Taliban controls more territory, increasing influence in Afghanistan – watchdog
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Taliban has increased the amount of territory it has influence in or controls in Afghanistan in the past six months, a U.S. watchdog agency reported on Tuesday, a sign the security situation there remains precarious even as the United States has committed several thousand more troops to the war-torn country.
As of August 2017, 13 percent of the 407 districts in Afghanistan were under Taliban control or influence, compared with 11 percent in February, according to a report from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, or SIGAR. That means an additional 700,000 people now live in districts where the Taliban at least has some influence.
Afghanistan’s worsening security situation was highlighted on Tuesday when a suicide bomber in the capital, Kabul, killed as many as eight people and wounded many others.
Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack.
Security had already been stepped up considerably following a devastating truck bomb attack outside Germany’s embassy on May 31 that killed at least 150 people, with a series of barriers and checkpoints across the central area of the city.
Afghan and Western security officials have said in recent days that they expected more attacks in Kabul in response to pressure being exerted on the Taliban and other insurgent groups by increased U.S. air strikes.
The increase in the campaign of U.S. air strikes in recent months is part of a new strategy aimed at reversing Taliban gains and forcing the insurgents to seek peace talks with the Afghan government.
The SIGAR report also said there had been a 52 percent increase in civilian casualties from coalition and Afghan air strikes in the first nine months of 2017 compared with the same period in 2016.
(Reporting by Idrees Ali; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)