Pentagon report: Afghan forces show 'promising but inconsistent' progress

Pentagon report: Afghan forces show 'promising but inconsistent' progress
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Afghan forces have shown “promising but inconsistent” progress in defending their country during the latter part of the year, according to a Pentagon report released Friday.

“Although the ANDSF [Afghan National Defense and Security Forces] denied the insurgency any strategic successes, the ANDSF have also demonstrated the need for continued U.S. and coalition support to address persistent capability gaps and deficiencies,” the report says.

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The latest biannual report covers the security situation in Afghanistan from June 1 to Nov. 30 and comes as U.S. forces are preparing to draw down from 9,800 troops to 8,400 troops next month.

The 106-page report also comes as President-elect Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpBooker hits Biden's defense of remarks about segregationist senators: 'He's better than this' Booker hits Biden's defense of remarks about segregationist senators: 'He's better than this' Trump says Democrats are handing out subpoenas 'like they're cookies' MORE is preparing to take over as commander-in-chief and will have to decide whether to continue with President Obama’s strategy in Afghanistan.

U.S. forces are in the country on a dual mission of training, advising and assisting Afghan forces in their fight against the Taliban and carrying out counterterrorism operations against groups such as al Qaeda.

While the Taliban insurgency continued to be resilient this year, the report says, Afghan forces showed “determination and continued capability growth.”

As of September, the Taliban had control or influence over about 10 percent of the population and was contesting the Afghan government for control of at least another 20 percent, according to the report.

Afghan forces have “generally” proven capable at protecting major population centers, as evidenced by the Taliban’s attempts to take Jani Khel, Tarin Kowt, Achin, Lashkar Gah and Kunduz, the report says. The attacks were either repelled or Afghan forces quickly retook any lost territory.

But, the report adds, the Taliban remains capable of taking rural areas, returning to areas after Afghan forces have cleared them but not maintained a holding presence and conducting attacks that undermine public confidence in the Afghan government’s ability to provide security.

Among the areas of improvement, Afghan forces continue to move toward a more offensive-oriented strategy, the report says. The forces are also better at integrating capabilities such as intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; artillery; aerial fires; counter-improvised explosive device capabilities; and support from specialized units.

But Afghan forces still struggle with cross-pillar responses to insurgent attacks, deterring high-profile attacks, maintenance and logistics support, and uneven leadership, according to the report.

Looking ahead, the report predicts the Taliban will continue exploiting vulnerabilities in the Afghan forces. 

“They will likely use harassing attacks against lightly defended checkpoints,” the report says, “challenge the reach of the ANDSF into rural areas, isolate areas by staging smaller attacks in surrounding areas and impede ground lines of communication ahead of attacks against district and provincial centers in order to isolate key urban areas.”