The record number of attacks comes amid a ramped-up air campaign by the United States, which dropped 7,423 munitions on targets in Afghanistan last year, the highest since at least 2013, according to data released in January by the U.S. Air Force.
Peace talks between the United States and the Taliban briefly resumed in December, but U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad called for a “pause” in the negotiations after the Taliban attacked a highly fortified U.S. air base in Bagram.
Since then, Khalilzad has been demanding that the Taliban reduce violence before formal talks can resume. Taliban negotiators presented Khalilzad with a plan in January to do so, but talks have not restarted.
Overall, the watchdog report found that attacks launched by the Taliban and other insurgent groups increased by 6 percent in 2019 from the previous year.
The watchdog report also found that during the last quarter of 2019, Afghanistan’s special forces — the units leading the fight against the Taliban in Afghanistan — conducted fewer ground operations than at any other time during the year.
Since 2018, the push for peace has brought with it a spike in violence in Afghanistan as the U.S.-backed government and the Taliban have looked to gain negotiating leverage through battlefield gains. That increased violence has resulted in record-high civilian casualties and rising casualties among Afghanistan’s security forces.
Casualties among Afghan security forces continued to increase during the last three months of 2019, the watchdog report found. But the increase was not quantified with a percentage, as past quarterly reports have done. Instead, the report says casualties among security forces have increased “slightly.”
Afghanistan’s military has struggled with high casualty rates for years. In early 2019, President Ashraf Ghani said more than 45,000 members of the Afghan security forces had been killed since he took office in 2014.
A key element of the draft peace deal reached in September, and later upended by President Trump, was the withdrawal of thousands of U.S. troops, a move that would significantly increase pressure on Afghanistan’s military.
The American military command in Kabul has already begun reducing forces despite stalled talks, bringing U.S. troops in Afghanistan down to 13,000. At the height of the war in 2010 and 2011, there were more than 100,000 U.S. forces in Afghanistan.