Watchdog warns US gains in Afghanistan 'eroding'

Watchdog warns US gains in Afghanistan 'eroding'
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A new U.S. government watchdog report says past gains in Afghanistan "are eroding" despite $115 billion in American support since 2002. 

The report particularly highlighted problems with women's rights, a top U.S. interest over the past decade.  

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"Fifteen years after the United States ousted the Taliban regime, Afghanistan remains one of the worst places in the world to be a woman," said the report by the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction. 

The U.S. has spent at least $1 billion on activities intended to improve conditions for Afghan women, according to the agency's report. 

It also said poverty, unemployment, underemployment, violence, emigration, internal displacement and the education gender gap have all increased while services and private investment decreased. 

The report also showed a huge uptick in Afghan asylum applications to the European Union: 85,075 in the first six months of 2016, an 83 percent increase from the same period last year. 

The security situation is also backsliding despite $68.7 billion from the U.S. in building and sustaining Afghan security forces since 2002. 

The amount of territory controlled by the Afghan government decreased from 65.6 percent of the country's districts as of May 28, 2015, to 63.4 percent as of Aug. 28, 2016, according to the report. 

"The overall security situation remained highly volatile as intensive Taliban operations continued, challenging government control in northeastern, northern, and southern provinces, and attempting to cut key supply routes," the report said.  

The report notes that insurgents only control 8.1 percent of districts, but that an additional 28.5 percent are "contested" by insurgents. 

The report also noted that the most capable elements of the Afghan security forces — its special operations forces and the Afghan National Civil Order Police — "often" perform the role of the conventional Afghan National Army (ANA) and risk burnout.  

The high usage of Afghan commandos could also affect U.S. special operations forces, who accompany them on 20 percent of their operations, though the report notes they go as far as the "last covered and concealed position prior to the objective.” 

In July, top U.S. commander in Afghanistan Gen. John Nicholson said the Afghan elite forces are the only government forces that are employing a cycle that allows their troops to leave the fight, retrain or rest before going back. 

However, the report said since late August, the Afghan fighters have been unable to do that, "due to the complete overuse and misuse" of them. 

One notable bright spot in the report is the reduction of territory where the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is operating in the country. 

ISIS is now operating primarily in three to four districts, which is a decrease from the nine to 10 districts the group populated last year. There are an estimated 1,200 to 1,300 ISIS members in Afghanistan. 

Joint U.S.-Afghan special forces operations have killed 12 top ISIS leaders and roughly 25 percent of its fighters.