Afghan security forces have reached something of an impasse with the Taliban, which has been unable to expand its grip on Afghanistan but still holds large parts of the country, a US general said Friday.
Army General John Nicholson, the US commander in Afghanistan, said local forces during the summer fighting season had thwarted a Taliban attempt to take over Kunduz province, and had improved security in Helmand, western Kandahar and Uruzgan.
Afghan forces currently control or “heavily influence” 65 to 70 percent of the population, the Taliban controls about 10 percent in mainly rural areas, and the rest is contested, Nicholson told reporters.
The top US military officer, General Joe Dunford, told lawmakers Thursday that the situation in Afghanistan was “roughly a stalemate.”
“The Taliban have not been successful in achieving the goals that were outlined in their campaign plan, which they typically make public in the spring of each year, and on balance the Afghan forces are holding,” said Dunford, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff.
Nicholson said another way to “think about stalemate is you’ve reached some sort of equilibrium.”
A resurgent Taliban dealt Afghan security forces serious blows in 2015, the first year the local forces led security operations in Afghanistan, taking over from NATO.
More than 5,000 Afghan police and troops died last year alone, and they have confronted multiple challenges apart from just the Taliban -- including attacks from ISIS and Al-Qaeda.
The Taliban even managed to briefly capture the major city of Kunduz last year, jolting confidence Afghan government forces could hold their own.
The Taliban threat forced President Barack Obama to slow plans to draw down US troop numbers at the end of this year. Some 8,400 will remain in the war-torn country in 2017, compared with 5,500 initially planned.
Most US forces in Afghanistan operate under the NATO banner and work as trainers or advisers to Afghan forces.
Around 40 NATO members and partner countries currently contribute to the overall force of nearly 13,000.
The Obama administration also announced looser rules making it easier for US troops to proactively target the Taliban and assist Afghan forces, instead of waiting to respond to an attack.
Nicholson also described the current situation with ISIS, which is trying to expand its self-declared “caliphate” in Khorasan Province, with Jalalabad as the capital.
“They’ve been frustrated in that by us, and the operations in July have pushed them down into the mountains of southern Nangarhar,” Nicholson said.
He estimated ISIS numbers to be between 1,200 to 1,300, and said the militants in Afghanistan were getting financial and leadership help from fighters in Syria.