NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg says the Western military alliance is close to making a decision on whether to increase its troop numbers in Afghanistan to help with the battle against militants.
His remarks came as a U.S. watchdog group said Afghanistan “remains in the grip of a deadly war” and warned that Afghan security forces were suffering “shockingly high” casualties in the face of a resilient Taliban insurgency.
Stoltenberg told the German newspaper Welt am Sonntag in an interview published on April 30 that in view of the “challenging” security situation, NATO could increase the number of personnel in Afghanistan from the current 13,000, although he did not give a specific figure.
Stoltenberg said the alliance would likely make a decision by June on a potential troop increase and on whether to lengthen to time of soldier deployments, which currently are for one year.
NATO troops are in Afghanistan as part of the alliance’s Resolute Support mission to train, assist, and advise local forces.
John Nicholson, the U.S. general who commands NATO forces in Afghanistan, told the U.S. Congress in February that there was a “shortfall of a few thousand” troops needed to meet requirements in the country.
Nicholson also said the current battle, mainly against Taliban forces but also against the Islamic State extremist group, was at a “stalemate.”
Since NATO’s combat mission formally ended in 2014, Taliban attacks have intensified, often overwhelming the Afghan military.
In a new report, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) says 807 members of the Afghan national force were killed against the Taliban and other militants in the first six weeks of this year.
In the quarterly report sent to the U.S. Congress on May 1, SIGAR says at least 1,328 Afghan security personnel were injured during the period.
The figures for the report were collected before the April 21 attack by the Taliban on a military compound in Balkh Province that officials say left more than 140 army personnel dead.
“Casualties suffered by the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces in the fight against the Taliban and other insurgents continue to be shockingly high,” the SIGAR report says.
The report cites U.S. figures showing a gain in territory under Afghan government control, now at 59.7 percent of the country’s 407 districts, up from 57.2 percent in mid-November of last year.
That represents an 800,000-person increase in the population under Afghan government control, it says.
The report cites figures from the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan that said 11,418 civilian casualties were reported in 2016, up 3 percent from the previous year and the highest since such figures have been tallied beginning in 2009.
Of the civilian casualties, 3,498 were deaths, it says.
SIGAR, created by the U.S. Congress, provides oversight into how the more than $100 billion appropriated for reconstruction since 2002 in Afghanistan has been allocated.