According to the most recent report from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), things are looking better (kind of) in the war-torn country: Civilian casualties are down, and over the course of the winter, the Taliban did not take any new provincial capitals.
“Afghan and international officials attributed this to the intensified air-strike campaign by Coalition and Afghan forces and more night raids by Afghan special forces,” reads the report.
Also, winter is not combat fighting season in the country — hence the regular stream of attacks in cities throughout the colder months. Those types of attacks (suicide attacks anc car bombs) such as the horrific ones in April that targeted journalists and a voter registration center continue in the warm months, even as spring signals the start of fighting season.
If they make any gains remains to be seen, although the Washington Post reported on Tuesday that, according to Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), President Donald Trump promised him that the United States is “getting the hell out of there,” which counters Defense Secretary James Mattis’s statement on U.S. commitments to Afghanistan’s security. (It seems the president made these assurances to Paul in exchange for the senator’s committee vote to confirm Mike Pompeo as Secretary of State.)
And this hardly marks a departure for this administration’s at times incoherent strategy in Afghanistan.
And while the Taliban have not captured more cities in the country’s 34 provinces, they still control very crucial border territories in Kunduz (where airstrikes targeting the Taliban hit a school instead) and Helmand.
In fact, according to the SIGAR report, the Afghan government controls (or influences, though it’s not clear exactly what that means) just over half the country’s 407 districts. Fifty-nine rest under Taliban control or influence, with the remaining ones — nearly a third of the country — are contested territory.
The Long War Journal (a project of the conservative think tank Foundation for Defense of Democracies), however, notes that the data SIGAR used for this report is from the end of January 2018.
The Long War Journal gathers its own data, and in counting who controls what in Afghanistan until mid-April, it found that the government control 39 percent of the districts (159), the Taliban controls 9.5 percent (39 districts), with a whopping 49 percent (200 districts) being contested. (They could not determine who controlled the nine remaining districts).
Things might take a turn for the worst as there’s also a sharp decrease in the number of local security troops — down by nearly 11 percent — from 331,700 in January 2017 to roughly 296,400 in January of this year.
Quoting numbers from the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), the SIGAR report also highlights the fact that civilian deaths are down by nine percent.
— Setayish (@setayish_tanha) May 2, 2018
This is the first time since 2012 that civilian casualties have decreased since 2012, which is significant, though far from any sort of comfort to Afghans who buried at least 3,438 of its own in 2017, including 861 children. As the tweet above shows, “life in Afghanistan” is by no means back to normal.