Some of the most important gains made by the Afghan government and its partners appear to be slipping away, according to the most recent quarterly report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR).
SIGAR’s October 2016 report, its 33rd report issued to the US Congress, noted that there had been increases in poverty, unemployment and underemployment, violence, outmigration, internal displacement, and the education-gender gap, and that services and private investment had fallen.
Significantly, SIGAR noted that the Afghan government’s territorial control had decreased as well.
US forces in the Afghanistan “reported that approximately 63.4% of the country’s districts are under Afghan government control or influence as of August 28, 2016, a decrease from the 65.6% reported as of May 28, 2016,” the inspector general said in a statement.
“Of Afghanistan’s 407 districts, 258 districts were under government control (88 districts) or influence (170), 33 districts were under insurgent control (8) or influence (25), and 116 districts were ‘contested,’” the statement added.
The amount of Afghan territory under control of the government cited by SIGAR is less than the amount US officials have stated in the past.
“We believe the Afghans control or influence 68 to 70 percent of the population,” General John Nicholson, the commander of US and NATO forces, told a press briefing in September, according to Reuters.
The Taliban is thought to control more of the country than at any point since the US invasion in 2001, a few weeks after the September 11 attacks.
According to US forces in Afghanistan, from January 1 to August 19 this year, 5,523 Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) members had been killed and 9,665 members had been wounded.
Over that same period, “there were 101 insider attacks in which ANDSF personnel turned on fellow ANDSF security forces, killing 257 and wounding 125,” the SIGAR report noted.
A record 5,100 civilian casualties, including 1,600 deaths, were recorded in the first half of 2016, according to the UN.
While a survey of ANDSF members found that while many of them were satisfied with their care and expected that they or their families would be taken care of should they be wounded or killed, many of those surveyed cited fear of retaliation against them or their family as a reason for wanting to leave the service.
Moreover, loss of trust or confidence in the Afghan government or army, and for the 58% of those surveyed who said they knew or knew of soldiers who had left the force, the perception that the ANDSF didn’t take care of its members was the second-most cited reason.
US forces in Afghanistan, cited by the SIGAR, reported one-third of the country was under insurgent control or influence or at risk of coming under it. AFP reported in October that fighting between militants and Afghan and foreign forces had spread to 31 of the country’s 34 provinces.
Decreased security in some parts of the country also posed a risk to the investment made in Afghanistan’s road infrastructure.
“Since 2002, USAID and DOD have spent approximately $2.8 billion to construct and repair Afghanistan’s road infrastructure, and perform capacity-building activities,” SIGAR said in a release for a separate report.
“An Afghan Ministry of Public Works’ (MOPW) official stated that 20 percent of the roads were destroyed and the remaining 80 percent continue to deteriorate,” the inspector general added.
The US Agency for International Development, cited by SIGAR, found that 54% of the country’s roads were poorly maintained and “required rehabilitation beyond simple repairs.” Those repair and maintenance efforts had been hamstrung by lack of funding, weak capacity, corruption, and insecurity.
The deterioration of Afghanistan’s road networks could limit the government’s ability to access parts of the country, limit commerce, and hinder Afghans’ freedom of movement.
The eroding security situation also threatens some of the social gains that have been made in the county in the 15 years since US and allied forces invaded.
In parts of the country under insurgent control or influence, or at risk of it, “the Taliban seek to punish women who work or study outside of the home,” the SIGAR report states. “A number of the women interviewed had their lives threatened or had relatives killed by the Taliban.”
In 2006, only 8% of Afghanistan strongly or somewhat disagreed with the statement that women should have the same education opportunities as men, according to SIGAR. In 2015, the number that disagreed had risen to 21%.
“Support for equal representation of men and women in political leadership positions has declined, from a high of 51.1% in 2008 to 43.6% in 2015,” SIGAR said its statement. “The proportion of Afghans who say that political leadership positions should be mostly for men has increased, from 36.8% in 2006 to 42.3% in 2015.”
Just over 85,000 Afghans sought asylum in the EU for the first time in the first half of this year, SIGAR noted. “The number of asylum applications from April to June was 83% higher compared to the same period in 2015.”
The campaign against Afghanistan’s opium-poppy production has also seen significant reversals. The estimated area under cultivation in 2016 — 201,000 hectares, or about 496,000 acres — is among the three highest amounts recorded since the UN began keeping track in 1994.
The number of provinces free of opium poppies fell from 14 to 13 this year, and every region except the Southern — which already has the most cultivation in the country — saw increases in opium production.
Fighting and the poor security situation in much of the country also hindered poppy-eradication efforts. Provincial governors destroyed 877 acres of poppy this year, a 91% decline from the 9,921 acres eradicated last year.
The average opium yield was 30% higher as well, rising from 18.3 kilograms per hectare in 2015 to 23.8 kilograms per hectare this year.