‘Minimal progress for US troops in Afghan in Q1 2018’

Washington, May 22 (IANS) A Pentagon watchdog has said that US troops made “minimal progress” in Afghanistan during the first quarter of 2018 as challenges facing US and Afghan forces mount.

In a quarterly report to Congress on Monday, the Lead Inspector General for Overseas Contingency Operations said that the population living under secured environment showed little positive change since the fourth quarter last year, demonstrating the stalling military effort of US troops in the country.

The report tallied 65 per cent of the Afghan population as living in areas controlled by the Afghan government, compared with 64 per cent last year. The goal, as stated by US and Afghan officials, was to raise the number to 80 per cent at the end of 2019 to squeeze out the Taliban, Xinhua news agency reported.

The report, undersigned by the Inspectors General of the Defence Department, the State Department and the US Agency for International Aid, identified dwindling forces, rampant attacks and corruption as major challenges facing Afghan government forces.

As of January 31, the Afghanistan National Defence and Security Force (ANDSF) has 313,728 personnel, compared with 331,708 from a year ago. The drop “renews concerns about the recruiting, retention and casualty rates of the ANDSF and the overall effectiveness of the ANDSF,” the report said.

It also noted that despite efforts to bolster security, militants carried out at least 10 attacks in Kabul during the first quarter in 2018. Corruption also continued to undermine the effectiveness of Afghan forces as the country slipped four spots on a global corruption index last year.

Pentagon spokesman Robert Manning downplayed the grim picture in Afghanistan, saying that “chaos and progress can co-exist and that’s exactly what we feel is happening in Afghanistan”, adding that “we feel like progress is being made”.

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