Insider attacks on Afghan army surge as US troop withdrawal nears

Afghan officials fear the Taliban is preparing to seize new territory as foreign forces pull out

Afghan security officials inspect the scene of a bomb blast in Jalalabad that targeted the Afghan National Army. EPA
Afghan security officials inspect the scene of a bomb blast in Jalalabad that targeted the Afghan National Army. EPA

Deadly insider attacks against the Afghan army soared in the first quarter of this year, according to a US government report released on Friday.

The quarterly report of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction also said the Taliban and other rebels were taking advantage of the coming American and Nato troop withdrawal, and that attacks on the Afghan security forces, mainly by the Taliban, surged 37 per cent from January to the end of March compared with the same period in 2020.

Insider attacks, in which security forces are targeted by infiltrators within their ranks, rose 82 per cent, and the casualties they caused doubled, the report said.

An Afghan National Army (ANA) soldier sits at a road checkpoint near the a US military base in Bagram, some 50 km north of Kabul on April 29, 2021. AFP
An Afghan National Army (ANA) soldier sits at a road checkpoint near the a US military base in Bagram, some 50 km north of Kabul on April 29, 2021. AFP

It did not provide its own figure, saying the data was classified. But it said the coalition recorded that 115 Afghan military personnel were killed and 39 wounded in 31 insider attacks in the first three months of this year.

It said the attacks threaten the stability of the Afghan government after the withdrawal of thousands of US troops and civilian defence contractors by September 11, 2021, as ordered earlier this month by American President Joe Biden.

The report also said the Afghan government and particularly Afghan security forces remain highly dependent on Washington’s support in the forms of both financial aid and manpower.

“The complete withdrawal of US troops and US defence contractors from Afghanistan will test whether the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces can sustain themselves and defend the Afghan government without direct US and Coalition military support,” it said.

The withdrawal will involve about 2,500 US service members, 7,092 other forces in the US-led coalition, and 16,832 civilian contractors for the Pentagon who were in the country at the start of April.

Some contractors are crucial to keeping the Afghan military’s aircraft flying, the report said.

It also reported a drop in Afghan civilian deaths in the first quarter, with 643 killed compared with 711 a year earlier and 932 in the fourth quarter of 2020, based on figures from the Nato side of the coalition.

Earlier this month, Mr Biden announced the US would complete its military withdrawal by September 11, exactly 20 years since Al Qaeda attacked the Pentagon and New York’s World Trade Centre.

Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers search men at a road checkpoint on the outskirts of Kabul on April 29, 2021. AFP
Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers search men at a road checkpoint on the outskirts of Kabul on April 29, 2021. AFP

The White House said on Thursday that American troops had started withdrawing from Afghanistan, confirming comments made over the weekend by a senior US general.

The German military will finish training Afghan forces on Friday and turn its attention to withdrawing from the country, the defence ministry in Berlin said.

Germany has the second-largest military contingent in the country, with about 1,100 troops.

Berlin had deployed more than 100,000 soldiers to Afghanistan in the past two decades, many of whom served more than one tour in the country.

Fifty-nine German troops died in Afghanistan, with 35 of them killed in combat or as a result of militant attacks, making it Germany’s deadliest military mission since the Second World War.

Wrapping up the operation, Germany will have to redeploy the equivalent of about 800 containers of equipment such as armoured vehicles, helicopters, weapons and ammunition.

The multinational camp in northern Mazar-i-Sharif led by Germany has been reinforced with troops and mortars, ramping up security for the duration of the withdrawal to guard the base against attacks by the Taliban.

Since Mr Biden’s announcement, violence has increased by nearly a quarter around the country, with Taliban attacks reported in 21 of the 34 provinces, an Afghan Defence Ministry spokesman said on Thursday.

“We are already in the middle of Taliban’s annual spring offensive but we are prepared and conducting our operations,” said a senior government official, who asked not to be named.

Afghan chief of intelligence Ahmad Zia Siraj said the Taliban have increased violence “to the highest level” in recent days.

Top security leaders flew to the central province of Ghazni on Thursday to assess the situation amid reports of the Taliban amassing fighters in the area to overrun the strategic province.

Peace efforts stalled after the Taliban and the Afghan government began talks in the Qatari capital Doha last year. Washington pushed for a summit in Turkey this month but that was postponed because the Taliban refused to participate, and no new date has been set.

The deadline for the US troop withdrawal is later than the one, May 1, to which Washington agreed with the Taliban in Doha last year.

The Taliban, which have not attacked foreign troops since the Doha agreement, called the delay unacceptable.

Updated: April 30, 2021 05:06 PM

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