SIGAR released its forty-eighth Quarterly Report to Congress.

SIGAR’s forty-eighth Quarterly Report to Congress

Key Points:

— Implementation of the U.S.-Taliban agreement, contested presidential election results, tensions between the United States and Iran, prisoner-release discussions, war, and COVID-19 had a major impact this quarter, making it “perhaps the most complex and challenging period in the last two decades” for Afghanistan’s security forces, according to the Combined Security Transition Command – Afghanistan (CSTC-A).

— Enemy violence levels stayed well above historic norms for most of this quarter, according to Resolute Support (RS). The Taliban conducted no attacks against Coalition forces, but attacked Afghan government forces at several sites in provincial capitals.

— According to DOD’s assessment of the violence level from February 29 – June 1, “The Taliban is calibrating its use of violence to harass and undermine the ANDSF and [the Afghan government], but remain at a level it perceives is within the bounds of the agreement, probably to encourage a U.S. troop withdrawal and set favorable conditions for a post-withdrawal Afghanistan.”

— Afghanistan’s National Security Council said Taliban attacks increased June 14 – 21, with 422 attacks in 32 provinces killing 291 ANDSF personnel and wounding 550 others, making it the “deadliest [week] of the past 19 years.”

— A UN monitoring team concluded this quarter that the Taliban-al-Qaeda relationship remained “close, based on friendship, a history of shared struggle, ideological sympathy and intermarriage,” despite Taliban commitments to break off support for al-Qaeda in the U.S.-Taliban agreement.

— RS reported 59% more civilian casualties in Afghanistan this quarter (April 1 – June 30) compared to last quarter (January 1 – March 30), and an 18% increase compared to the same period last year. The 2,085 civilian casualties this quarter were 776 more than last quarter and 321 more than the same period last year.

— COVID-19 testing remains limited in Afghanistan, but nearly 43% of samples tested positive as of July 15, one of the highest rates in the world, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Afghanistan lacks medical equipment needed to treat COVID-19; its hospitals have only 300 ventilators. JHU research suggests an 18% increase in child mortality and a 14% increase in maternal mortality as indirect consequences of COVID-19’s spread. The International Rescue Committee said Afghanistan faced a “humanitarian disaster.”

— Driven in part by COVID-19, the Afghan government’s sustainable domestic revenues contracted by 23.4%, year-on-year, over the first six months of 2020, according to SIGAR analysis of Afghan government accounting data. In the first six months of 2020, customs duties and taxes dropped 31.6% from the same period last year. According to State, the Afghan government expects tax revenue to contract by $715 million in 2020, 26% shy of the $2.7 billion in revenues that were projected before the emergence of COVID-19.

— About one-third of Afghanistan’s estimated 32.2 million people remain in either a crisis or emergency state of food insecurity and require urgent action, as of May, according to the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification. According to Save the Children, 7.3 million Afghan children will face food shortages due to the pandemic. Prices of essential food items have steadily risen, with reported food-price inflation of 16.7%, while the purchasing power of casual labor has dropped by 13%.

— State downgraded Afghanistan’s human trafficking rating to the lowest level since it first assessed the country in 2002, saying the Afghan government does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so. There is an Afghan government policy or pattern of sexual slavery in government compounds (bacha bazi or “boy play”) and the recruitment and use of child soldiers, according to State. The Department added that the Afghan government lacks the resources and political will to hold perpetrators accountable.

— Between November 1, 2019 and April 30, 2020, the number of ANDSF casualties, including those that occurred on local patrols, checkpoint operations, and offensive operations, decreased significantly compared to the same period in 2019, but still remained high, largely due to Taliban attacks at static ANDSF checkpoints, according to DOD. USFOR-A classified all ANDSF casualty information this quarter because the Afghan government classifies it.

— Recent United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reporting indicates that Afghanistan’s 2020 opium-poppy harvest was largely uninterrupted by COVID-19. UNODC estimated 163,000 hectares of opium-poppy were cultivated in Afghanistan in 2019. This is a 38% decline from 2018 (263,000 ha) and a 50% decline from the high point of cultivation in 2017 (328,000 ha). Overall, the opium-poppy cultivation in 2019 was at its lowest point since 2012 (154,000 ha). Neither disease nor drought affected the quality of opium-poppy in 2019 as it had in previous years.

— On July 1, DOD reported that the $1 billion reduction of assistance, announced by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in March, had not been implemented as of June 2020. On July 17, DOD told SIGAR that the Secretary of Defense has been actively engaged in reviewing recommendations for implementing a reduction in Afghan Special Forces Fund support.

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SIGAR released its forty-eighth Quarterly Report to Congress.