Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis provided a rare look into the ground situation for Afghans fighting the Taliban, revealing late Tuesday that Afghan forces had suffered more than 1,000 casualties in August and September of this year.
“The Afghan lads are doing the fighting, just look at the casualties…over 1,000 dead and wounded in August and September, and they stayed in the field fighting,” Mattis said during a discussion at the U.S. Institute of Peace.
Despite the high casualty numbers, Mattis praised the Afghan forces for preventing the Taliban from taking and holding district and provincial centers and stopping them from disrupting the recent Afghan election.
U.S. defense officials stopped providing the public with the number of Afghan security force casualties in late 2017.
General Joseph Dunford, the top U.S. general, told military reporters at a conference outside Washington on Friday that this change was because Afghan President Ashraf Ghani did not want those details publicly available.
“I’m not blaming him. That’s where it came from,” Dunford said. “They (Afghan officials) were incredibly sensitive about those numbers. We don’t own the numbers anymore.”
Last month, the governor of Baghlan province, north of Kabul, told the New York Times the Taliban was inflicting heavy casualties on Afghan security forces.
“The Taliban don’t want peace, because they think they can win the war,” Governor Abdul Hai Nimati said. “If it goes on like this, they are going to win.”
Dunford and Mattis both asserted that the regional strategy for political reconciliation with the Taliban is making progress.
“it is working from our perspective, but what is heartbreakingly difficult to accept is that progress and violence can be going on at the same time,” Mattis said.
According to Dunford, while the number of U.S. and international forces in Afghanistan has dropped from 140,000 to 15,000 since 2013, the security situation has not become markedly worse.
“This is about making incremental progress over time,” the general said.