This Lead Inspector General (Lead IG) report to the United States Congress on Operation Freedom’s Sentinel (OFS) is the 12th quarterly report detailing the overseas contingency operation. The report summarizes significant events involving OFS and describes completed, ongoing, and planned Lead IG and partner agency oversight work. This report covers the period from January 1, 2018, to March 31, 2018.
This quarter, U.S. officials stated that the Taliban was not achieving its objectives and that momentum was shifting in favor of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF). However, available metrics showed few signs of progress, and during the quarter, the Taliban and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria – Khorasan each launched high-profile attacks in Kabul that killed hundreds. In response to these attacks, General John Nicholson, Commander of Resolute Support, stated that securing the capital has become his “main effort,” and the number one priority for Resolute Support and the Afghan government.
One of the few publicly releasable metrics on progress in Afghanistan – percentage of population and districts under the control or influence of the Afghan government – showed little positive change this quarter. As of January 31, 2018, 65 percent of the population lived in areas under government control or influence compared to 64 percent last quarter. The Taliban maintained control or influence of 12 percent of the population, the same as the previous quarter. Meanwhile, the Afghan government gained control or influence over two districts (increasing to 229 out of 407 districts), the Taliban seized control of one additional district during the quarter (increasing to 59, and a new high of 14.5 percent), and 119 districts were contested.
Resolute Support released data that showed a decrease in the number of uniformed personnel in the Afghan security forces. In January 2017, there were 331,708 Afghan forces, and that number dropped to 313,728 by the end of January 2018. The end strength is 38,272, or 11 percent, below its authorized strength of 352,000. This shortfall, at a time when there is an increased emphasis on building the lethality of the ANDSF, renews concerns about recruiting, retention, and casualty rates of the ANDSF and the overall effectiveness of the ANDSF.
During the quarter, the Lead IG agencies and their partner agencies completed 12 audits and evaluations relating to OFS, including reports on train, advise, and assist efforts; embassy and facilities inspections; contract administration; and Overseas Contingency Operation financing. A DoD OIG report published in March 2018 highlighted systemic challenges to Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan’s ability to maintain oversight of U.S. financial assistance to the Afghan government. The report stated that the lack of consequences for noncompliance has partially contributed to the failure of the Afghan Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Interior Affairs to develop internal capacity and the ministries’ ongoing dependence on Coalition advisor support.
As of March 31, 2018, Lead IG agencies and their oversight partners had 35 ongoing and 28 planned oversight projects for OFS, and 34 criminal investigations.
Operation Freedom’s Sentinel began on January 1, 2015. U.S. forces conduct two complementary missions under OFS: 1) counterterrorism operations against al Qaeda, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria-Khorasan (ISIS-K), and their affiliates in Afghanistan; and 2) training, advising, and assisting the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) through the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)-led Resolute Support Mission. U.S. counterterrorism efforts remain focused on preventing Afghanistan from becoming a safe haven for terrorists planning attacks against the U.S. homeland and against U.S. interests and partners. The objective of the Resolute Support Mission is to develop self-sustaining Afghan security forces that are capable of maintaining security under responsible Afghan civilian authorities.