United Nations data shows that the Taliban’s power in Afghanistan has reached the highest point since its regime was overthrown by the US-led invasion in 2001. This is a massive failure for President Obama, who centered his re-election campaign on ending the war by 2014.
According to a UN report obtained by the New York Times, more than 50% of Afghanistan is rated as having a “substantial, high, or extreme level of risk…more than at any time since the American invasion ousted the Taliban in 2001.”
This announcement followed the evacuation of four UN provincial offices in September 2015 – the biggest evacuation the UN has ever conducted in response to a security threat.
According to the report, nearly 40 districts among 14 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces are considered to be under “extreme” threat. In all, 27 of the nation’s provinces (nearly 80%) include areas where the threat level is considered “high” or “extreme.”
The Times points out that UN workers are not allowed to travel through regions labeled “high” or “extreme” and that “extreme” areas have little or no government presence.
The UN assessment provides a stark contrast to statements made by American commander general John F. Campbell as he spoke to Congress about the situation: “The Afghan security forces have displayed courage and resilience. They’re still holding. The Afghan government retains control of Kabul, of Highway One, its provincial capitals, and nearly all of the district centers.”
But this is not true. Afghan officials note that Highway One, a circular road connecting all the nation’s primary cities, regularly suffers ambushes and roadblocks as Taliban insurgents attempt to cut the route.
“The government is failing in their governing, and it’s better to let the Taliban rule,” said police chief Wali Dad while he was trapped with hundreds of other police officers in Oruzgan Province’s Charchino district as insurgents laid seige to the region.
Oruzgan Province is one of the most dangerous areas, with the capital region of Tarinkot the only district of five to receive a threat rating less than “high.”
“We had 570 policemen in Khas Oruzgan District, but now only 75 men remain and all in the district center; the rest have either been killed, surrendered, or escaped,” said deputy district governor Abdul Hameed last September. “We are still begging for survival, but we get no attention from the central government. If the situation remains the same, the district will fall to the hands of the Taliban.”
“We have had fighting in 13 provinces of Afghanistan over the past six months, simultaneously,” said President Ashraf Ghani after the Taliban briefly captured the city of Kunduz last September.
The UN security threat rating system is used by many organizations, and aid groups were quick to follow suit with evacuations in northern Afghanistan. “It’s much more difficult to access many areas in the north than before for aid agencies,” explained Fiona Gall, director of a local aid organization. “It’s a general degradation. It is very difficult to combat it in this environment.”
President Obama has responded to the growing Taliban threat by keeping more American soldiers in Afghanistan. Over 8,000 troops will remain in the war-torn country as Obama leaves office, a significant increase from the 5,500 troops he promised last year. “The security situation in Afghanistan remains precarious,” he said on July 6th. “Even as they improve, Afghan security forces are still not as strong as they need to be.”