The Taliban didn't conduct a single attack against U.S. or coalition forces over three months this spring, according to a new report from the Defense Department Inspector General, an almost miraculous occurrence given the uptick in violence against Afghan security forces since the signing of the U.S.-Taliban peace agreement in February.
According to the new IG report covering the time period of April 1 through June 30, U.S. Forces-Afghanistan claimed that the Taliban “did not conduct any attacks against U.S. or coalition forces this quarter” in line with the February 29th agreement between the U.S. and the militant group.
While the reported reduction in violence led to a resulting 80 percent decrease in airstrikes conducted by U.S. and coalition forces over that same period, the Pentagon reported that the Taliban had in fact increased its attacks on Afghan National Defense and Security Forces and Afghan government officials.
In addition, the Taliban “did not appear to uphold its commitment to distance itself from terrorist organizations in Afghanistan,” according to the report, which notes that UN and U.S. officials “reported that the Taliban continued to support al-Qaeda, and conducted joint attacks with al-Qaeda members” against the ANDSF.
With the U.S. down to less than 8,600 troops in Afghanistan as of June, the reported reduction in violence may seem like a flash of good news amid the long march of the war in Afghanistan — a sign that the Taliban, at least partially, have stopped targeting U.S. service members amid the Pentagon's latest attempt to extricate itself from the Forever War.
Then again, you wouldn't know for sure: According to the DoD OIG report, USFOR-A is no longer providing data on “enemy-initiated attacks” — both “effective” and otherwise” against U.S. forces there, effectively hiding a critical measure of violence in Afghanistan from public view.
The reason for this omission? According to USFOR-A, information on enemy-initiated attacks is “now a critical part of deliberative interagency discussions regarding ongoing political negotiations between the United States and the Taliban” and therefore classified.
“The DoD also withheld the enemy-initiated attack data typically published in its publicly releasable semiannual report to Congress; the DoD stated that the information will be included in future classified annexes to its reports,” according to the DoD OIG report. “The DoD’s report did not include the number of attacks and stated only that enemy-initiated, direct-fire attacks against ANDSF checkpoints continued to cause the most casualties to ANDSF personnel.”
The Pentagon's opacity on the matter of violence levels in Afghanistan, beyond vague assertions of direct-fire attacks against ANDSF checkpoints and a surprising lack of firefights among U.S. military personnel, comes at a delicate time for Afghan security forces.
While UN Security Council data indicates that there were only 5,543 “security incidents” between February 7 and May 14 — a 2 percent decrease compared to the same period one year ago — the DoD OIG concluded that the data “appear to indicate an increase in the number of attacks against the Afghan government compared to the previous year.”
According to the DoD IG report, this uptick in attacks comes as the Afghan Ministry of Interior Affairs plans to disband its armed, U.S.-funded and -equipped Afghan Local Police (ALP), which consist of more than 18,000 members spread across Afghanistan's various districts.
The latest Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction report, which covers reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan from April 1 to June 30, 2020, reveals alarming personnel shortfalls among local police forces in the Kandahar, Zabul, Helmand, and Uruzgan provinces of the country, several districts of which are currently contested by the Taliban.
How the next few months fare for the Afghan government remains to be seen; the central government has already agreed to additional releases of Taliban prisoners in a push for peace talks with the militant group. But based on the lack of data, it's hard to tell if the Taliban is actually sticking to the terms of its agreement with the U.S. government.