On Nov. 12, 2001, the Taliban fled Kabul amid a lightning advance by Northern Alliance forces and their U.S. Special Forces allies. The victory was a critical first step toward ensuring that Afghanistan would never again provide safe haven to terrorist groups plotting to kill Americans. And yet, 17 years and one MOAB later, 35 percent of the Afghan population lives beyond government control or influence — “a figure that has not changed in the past year,” according to the latest quarterly report from the Lead Inspector General for Operation Freedom’s Sentinel, which covers the period from July 1, 2018 to September 30, 2018.
The quarter also marked a year since the Trump Administration implemented its South Asia strategy. As the Lead IG report notes, the strategy ultimately "seeks to drive the Taliban to enter into negotiations for a political settlement" by increasing U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan, ramping up offensive strikes against the Taliban, and pressuring Pakistan to "eliminate terrorist safe havens" on its side of the border.
Here is a brief overview of how it's been working out so far:
- Army Lt. Gen. Austin "Scott" Miller assumed command of U.S. Forces-Afghanistan and the NATO-led Resolute Support Mission at the beginning of September.
- "In public statements, diplomatic and military leaders emphasized that progress towards the goals of the South Asia strategy is being made," the Lead IG report states. "However, available measures of security in Afghanistan, including total security incidents, population control, and civilian casualties, showed little change."
- The report found that Afghan security forces sustained more casualties this summer than last, continuing a trend that has seen the casualty rate nearly double over the past three years.
- Afghan President Ashraf Ghani announced last week that a total of nearly 29,000 Afghan government troops have been killed since assuming primary responsibility for the country's security in early 2015. Afghan civilian casualties have also increased.
- 38 U.S. military personnel were killed in Afghanistan during that same timeframe.
- As the Lead IG report explains, American forces "conduct two complementary missions under Operation Freedom's Sentinel, which began on January 1, 2015: "1) counterterrorism operations against al Qaeda, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria-Khorasan (ISIS-K), and their affiliates in Afghanistan; and 2) training, advising, and assisting the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF)" through the NATO-led Resolute Support Mission.
- The report further explains that the U.S. counterterrorism efforts "remain focused on preventing Afghanistan from becoming a safe haven for terrorists planning attacks against the U.S. homeland and against U.S. interests and partners."
- A separate report released on Oct. 30 by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction notes that of the 14,000 U.S. military personnel currently deployed to Afghanistan, 8,745 are "assigned to the NATO RS mission to train, advise, and assist Afghan security forces." (That effort has cost American taxpayers more than $80 billion since 2002.)
- According to the Lead IG, however, the Taliban appears no more willing to reconcile with the Afghan government than it did several months ago, while ISIS-K has "continued to mount deadly attacks in its stronghold in Nangarhar province and in Kabul."
- The U.S. government has spent nearly a trillion dollars on the war effort in Afghanistan, which has claimed roughly 147,000 lives so far, according to a new report from Brown University's Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs. That includes 1,881 American KIA.
- The Watson report estimates that nearly 4,000 US contractors have also died in the conflict.