Surge in deaths among Afghan security forces: watchdog

More troops killed by mid-August this year than the estimated 5,000 who died in 2015, says US special inspector general for Afghan reconstruction.

An Afghan soldier takes position while fighting Taliban militants in Bolan area of Helmand province on October 29, 2016. Watan Yar / EPA
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WASHINGTON // The death rate among Afghan security forces is surging far above last year’s levels, while a slew of social gains are also eroding, a US government watchdog said on Sunday.

Afghan forces are nearing the end of their second year providing security across the country, after Nato moved into an advisory and training role – and the toll has been devastating.

Last year was terrible enough, with an estimated 5,000 Afghan forces killed and another 15,000 wounded, primarily by the Taliban.

But the death toll this year is already much worse: from January 1 to August 19, a total of 5,523 Afghan service members were killed, according to a quarterly report from the office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (Sigar).

An additional 9,665 members were wounded during the same period.

Violence from the Taliban and other insurgent groups typically spikes over the summer, what is known as the “fighting season”.

But increasingly, militants are launching frequent attacks throughout the year, meaning 2016’s death toll will likely rise further still.

“The most immediate challenge to the US reconstruction effort, and to the viability of the Afghan nation state, remains the armed insurgency pursued by the Taliban and other factions,” said the inspector general, John Sopko.

US army general John Nicholson, the top US and Nato commander in Afghanistan, warned a week ago that basic leadership failures in many Afghan police and military units were helping to drive casualty rates higher.

But despite this, Sigar found that morale within the ranks seems fairly high, with three-quarters of recruits saying they had received good care and 90 per cent satisfied with their pay.

The report also found that gains in key social areas such as poverty, unemployment, women’s rights and the education gender gap have all eroded this year.

“Deep-rooted cultural traditions and a persistent insurgency continue to threaten the physical safety and health of Afghan women and hold them back from entering public life,” it said.

The Afghan government only has full control of two-thirds of the country’s population of 30 million.

Ten per cent is in Taliban hands, and the rest is still being fought over.

* Agence France-Presse