Kabul faces ‘existential crisis’ in light of Taliban wave, US watchdog says

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The Afghan government is facing an “existential crisis” after the Taliban redoubled their attacks following the US’s February 2020 deal with the insurgents, a watchdog report said Thursday.

According to the report, Taliban attacks on Afghan targets have increased from 6,700 in the three months to the Doha Agreement to 13,242 in September-November 2020.

According to the report by the US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), attacks have exceeded 10,000 in each subsequent three-month period.

While the increase in the number of attacks had long been apparent, no data was previously available to show how intense the rebel offensive had become.

The United States agreed to withdraw all troops from Afghanistan on the expectation that the Taliban would negotiate a peace deal with the government of Kabul.

Since then, talks between the Taliban and the government have stalled, but the US has been steadily withdrawing troops to a level of just a few hundred now, with an August 31 deadline for a complete withdrawal.

The SIGAR report makes clear that the Doha agreement, rather than propelling talks between the Taliban and Kabul, unleashed an offensive that caught government forces unprepared and increased the number of civilian deaths.

In January-March 2020, there were just 510 civilian deaths and 709 casualties, the report said, citing data from the joint US-NATO force in Afghanistan.

Thereafter, numbers rose, with 1,058 fatalities and 1,959 injured in the third quarter of that year and remaining at a high level.

The latest data, for April and May this year, showed 705 civilian deaths and 1,330 casualties, the SIGAR report said.

“The general trend is clearly unfavorable for the Afghan government, which could face an existential crisis if not addressed and vice versa,” said Inspector General John Sopko.

He said the report presented a sobering picture that contrasted with “the pervasiveness of over-optimism” that characterized the US-led efforts to rebuild and strengthen Afghanistan and the cost of hundreds of billions of dollars to the US government.

“The news coming out of Afghanistan this quarter is dismal,” the report said.

Facing a new Taliban offensive, it said, the Afghan government’s security forces appeared “surprised and incapacitated, and is now on its back foot.”

“Particularly concerning was the speed and ease with which the Taliban seemingly took control of the districts in the northern provinces of Afghanistan, once a bastion of anti-Taliban sentiment.”

(AFP)