WASHINGTON - If U.S.-Taliban peace negotiators expected the Taliban to reduce violence in Afghanistan, the latest report from a key government watchdog is a rude awakening.
Average daily enemy-initiated attacks in Afghanistan were up 50% from July 1 to Sept. 30 of this year, compared to between April 1 and June 30, according to the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, also known as SIGAR.
U.S. Forces-Afghanistan (USFOR-A) has characterized overall enemy-initiated attacks this quarter as “above seasonal norms.”
Anti-government forces accounted for at least 83% of civilian casualties this quarter, according to the SIGAR report released Thursday. The Taliban is responsible for 38% of those deaths and injuries. This was an overall increase in casualties since the last quarter.
The Department of Defense told SIGAR in its report that Taliban violence “could undermine” the U.S.-Taliban peace agreement if it continues at this “unacceptably high” rate. It added that the longtime Afghan insurgent group was “calibrating” the amount of violence to remain at a level it determines is within the bounds of the U.S.-Taliban agreement while “harassing” the Afghan government and setting “favorable conditions for a post-(U.S.) withdrawal (from) Afghanistan.”
While the United States has been critical of the Taliban’s intensified attacks across Afghanistan, officials have continued to withdraw American troops and stopped short of calling the group’s actions a complete breach of their peace agreement. About 4,500 U.S. troops are currently in the war-torn country.
The U.S. peace envoy for Afghanistan reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, last week pressed warring Afghan parties to reduce battlefield hostilities.
“I return to the region disappointed that despite commitments to lower violence, it has not happened. The window to achieve a political settlement will not stay open forever,” said Khalilzad.
And earlier last month, the U.S. carried out several targeted strikes against Taliban fighters who were firing on Afghan forces in Helmand province.
U.S. Gen. Austin S. Miller, the commander of the U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, said the Taliban attacks were “not consistent with the U.S.-Taliban agreement” and needed to stop “immediately.”
According to the SIGAR report, the U.S. military would not disclose whether there had been confirmed or suspected Taliban attacks on U.S. personnel or facilities since the beginning of the Afghan peace negotiations, calling the answer classified.