Washington, Kabul-The U.S. government’s top watchdog on Afghanistan said in a report on Friday that the Afghan government lost control or influence of nearly 5 percent of its territory between January and May, an indication of the challenges its forces are facing.
Fifteen years after the United States invaded Afghanistan to topple the Taliban rulers who had harbored al-Qaeda militants who attacked the United States, the Taliban have made major gains and are estimated to control more territory than at any time since 2001.
Washington has been training and equipping Afghan security forces in order to withdraw America troops from the country, but the Afghans remain short of personnel and hardware.
The report, published by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), said the area under Afghan government “control or influence” had decreased to 65.6 percent by the end of May from 70.5 percent near the end of January, based on data provided by U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
That translates to a loss of 19 of the country’s approximately 400 governing districts.
The commander of U.S. Forces in Afghanistan, Army General John Nicholson, said most of the areas the Taliban control were rural.
“They believed they were going to be able to seize and hold terrain, and they failed to do so,” Nicholson told a Pentagon briefing via video link on Thursday.
In Kabul, an Afghan official said on Friday that four gunmen were killed and 15 others were injured, including five policemen, in clashes that took place with militants in central Afghanistan.
Five U.S. special operations members were wounded while working with Afghan special forces in an operation to clear areas controlled by ISIS in eastern Afghanistan, the top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan said on Thursday.
Army General John Nicholson said two of the injured service members have returned to duty, while three others were evacuated but are “in good spirits” and are expected to make a full recovery, he said.
“We will continue to stay after Daesh until they are defeated here in Afghanistan,” Nicholson said, using an Arabic acronym for ISIS.
The group has an estimated 1,000 to 1,500 fighters in Afghanistan, he said.