy attacks” from January to March of this year compared to the same period in previous years. There were 10,431 attacks this year, up from 7,620 last year and 6,358 in 2019.
Attacks have increased since the US-Taliban agreement of February 29, 2020, with more attacks in each three-month period since the agreement than in the same quarters the year before.
The number of attacks against the Afghan army and civilians has increased dramatically this year, according to the report, with many attacks taking place during the Taliban offensive now sweeping the country.
The Taliban launched an offensive in May after US military and coalition forces began to withdraw. The offensive accelerates in June and July.
However, the report notes that Afghan forces have stopped reporting attacks as their situation deteriorates, and it says the United States stopped collecting data on the attacks as of May 31 with the end of the United States training and advisory mission.
Civilian deaths increased until the end of the reporting period. Resolute Support, the NATO mission in Afghanistan, reported 2,035 civilian casualties in April and May – 705 dead and 1,330 injured. That’s almost as many civilian casualties as in the first three months of this year combined, 2,149, and more than in April and May of last year. According to Resolute Support, the two main causes of civilian casualties were improvised explosive devices and direct fire, and 93% of civilian casualties in April and May were from insurgents, largely the Taliban.
The Taliban have invaded Afghan checkpoints and military bases, district centers and a series of key border crossings, according to the SIGAR report. In some cases, Afghan military forces, known as the ANDSF, have fled.
“In some districts, ANDSF forces raised some level of resistance and led a tactical (combat) retreat, while in others they surrendered or fled in disorder,” the report said, citing reports that 1,600 ANDSF fled to Tajikistan this month to avoid Taliban advances in Badakhshan province.
In a briefing last week, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army General Mark Milley, said the Taliban controlled about half of the 419 district centers in Afghanistan and was pressing 17 of the 34 provincial capitals of the country.
“The speed and ease with which the Taliban apparently took control of districts in the northern provinces of Afghanistan, once a bastion of anti-Taliban sentiment,” the SIGAR report said. At a press conference on June 29, former NATO Resolute Support Mission Commander Army General Scott Miller told reporters: “We should be concerned. The loss of ground and the rapidity of this loss of ground must be of concern. “
SIGAR also found that most Afghan military forces “refuse to carry out missions”. Instead, the best-trained and knowledgeable Afghan special operators are employed for basic tasks such as clearing roads, securing checkpoints, and rapid reaction forces.
The Afghan air force is overloaded now that U.S. air support is largely over, the report said. According to the report, all Afghan Air Force planes are flying at least 25% above their recommended scheduled maintenance, and the readiness of most planes has collapsed since most American supporters have withdrawn. The UH-60 Blackhawk fleet was 77% ready in May and fell to 39% in June.
The US military carried out a handful of airstrikes against the Taliban this month, defense officials say, but the planes are arriving from neighboring countries now that nearly all US military forces and equipment have left Afghanistan . After the US military mission officially ends on August 31, the US will still carry out strikes against Al Qaeda and Islamic State terrorists, but it will no longer carry out strikes against the Taliban.
Meanwhile, according to the report, the Afghan public is facing a 2,400% increase in Covid cases, the majority coming from the delta variant. According to the UN, half of the population is in need of humanitarian aid.