As the Pentagon is rebuked for withholding from the public information about the U.S. military's activities in Afghanistan, new reporting reveals that—more 16 years after the U.S. began its occupation—the Taliban has open and active presence in about 70 percent of the country, and ISIS has gained more territory than ever before.
On Tuesday, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) criticized the Department of Defense for refusing to release data on several Afghan districts, after the Pentagon determined it was "not releasable to the public":
The number of districts controlled or influenced by the Afghan government had been one of the last remaining publicly available indicators for members of Congress...and for the American public of how the 16-year-long U.S. effort to secure Afghanistan is faring. Historically, the number of districts controlled or influenced by the government has been falling since SIGAR began reporting on it, while the number controlled or influenced by the insurgents has been rising—a fact that should cause even more concern about its disappearance from public disclosure and discussion.
While the Afghan government asserts that it controls most of the country, the BBC reported Wednesday, "Months of research across the country shows that the Taliban now control or threaten much more territory than when foreign combat troops left in 2014."
According to SIGAR's last report, released in October, the Taliban only controlled about 40 percent of Afghan districts just last July.
About 15 million Afghans, or half of the country, now live in areas controlled by the Taliban or at risk of Taliban control. In parts of the country where the group is most open and active, attacks now take place about twice a week.
More than 31,000 civilians have been killed in Afghanistan since American troops arrived in October 2001, with more than 8,500 injured or killed in 2017. Twenty-four hundred American troops and hundreds of foreign soldiers have also been killed since the war began.
The BBC report also follows several recent attacks claimed by Taliban fighters and ISIS, the most recent being a bombing carried out by an ambulance that was driven into the center of Kabul last Saturday. At least 122 civilians have been killed in attacks over the past several weeks.