This Lead Inspector General quarterly report to the Congress is our third on Operation Freedom’s Sentinel (OFS) and covers the period October 1 – December 31, 2015. Under OFS, U.S. forces are conducting two complementary missions in Afghanistan: (1) the counterterrorism mission against al Qaeda, its associates, and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant-Khorasan (ISIL-K), which was designated a Foreign Terrorist Organization on January 14, 2016; and (2) the train, advise, and assist mission, in cooperation with NATO Allies and partner nations, to continue building the capabilities of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF).
The security situation in Afghanistan deteriorated this quarter as insurgent Taliban and terrorist forces demonstrated improved ability to exploit vulnerabilities in the ANDSF and mounted a series of attacks throughout Afghanistan. The heaviest fighting was in the traditional Taliban stronghold of Helmand province and in Kunduz province where the Taliban temporarily occupied the provincial capital. Despite initial insurgent gains, the ANDSF ultimately regained lost ground and were able to stall or reverse insurgent advances.
The ANDSF’s continued ability to fight in the current environment, however, is jeopardized by sustainment issues that past Lead IG oversight work has identified. Material readiness of ANDSF vehicles and weapons is reported to be in dire condition, while a rebuild of the 215th Afghan Army Corps, which struggled to defend the highly contested Helmand province, is underway.
The sustained level of conflict and still-developing nature of the ANDSF were among factors that led to an adjustment in the drawdown timeline for OFS. On October 15, 2015, President Barack Obama announced that U.S. forces would not draw down further in 2016, but would remain at 9,800 through the year. Shortly thereafter, NATO agreed to maintain its troop level at 2015 levels during 2016. Although coalition advisors continue to assist their Afghan counterparts in overcoming sustainment and leadership challenges, the risk is that the pace of progress may not be sufficient to achieve a self-sustaining ANDSF by the time further U.S. troop reductions are implemented.
Lead IG agencies as their oversight partners are currently working 22 oversight projects in Afghanistan. The results of oversight efforts completed in the first half of FY 2016 will be provided in the biannual report.