Deadly insider attacks surge against Afghan army as US, NATO troops prepare to leave

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Deadly insider attacks against the Afghan army jumped in the first quarter of this year as Taliban rebels took advantage of the coming American and NATO troop withdrawal, according to a US government report Friday.

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The quarterly report of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) said attacks on the Afghan security forces, mainly by the Taliban rebel group, surged 37 percent over the January-March period from a year earlier.

Notably, insider attacks -- when security forces are targeted by Taliban infiltrators within their ranks -- jumped 82 percent, and casualties from them doubled, according to the report.

The report did not specify the overall number of casualties, saying the data is classified.

But according to coalition figures, it said, 115 Afghan military personnel were killed and 39 wounded in 31 insider attacks in the first three months of this year.

But it made clear that the attacks threaten the stability of the Afghan government after the withdrawal of thousands of US troops and civilian defense contractors by September, as ordered earlier this month by President Joe Biden.

It noted that the Afghan government and particularly Afghan security forces remain highly dependent on US support, both financial aid and manpower.

“The complete withdrawal of US troops and US defense contractors from Afghanistan will test whether the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces can sustain themselves and defend the Afghan government without direct US and Coalition military support,” the report said.

“The basic risk facing the current and any potential post-peace Afghan government is whether future foreign assistance levels during this uncertain period will be sufficient to prevent its collapse,” said John Sopko, the SIGAR head.

The pullout will involve around 2,500 US service members, 7,092 other forces in the US-led coalition, and 16,832 civilian contractors for the Pentagon who were in the country at the beginning of April.

Some contractors are crucial to keeping the Afghan military’s aircraft flying, the report noted.

It also noted a downturn in Afghan civilian casualties in the first quarter, with 643 killed compared to 711 a year earlier and 932 in the fourth quarter of 2020, based on figures from the NATO side of the coalition.

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