As America's $117 billion war in Afghanistan enters its sixteenth year—making it the longest war in U.S. history—conflict casualties have hit an all-time high, calling into question the U.S. strategy in the country, where Taliban terrorists still control a third of the nation and corruption runs rampant.
President Donald Trump will face tough decisions about how to proceed in Afghanistan, where rebuilding projects have repeatedly failed and been hindered by corruption among Afghan nationals and U.S. contractors. Military leaders have already begun calling for an increased U.S. troop presence in the country, which could anger Trump’s voting base.
U.S. taxpayers paid $48 million in the last year alone to fund ammunition for Afghan security personnel, and have paid $32.3 billion total on governance and economic development as of March 2017. The United States has spent more than $11 billion so far on other weapons, communications, aircraft, and vehicles for the struggling Afghan forces. The cost to U.S. taxpayers is unlikely to diminish over the coming years, as Taliban forces continue to control a large number of key territories.
Civilian casualties resulting from the war rose to 11,418 in 2016, the highest total of deaths since international observers began recording such statistics in 2009, according to the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, or SIGAR. The oversight body provided an analysis of the war effort in its latest quarterly report, issued just weeks after the United States dropped one of the largest bombs ever on the country.
The Afghan National Army—which is mostly trained and paid for by the United States—continues to take heavy casualties in its fight against the Taliban. The high rate of war deaths has left the force weakened and incapable of running the operations necessary to win back control of Afghanistan, according to SIGAR.
Security incidents during 2016 and the first months of 2017 also reached their highest levels since the United Nations began reporting such statistics in 2007, according to SIGAR.
"A dangerous and stubborn insurgency controls or exerts influence over areas holding about a third of the Afghan population," SIGAR noted in the report. "Heavy casualties and capability gaps limit the effectiveness of Afghan soldiers and police. Opium production stands near record levels."
"Fighting insurgents and mentoring and supporting Afghan security forces since 2002 has cost more than 2,400 American military members their lives, and has left more than 20,000 wounded," according to SIGAR. "Additional thousands of Coalition personnel and contractors have also died during the conflict. Afghan losses have been the greatest of all: more than twice as many [Afghan military] members were killed in the single year of 2016 than U.S. forces in Afghanistan have lost since 2001."
As the Trump administration engages in a review of U.S. policy in Afghanistan, SIGAR is urging the new administration to reassess how aid is given to the country, particularly in light of rampant corruption.
SIGAR investigations of U.S. contractors and military officials over the past several months have resulted in three criminal charges, two convictions, one sentencing, and a civil settlement of $40 million, according to the report, which noted that corruption investigations continue to grow.
The report also warned about the security situation in Afghanistan.
In February, Gen. John W. Nicholson Jr. described the situation as a "stalemate" and issued a warning about heavy casualties among U.S.-trained forces in the country.
"Security incidents and armed clashes increased" over the past several months and "civilian casualties reached new heights," according to SIGAR. Afghan military forces "continued to suffer high casualties, and insurgents retained control in certain rural areas."
"The UN recorded 5,160 security incidents between November 18, 2016, and February 14, 2017, representing a 10% increase from the same period the previous year, and a 3% increase from the same period in 2014-2015," according to the report. "The number of security incidents rose by 30 in January 2017 to 1,877, the highest number ever recorded for that month by the UN."
U.S. military leaders are requesting more troops and military resources be sent to Afghanistan to bolster the struggling Afghan force.
Nicholson has requested that Congress approve funding for a fleet of American-made UH-60 Black Hawks to replace the Afghan Air Forces' aging fleet of Russian-produced Mi-17 helicopters.
Afghanistan continues to produce a massive amount of opium, which has given rise to a profitable drug trade that funds the Taliban's war effort.
Narcotics traffickers are giving terrorists weapons, money, and support to continue their insurgency. Afghanistan produced roughly 4,800 metric tons of opium in 2016 alone, according to SIGAR.