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    Posted: 02-May-2017 at 1:13pm

Watchdog says Afghanistan civilian, military casualties rising

Civilian casualties are rising in the Afghanistan War and Islamist insurgents are keeping up the pressure on the U.S.-backed government in Kabul, a government watchdog reported Monday.

After 16 years of fighting and more than $117 billion spent by U.S. taxpayers, Afghanistan “remains in the grip of a deadly war,” said John Sopko, special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction.

His quarterly report lays out in stark detail the challenge facing President Trump and his national-security team in Afghanistan, where the U.S. has about 9,000 troops serving as advisers to Afghan security forces and conducting counter-terrorism operations. 

In recent weeks, Defense Secretary James N. Mattis and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster have visited Afghanistan to assess the situation.

Two U.S. soldiers were killed last week during operations in Afghanistan. Army Gen. John Nicholson, U.S. commander in Afghanistan, told a Senate panel in February that the country is “in a stalemate.”

The report said civilian casualties in Afghanistan rose to 11,418 in 2016 — the highest total since the U.N. began

 More than 660,000 Afghans fled their homes last year due to the fighting — a 40 percent increase over the previous year.

Casualties so far this year among Afghan security forces have been “shockingly high” in the fight against the Taliban — 807 killed in the first six weeks of 2017, Mr. Sopko said.

The report said the “time is ripe” to revisit U.S. reconstruction efforts, with insurgents controlling or exerting influence over about one-third of the Afghan population.

“Heavy casualties and capability gaps limit the effectiveness of Afghan soldiers and police,” the report said. “Opium production stands near record levels. Illiteracy and poverty remain widespread. Corruption reaches into every aspect of national life. The rule of law has limited reach. Multiple obstacles deter investors and complicate business operations. The ranks of the jobless grow as the economy stagnates.”

The report also portrays a nation that would be unable to stand on its own if the U.S. withdrew completely. Domestic revenues are expected to pay for only 38 percent of the Afghan budget this year, with donors such as the U.S. making up the difference.

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