Afghanistan: 2 killed in roadside bomb blast in Logar

An Afghan boy carries a sheep on his shoulders at a livestock market ahead of Eid al Adha festival in Kabul

An Afghan boy carries a sheep on his shoulders at a livestock market ahead of Eid al Adha festival in Kabul

The strength of the Afghan security forces has declined sharply over the past year, a USA government watchdog has said amid reports of desertions and high casualty rates.

The Afghan National Defense and Security Forces as of January 31 numbered 296,409 people, with the Afghan National Army at 85.4 percent of its authorized strength and the Afghan National Police at 93.4 percent of its authorized strength.

"We have a shared interest in defeating Daesh [an alternative name for the extremist Islamic State group], we have a shared interest in counternarcotics, we have a shared interest in peace and stability in Afghanistan", Nicholson said.

The NATO mission to Afghanistan would continue till the time the Taliban are driven to a political settlement, US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis said today.

"This is the normal stuff by people who can not win at the ballot box, so they turn to bombs", Mattis said when asked about a day of bloodshed in Afghanistan that left dozens dead, including many children and journalists.

More than 8,000 USA special forces remain in the country supporting Afghan troops, although North Atlantic Treaty Organisation combat operations officially ended in 2014. "So the expansion there is why the enemy has been unable to take any district centers, provincial centers, or make any advances there".

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"Well stand by the Afghan people, well stand by the Afghan government and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation mission will continue as we drive them to a political settlement", Mattis said. "And let's be clear - the Taliban very much thinks it is winning".

The report, released by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (Sigar), said that the number of security forces personnel decreased by about 10 per cent to just under 300,000 in the past 12 months.

USA military officials have previously cited numerous serious problems that have contributed to demoralization in the ranks, including corruption and abuse by senior commanders, failure to pay salaries, ethnic tensions within units and in deployment areas, false payroll records listing "ghost soldiers", and poor leadership.

Government forces control 56.3 percent of the country, where about 14,000 USA troops are deployed.

"We both share an interest in countering the terrorists who threaten our country and threaten Russian Federation and threaten Central Asia", General John Nicholson said on April 27 on the sidelines of a North Atlantic Treaty Organisation foreign ministers meeting in Brussels, RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan reported.

Despite the drop in personnel, the Afghan government made some modest improvements, SIGAR said. Insurgents now control 14.5 percent of all districts in Afghanistan, an increase of three percentage points since 2016. He said the US goal is to strengthen Afghan security forces enough to convince insurgents that they can not win on the battlefield.

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