In January, the Department of Defense ordered the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) not to publish certain data on areas of Afghanistan that were held by insurgents.
“This development is troubling for a number of reasons, not least of which is that this is the first time SIGAR has been specifically instructed not to release information marked ‘unclassified’ to the American taxpayer,” the SIGAR said in its January 2018 report to Congress.
But the Department of Defense soon reversed course, saying it was an error to withhold that information.
Last week, the SIGAR published an addendum to its January report that provided the previously suppressed data. In addition, a detailed control map and the underlying data for each of Afghanistan’s 407 districts were declassified and published. See Addendum to SIGAR’s January 2018 Quarterly Report to the United States Congress, February 26, 2018.
The basic thrust of the new data is that Afghan government control of the country is at its lowest reported level since December 2015, while insurgency control is at its highest.
“The percentage of districts under insurgent control or influence has doubled since 2015,” the SIGAR addendum said.
Three key points emerge from the RS data:
- The percentage of districts under insurgent control or influence has doubled since 2015.
- The percentage of contested districts has risen by nearly 50% since 2015.
- The percentage of districts under government control or influence had decreased by over 20% since 2015.
According to RS, the number of districts under Afghan government control or influence fell again since last quarter, reaching the lowest level since SIGAR began analyzing district-control data in December 2015. Conversely, insurgent control or influence over Afghanistan’s districts increased to a record high this quarter.5 A historical record of district control in Afghanistan is shown in Figure 1. As of October 15, 2017, RS reported that 55.8% of the country’s 407 districts are under Afghan government control or influence, a one percentage-point decline since last quarter and a 1.5-point decline from the same period in 2016.6 Of the 407 districts of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces, 73 districts were under government 2 control, and 154 were under government influence, a decrease of one district under government control and a decrease of three under government influence since last quarter.7 There were 13 districts under insurgent control and 45 under insurgent influence as of October 15, 2017, an increase of four districts under insurgent influence since last quarter. Therefore, 14.3% of the country’s total districts are now under insurgent control or influence, a one percentage-point increase over last quarter, and a more than four-point increase from the same period in 2016.8 The number of contested districts (122) remained the same as last quarter and represents 30% of Afghanistan’s districts. According to RS, “contested” districts are those in which both the Afghan government and insurgents have influence, but neither side is in complete control.9 As shown in the map in Figure 2, RS identified the provinces with the largest percentage of insurgent-controlled or -influenced districts as Uruzgan Province, with four of its six districts under insurgent control or influence; Kunduz Province (five of seven districts); and Helmand Province (nine of 14 districts). RS noted that the provincial centers of all of Afghanistan’s provinces are under Afghan government control or influence.10 3 Insurgent Population Control Reaches New High RS also reported that insurgent control or influence increased to 12% of the population this quarter, its highest level since SIGAR began analyzing population-control data in September 2016. Afghan government control or influence remained roughly the same as last quarter.11 RS reported this quarter that as of October 2017, 3.9 million Afghans (12% of the population) live in districts under insurgent control or influence. Of the estimated 32.5 million people living in Afghanistan, RS determined that the majority, 20.9 million (64%), still live in areas controlled or influenced by the government, while another 7.8 million people (24%) live in areas that are contested.12 The 12% of the population controlled or influenced by the insurgency represents a one percentage-point increase since last quarter and a four-point increase compared to the same period in 2016.13 While the Afghan government’s control or influence over the population has remained much the same over the last year, the percentage of the population living in contested areas decreased by one point since last quarter and five points compared to the same period in 2016.14 General John Nicholson, the commander of RS, did not mention these gains for the insurgency in his characterization of the situation during a press conference on November 28, when he said that population control “remains roughly the same as [in 2016].”15 For a historical record of population control in Afghanistan, see Figure 3. Land-Area Control According to RS, the Afghan government held control or influence over 58.9% (379,000 square kilometers) of Afghanistan’s 643,000 square kilometers of land, as of October 15, 2017, a slight increase from last quarter’s 58.6%. The land area contested decreased from 21.5% last quarter to 20.8% this quarter. 4 RS District Assessment Methodology According to USFOR-A, RS uses five stability factors to assess the status of a district (governance, security, infrastructure, economy, and communications), and assigns an overall district-stability level to each district (1- insurgent control, 2-insurgent influence, 3-neutral, 4-Afghan government influence, 5-Afghan government control). RS makes their assessments for the districts based upon their subjective synthesis of the five factors as a whole, enabling their commanders to balance the factors with their understanding of the local and regional conditions. Commanders are also asked to assess the stability of provincial capitals separate from the districts in which they are located.