Pentagon Report Says Afghans Feel Less Secure

New members of the Afghan National Army at their graduation ceremony in Kabul, Afghanistan on Feb. 14. (AP photo/Rahmat Gul)
New members of the Afghan National Army at their graduation ceremony in Kabul, Afghanistan on Feb. 14. (AP photo/Rahmat Gul)

Afghans feel less secure than at any recent time, a new Pentagon report says, as Afghan battlefield deaths continue to escalate and civilian casualties hit a record high.

In a report Friday to Congress covering war developments since December, the Pentagon cited progress in developing more capable Afghan security forces 15 years after a U.S.-led invasion toppled the Taliban government. But it also said public opinion surveys indicate Afghans don't feel better protected.

"Perceptions of security remain near all-time lows," the report said. Only 20 per cent of Afghans surveyed in March called security good. That is a drop from 39 per cent a year earlier. In the latest polling, 42 per cent of Afghans said security is worse now than during the time of the Taliban, which ruled the country from 1996 to late 2001 when U.S. troops invaded to eliminate an al-Qaida sanctuary. The report called the 42 per cent figure a historic high.

The report portrayed the war effort as making modest progress despite the resilience of Taliban forces and continuing weaknesses in the Afghan military.

"The security situation in Afghanistan continues to be dominated by a resilient insurgency; but the Afghan government remains in control of all major population centers and key lines of communication," the report said.

In response to requests by U.S. commanders, the White House this month broadened the military's authority to conduct offensive operations against the Taliban. Yet to be determined is whether President Barack Obama will carry out a planned reduction in U.S. troop levels from the current 9,800 to 5,500 before he leaves office.

Afghan civilian casualties in 2015, as counted by the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, hit the highest level since the U.N. group began systematic documentation in 2009, the Pentagon said. It said the number continued to rise in the first half of this year.

"As fighting and suicide attacks have increased in more populated areas, the number of women and children included among the civilian casualties has also increased," the report said.

Afghan security forces have suffered heavy casualties since they assumed the lead role in the fight against the Taliban in January 2015, with support from a U.S.-led international coalition. The Pentagon report said casualties for the period from December 2015 through May 2016 were higher than in the previous six months, although it offered no figures. It said specifics were contained in a classified annex provided to the Congress.

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