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Afghan Forces’ Battlefield Casualties Worry NATO

Afghan Army commandos take position during a military operation in Helmand Province on October 9.
Afghan Army commandos take position during a military operation in Helmand Province on October 9.

ISLAMABAD -- A spokesman for the U.S.-led foreign military coalition in Afghanistan said it is worried about the number of casualties Afghan security forces have suffered in recent battles with the Taliban.

According to local officials, more than 100 personnel of the Afghan National Defense and Security Force, or ANDSF, have died within the past two weeks while defending the southern city of Lashkar Gah and dozens more have been wounded.

The Taliban in recent days have staged repeated attacks on the capital of Helmand Province, where the Afghan government is in full control of only two of the 14 districts.

“We do have concerns about the number of ANDSF casualties, and it is something we work closely with our Afghan partners to address,” said U.S. Brigadier General Charles Cleveland, the spokesman for Resolute Support, NATO’s mission in Afghanistan.

He said Afghan forces “did not break or collapse” despite suffering significant casualties in 2015 and instead were able to “regenerate capacity” to hold ground during this year’s offensive against the Taliban.

“This year, the ANDSF successfully stayed on the offense, and despite some difficult fights and casualties, has successfully defended every provincial capital,” Cleveland said. “As we move into this coming winter, we’ll again work very hard with the ANDSF to assist in their recruiting and training of new forces.”

The Resolute Support mission is tasked to train, advise, and assist Afghan security forces.

Smoke rises after a suicide attack in Lashkar Gah, the capital of southern Helmand Province of Afghanistan, on October 10.

Most of the casualties occurred after Taliban insurgents launched a large-scale attack on Lashkar Gah on October 10, fighting their way into parts of the city. While the assault was under way, a massive suicide car bombing inside the city killed at least 40 people, including police personnel, and wounded many more.

The attack prompted the U.S. military to conduct several airstrikes against Taliban positions to support Afghan forces, according to Cleveland.

Afghan media quoted Abdul Majeed Akhonzada, deputy head of the provincial council, as claiming that the insurgents captured more than 150 Afghan forces during the fighting this week, though military commanders disputed the claim.

The commander of the international forces, U.S. General John Nicholson, recently disclosed that in July alone, the Afghan Army and police lost more than 900 personnel.

Afghan authorities do not publicly discuss casualties among government forces, but President Ashraf Ghani is reported to have told a meeting of civil society groups that the death toll for August was more than 1,000. The fighting has since intensified, with Taliban insurgents forcing their way and capturing parts of the northern city of Kunduz earlier this month before Afghan forces evicted them on October 13.

“From March to August, about 4,500 Afghan soldiers and police were killed and more than 8,000 wounded,” the New York Times reported this week, quoting an unnamed Afghan official who had seen the tallies.

In addition to high casualties, Afghan forces are also plagued with high attrition and thousands of non-existent personnel or “ghost soldiers.”

-- By Ayaz Gul for Voice Of America