Afghanistan faces a continuing threat from as many as 20 insurgent and terrorist networks present or operating in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, including the Taliban, the Haqqani Network, Daesh and al-Qaeda - in what is the highest concentration of extremist and terrorist groups in the world, a Pentagon report has found.
The report, "Enhancing Security and Stability in Afghanistan," also stated Afghanistan is "at a critical point" in its battle against multiple insurgencies and terrorist groups.
The Pentagon said that as of February 2017, the Taliban exercised influence or control over 11 percent of the Afghan population, the government could claim 65 percent, and the rest was “contested.”
In its semi-annual report to Congress, the Pentagon states that despite the convergence of these groups in Afghanistan, the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) retained control of all major population centers during the period December 1, 2016 to May 31 of this year.
“Taliban capabilities and operations varied significantly by region. The group continued to exploit its limited successes and tout them as strategic victories through the proficient use of social media and propaganda campaigns,” the report stated.
“The combination of U.S counterterrorism operations, ANDSF operations, pressure from the Taliban, and a lack of support from the local populace have diminished ISIS-K’s (Daesh) influence and caused it to decline in size, capability, and ability to hold territory.
“At its height, ISIS-K had a presence in six provinces but it is now largely confined to four districts in Nangarhar Province. ISIS-K remains a threat to security in Afghanistan and the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region and a threat to U.S and coalition forces, and ISIS-K retains the ability to conduct high-profile attacks
in urban centers,” read the report.
The Pentagon stated that the ANDSF are generally capable of protecting major population centers, preventing the Taliban from maintaining prolonged control of specific areas, and responding to Taliban attacks and that the Afghan Special Security Forces (ASSF) have proven to be effective at leading offensive clearing
However, it stated that continued Taliban attacks across the country has weakened public confidence in the Afghan government’s ability to provide security.
The report also stated that “attacks in Afghanistan attributed to Pakistan-based militant networks continue to erode the Afghanistan-Pakistan relationship.”
“Militant groups, including the Taliban and Haqqani Network, continued to utilize sanctuaries inside Pakistan. Pakistan’s belief that Afghanistan is not doing enough to prevent cross-border attacks, such as a suicide bombing at a shrine in Pakistan’s Sindh Province in February 2017 that killed 72 people, further hampers bilateral relations,” read the report.
The report stated that the U.S and Afghan governments agree that the best way to ensure lasting peace and security in Afghanistan is through reconciliation and a political settlement with the Taliban.
“The United States supports an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned reconciliation process and supports any process that includes violent extremist groups laying down their arms. The success of this peace process will require the Taliban and other armed opposition groups to end violence and break ties with international terrorist groups.”
It also stated that developing ANDSF capabilities, improving the ministry of defense and ministry of interior’s capacity, and supporting Afghan leadership are critical to enabling the Afghan government to secure the country.
The report did however, raise the issue of Public Uprising Forces, which helps to provide security in rural areas.
According to the report, “since late 2015, private militias and other non-state actors have played a more public role in maintaining security in their respective regions – particularly in the north of Afghanistan – as there is a tendency for local and provincial government officials and warlords to employ these groups to address local security challenges.
“In addition, over the last year, the Afghan government has begun using government funds to establish and support local security forces, also known as National Uprising Forces, in rural areas to provide additional security in remote parts of the country. The inclusion of these groups and other non-state entities remains a component of overall security and stability efforts, but raises policy and implementation questions as these groups have limited accountability and a disregard for human rights, and they can exacerbate tribal and ethnic tensions if not properly monitored.”