House Panel Expert: U.S. ‘Losing in Afghanistan’ as Al-Qaeda Grows Stronger

Reuters

Breitbart, by Edwin Mora, April 27, 2017:

WASHINGTON D.C. — Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan is growing stronger with the resurgence of the Taliban in recent years and “remains a direct threat” to America more than a decade and a half after the United States began targeting both terrorist groups in response to 9/11, an expert tells House lawmakers.

In October 2001, the United States invaded Afghanistan, and the war against the Taliban and al-Qaeda has been raging since.

President Donald Trump inherited chaos and overall deteriorating security conditions in the war-devastated country.

Under former President Barack Obama’s watch, the Taliban seized more territory in Afghanistan than during any time since the U.S. military removed the jihadist group from power in 2001 and the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) gained a foothold in the country.

The U.S. military “downplayed this problem of the Taliban” during Obama’s tenure, Bill Roggio, an expert at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) and editor of the Long War Journal, told the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Terrorism.

“If that’s the attitude of the U.S. military towards the Taliban inside Afghanistan, we will continue to lose this war,” he later added. “We need to reassess Afghanistan… our policy in Afghanistan is a mess frankly, and the Trump administration needs to decide what to do and how to do it quickly.”

“The Taliban—al-Qaeda relationship remains strong to this day. And with the Taliban gaining control of a significant percentage of Afghanistan’s territory, al-Qaeda has more areas to plant its flag,” also said Roggio in his written testimony.

Last Friday, the Taliban carried out its deadliest-ever attack on a major military base in northern Balkh province that left as many as 250 soldiers dead.

Although the U.S. military argues the Afghan conflict is at a “stalemate,” Roggio told the House panel that America is losing the war.

“We are losing in Afghanistan… and The Taliban controls or contests at least half of Afghanistan,” Roggio told lawmakers, adding in his written testimony:

Al-Qaeda’s footprint inside Afghanistan remains a direct threat to U.S. national security and, with the resurgence of the Taliban, it is a threat that is only growing stronger. Al-Qaeda’s presence in Afghanistan has not occurred in a vacuum. It has maintained its strength in the country since the U.S. invasion, launched a new branch, AQIS [al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent], and established training camps with the help and support of the Taliban.

Roggio testified alongside Dr. Seth Jones from the RAND Corporation and Dr. Vanda Felbab-Brown from the Brookings Institution.

Echoing the U.S. military, the experts told lawmakers that Russia and Afghanistan’s neighbor Iran are providing military assistance to the Taliban, adding that neighboring Pakistan provides sanctuary to the terrorist group as well as its al-Qaeda and Haqqani Network allies.

According to the Pentagon, the Haqqani Network poses the “primary threat” to the American military in Afghanistan.

The experts noted that a U.S. military withdrawal from the war-devastated country would spell trouble for America’s national security.

The United States has already invested nearly $120 billion in nation-building efforts in the country.

Despite the threat posed by the Afghan Taliban, the group is not officially listed as a terrorist group by the United States like its ally al-Qaeda and its rival ISIS.

Roggio pointed out that although ISIS’s presence in Afghanistan is a problem, the Taliban remains a bigger threat.

ISIS is considered an enemy by both the al-Qaeda and the Taliban, considered the strongest group in the country.

“The reason the Taliban matters is the Taliban and al-Qaeda, they remain tied at the hip,” testified Roggio. “The Taliban refuse to surrender al-Qaeda members — Osama Bin Laden after the 9/11 attacks. They continued to fight side by side. Al-Qaeda serves as a force multiplier.”

“The Islamic State is on the fringe. It’s a small problem in Afghanistan compared to al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and other Pakistani jihadist groups that operate there (in ISIS’ Afghan stronghold Nangarhar province),” he added. They operate primarily in four districts in Nangarhar province and have a minimal presence in the north, and it certainly is a problem.

This week, ISIS in Nangarhar killed two U.S. troops and wounded another, the Pentagon revealed.

“Our efforts seemed to be focused on the Islamic State at this point in time while largely ignoring what the Taliban is doing throughout the country and that is directly challenging the Afghan military. They’re going toe to toe; They’re raiding their bases; They’re taking control of territory,” said Roggio.

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To Break the Stalemate in Afghanistan, America Must Break Pakistan’s Pathologies

National Interest, by Robert Cassidy, April 6, 2017: (h/t Anthony Shaffer)

“Twenty U.S.-designated terrorist organizations operate in the Afghanistan-Pakistan sub-region; seven of the 20 organizations are in Pakistan. So long as these groups maintain safe haven inside of Pakistan they will threaten long-term stability in Afghanistan. Of particular concern to us is the Haqqani Network (HQN) which poses the greatest threat to coalition forces operating in Afghanistan.”  General Joseph Votel, Posture Statement Before the Senate Armed Services Committee, March 2017.

“The Taliban and the Haqqani network are the greatest threats to security in Afghanistan. Their senior leaders remain insulated from pressure and enjoy freedom of action within Pakistan safe havens.  As long as they enjoy external enablement, they have no incentive to reconcile.  The primary factor that will enable our success is the elimination of external sanctuary and support to the insurgents.”  General John Nicholson, Statement Before the Senate Armed Services Committee on the Situation in Afghanistan, February 2017.

After 15-plus years, the war in Afghanistan remains a strategic stalemate because defeating an enemy requires taking away its capacity and will.  The Coalition and Afghan forces have hit the enemy’s capacity year after year but the Taliban’s will—their senior leaders, support, resources, rest, regeneration, and arms—continue to benefit from sanctuary and support from Pakistan’s security establishment.  In his testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) in February of this year, the theater commander, General John Nicholson, stated that he believed the war in Afghanistan was a stalemate.  It has been a strategic stalemate for at least the last ten years and arguably for the last 15 years.  As early as 2003 the then-top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Lieutenant General John Vines, stated publicly that the Taliban were benefiting from Pakistan’s sanctuaries to regroup.  So despite suffering many losses in leaders and capacity inside Afghanistan year after year, the Taliban have not quit, and are resilient in regenerative capacity.  Tactical and operational momentum have ebbed and flowed throughout the war.  The Coalition and its Afghan partners have made some errors, but they have improved and adapted during the course of the war.  The Afghan security forces have grown in quantity and improved in quality, and have led the fight for several years.  During the peak numbers of exogenous forces for the war in 2010-2011, the Coalition forces, along with their Afghan partners, achieved marked tactical gains and operational momentum.  To be sure, Coalition and Afghan forces have undertaken many counterterrorism and counterinsurgency actions that have punished, disrupted, and displaced the Taliban and the Haqqani leadership and infrastructure, year after year.

Yet these gains at the tactical and operational levels have been short-lived and have generally lacked meaning in the face of the most conspicuous impediment to strategic success: Pakistan’s sanctuary and support for the enemy.  Killing, capturing, disrupting, and displacing insurgent and terrorist enemies, fighting season after fighting season, absent genuine strategic momentum, have made this a perpetual war.  It is beginning to seem like a Groundhog-Day war where fulfilling the purpose remains elusive.  In theory, the purpose of war is to serve policy; in practice, if war is not linked to strategic rationale and momentum, the nature of war is to serve itself.  Fighting year after year within the context of a strategic stalemate is essentially violence and war serving themselves and not policy.

[…]

Conclusion

Pakistani strategic culture stems from pathological geopolitics infused with a Salafi-Deobandi jihadist ideology, suffused by paranoia and neurosis.  The principal but not exclusive reason that Afghanistan has seen discernibly improved quality and quantity in its forces as well as fighting capacity, yet continues to face a strategic stalemate, is the Pakistani security elites’ malign strategic calculus.  The Taliban would have been a marginal nuisance, without the full support that Pakistan’s security establishment bestowed to pursue Pakistan’s imaginary notion of strategic depth on its western flank by asserting control over Afghanistan through its zealous proxies.

Pakistan has nurtured and relied on a host of Islamist insurgents and terrorists.  It is home to the world’s highest concentration of terrorist groups.  Of the 98 U.S.-designated terrorist groups around the world, 20 operate in both Pakistan and Afghanistan.  The ISI has maintained links with Al Qaeda, its longtime Taliban allies, and a host of other extremist groups inside Pakistan. It is possible for Pakistan to become a genuine U.S. strategic partner only if it ceases its support of proxy terrorists and insurgents.  The fact that America has paid Pakistan in excess of $33 billion for Pakistan’s malice and treachery since 9/11 is repugnant and ridiculous.

The U.S and the Coalition must desist in the illusion that Pakistan, one of the foremost ideological and physical breeders of Islamist terrorists, is an ally or a friend.  It is neither.  Pretending that Pakistan is an ally in the war against Islamist militants, one that would act in ways to help defeat Islamist networks in the border tribal areas, has made the West complicit in and partly responsible for Pakistan’s machinations.

Since this war began, the U.S. has on a number of occasions stipulated that Pakistan must curb all domestic expression of support for terrorism against the U.S. and its allies; demonstrate a sustained commitment to, and make significant efforts towards, combating terrorist groups; cease support, including support by any elements within the Pakistan military or its intelligence agency, for extremist and terrorist groups; and dismantle terrorist bases of operations in other parts of the country.  Clearly, Pakistan has not complied with these stipulations and continues to do the converse, serving as the most significant supporter and employer of Islamist insurgents and terrorists.

The United States and its Coalition allies have not crafted a Pakistan strategy that uses their substantial resources to modify Pakistan’s strategic calculus.  An effective Pakistan strategy must use the full weight of the U.S. and other regional actors to compel Pakistan to alter its strategic conduct and to stop supporting terrorists.

Investing in and increasing the Afghan Special Security Forces and the Afghan Air Force to create overmatching offensive capacity, to then build tactical and operational momentum, will help assert influence over key population areas and take away Taliban capacity, but this will be ephemeral if not coupled with strategic momentum.  To break the strategic stalemate, the Coalition should cast off its illusions about Pakistan.  For far too long, Pakistan has been viewed and treated as an important non-NATO ally in the war against al Qaeda and the Taliban, but it is essentially an abysmal ally, a veritable foe, because it acts in ways inimical to Coalition troops, our and the aims of the Afghan state.  After 15-plus years of Pakistan’s perfidy, it is essential to go heavy on sticks and light on carrots to break Pakistan of its pathologies and their pernicious effects in Afghanistan.  Sticks and fear will work where carrots, cash, and cajoling have not.  The U.S. and the Coalition must consider tapping into the Pakistan establishment’s fear, honor, and interests.  U.S. fears that the Pakistani state will collapse, implode or fracture are overstated.  Pakistan is hard and resilient in deep and broad ways.

The following stipulations, steps, and ultimatums, in order of escalation, are the way to break Pakistan of its pathologies and break the stalemate: 1) stop paying for malice; 2) end major non-NATO ally status; 3) state intention to make the line of control in Kashmir permanent; 4) shut down ground lines of communications via Pakistan; 5) declare Pakistan the state sponsor of terrorism that it is; 6) issue one last ultimatum to Pakistan to end sanctuary for insurgents and not impede success; 7) invite the Indian Armed Forces into Afghanistan for security operations in the Pashtun eastern and southern regions; and 8) as a last resort, reciprocate Pakistan’s malice and perfidy.  Uncontested sanctuary contributed to the Soviet Union’s defeat in Afghanistan, and it continues be the single biggest obstacle to defeating the Taliban and the most significant cause of the stalemate.

It is difficult, if not impossible to win in counterinsurgency when the insurgents benefit from what is essentially unimpeded sanctuary.  What’s more, if the Taliban were to revive an Islamist emirate in Afghanistan, there is every reason to forecast a future with more attacks against the West, planned and orchestrated with increasing scope and intensity from Afghanistan’s and Pakistan’s tribal areas.

Colonel Robert Cassidy, Ph.D., U.S. Army, is the author of three books and a host of articles about irregular warfare and Afghanistan.  He has served in Afghanistan four times.  The works of practitioners-scholars Fair, Gregory, Husain Haqqani, Zalmay Khalilzad, Ahmed Rashid, Rubin, and the Schaffers informed this article.  These views are from the author’s studies and service in the region and do not reflect the views of the U.S. Army, the U.S. Naval War College, or the U.S. Department of Defense.

US military drops MOAB on Islamic State in Afghanistan

AP

Long War Journal, by Bill Roggio, April 13, 2017:

The US military dropped the “MOAB,” the GBU-34 Massive Ordnance Air Blast bomb which is better known as the “Mother of all Bombs,” on Islamic State fighters in the eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar. The strike took place in Achin, the same district where a US special forces solider was killed last week.

From the US Forces Afghanistan press release:

At 7:32 pm local time today, U.S. Forces – Afghanistan conducted a strike on an ISIS-K tunnel complex in Achin district, Nangarhar province, Afghanistan, as part of ongoing efforts to defeat ISIS-K in Afghanistan in 2017.

The strike used a GBU-43 bomb dropped from a U.S. aircraft. The strike was designed to minimize the risk to Afghan and U.S. Forces conducting clearing operations in the area while maximizing the destruction of ISIS-K fighters and facilities.

“As ISIS-K’s losses have mounted, they are using IEDs, bunkers and tunnels to thicken their defense,” said General John W. Nicholson, Commander, U.S. Forces – Afghanistan. “This is the right munition to reduce these obstacles and maintain the momentum of our offensive against ISIS-K.”

U.S. Forces took every precaution to avoid civilian casualties with this strike. U.S. Forces will continue offensive operations until ISIS-K is destroyed in Afghanistan.

US and Afghan forces have been attempting to clear the Islamic State’s so-called Khorasan province from Achin and several other districts in eastern Afghanistan for nearly two years, but like the Taliban in other areas of Afghanistan, the group remains entrenched. The deployment of the MOAB may indicate a degree of desperation in the fight against the Islamic State in Achin district. This is the first use of such a weapon, which is described as the largest bomb next to a nuke, in Afghanistan.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.

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Sanction Pakistan As State Sponsor Of Terror

hqdefault_0Forbes, by Anders Corr, Feb 23, 2017:

In the past two weeks, Pakistan has closed border crossings with Afghanistan, and attacked Afghan soil with airstrikes and heavy artillery, causing 200 families to flee. Pakistan claims that these measures counter cross-border terrorists. But in so doing, Pakistan punishes Afghanistan economically and obfuscates the primary source of South and Central Asian terrorism: Pakistan itself. Pakistan is a supporter of the Taliban, Haqqani, Islamic State, and Al Qaeda. To convince Pakistan to cease supporting terrorism, influential nations must label Pakistan a state sponsor of terrorism, and impose economic sanctions.

Pakistan seeks to turn Afghanistan into its backyard and put the government under its sphere of influence. It seeks “strategic depth” in Afghanistan for Pakistan’s competition with India. It seeks to influence, through political, military, and economic measures, the government of Afghanistan in order to limit Iranian influence in the country. Pakistan is doing this with military strikes, state-sponsored terrorism, economic inducements, and economic punishments such as border closings.

Afghanistan is a landlocked country, but it is nobody’s backyard. It is a sovereign and exceedingly fragile democracy of 30 million people under siege by terrorists. The democratically-elected government of Afghanistan needs the support of Pakistan in its fight against terrorism. Afghanistan’s struggle to provide peace and development to its citizens deserves that support.

Pakistan must honor its commitments in the 2016 Quadrilateral road map negotiated with Afghanistan, the U.S., and China, as Afghanistan plead for on Saturday. The government of Afghanistan invited the Taliban to talks, but the Taliban refused. Now, Pakistan must take action against cross-border Taliban terrorists in Pakistan. That will be politically impossible within Pakistan until the U.S. and E.U. take very tough economic and diplomatic measures. It is time to label Pakistan a state sponsor of terrorism, and support targeted sanctions against select military- and intelligence-linked Pakistani companies.

 Anders Corr is the Principal of Corr Analytics Inc, providing international political risk analysis to government and commercial clients. Twitter – @anderscorr, email – corr@canalyt.com.

Trump left countries with high terror risk off his banned list

Taliban militants train in a lawless region along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border in 2011. EPA

Taliban militants train in a lawless region along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border in 2011. EPA

New York Post, by Paul Sperry, January 28, 2017:

Afghanistan is conspicuously absent from the list of terror-prone countries in President Trump’s indefinite immigration ban, even though al-Qaeda has reopened terrorist training camps there and Afghan immigration factors into recent homegrown terrorism, including the Orlando and Chelsea attacks.

Trump signed an executive order on Friday temporarily blocking entry into the US for immigrants and nonimmigrants from seven Muslim countries — Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen — until the government can tighten security procedures to screen out terrorists under Trump’s proposed “extreme vetting” program. It would also completely stop the processing and resettling here of Muslim refugees from ISIS hotspot Syria.

“It’s countries that have tremendous terror,” Trump explained. “And it’s countries that people are going to come in and cause us tremendous problems.”

Leaving Afghanistan — as well as high-risk Pakistan and Saudi Arabia — off the list may prove shortsighted, however.

A new Pentagon report reveals that 20 terrorist groups, including ISIS, are now operating in Afghanistan, mostly along the Pakistan border. It notes that “the Taliban and other insurgents have gained territory over the past two years,” as President Obama withdrew US troops, and now control almost 40 percent of the country.

Al-Qaeda, meanwhile, has built massive new terrorist training camps — including one 30-square miles in size, the largest training facility the Pentagon has seen since 9/11 — signaling the group is gearing up to repeat its pre-9/11 horror of exporting terrorism from Afghanistan.

Lost in the noise over Syrian refugees and the terrorist threat they pose is the growing wave of Afghan refugees hitting our shores, as Afghanistan descends into its own civil war. As the security situation has deteriorated, Afghan immigration has surged.

Afghan refugees have fled the country as it’s descended further into civil war.Getty

Afghan refugees have fled the country as it’s descended further into civil war.Getty

Between 2013 and 2015, the last years reported by the State Department, the total number of Afghan refugees admitted to the US actually outpaced the number of Syrian refugees admitted: 2,324 vs. 1,823. The number of Afghan refugees resettled in US cities — namely, New York, Houston and Sacramento — jumped 21 percent in 2015, after increasing 14 percent in 2014. Afghans reported as admitted in the first three months of 2016 had already exceeded State’s projection for the entire year. Meanwhile, another 10,000-plus Afghans are seeking asylum here.

And these are just the permanent resettlements and do not include the thousands of Afghans that Homeland Security is admitting as “temporary immigrants.” US visas issued annually to Afghans have nearly doubled under the Obama administration, soaring from 2,454 in 2008 to 4,156 in 2015, the latest year for which data are kept.

Few in Washington are raising alarms about the largely uncontrolled influx of these Afghan immigrants, but the security risk is just as great.

Though their numbers are relatively small next to the projected flood of Syrians, “some may cause trouble,” as they have in Germany, which is deporting 12,000 Afghan refugees after some carried out terrorist attacks there, said David North, a fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies.

It’s not that there aren’t legitimate refugees among these Afghan nationals. The problem is there’s no vetting procedures in place to reliably sort the “good guys” from the “bad guys.” As a result, the government’s screening system has repeatedly failed to ID jihadists and other turncoats who have betrayed the hospitality extended to them by this country.

Recent examples include: Afghan refugee Hayatulla Dawari, who got as far as naturalization before authorities learned of his involvement with an Afghan terror group and convicted him in 2014; and Afghan refugee Sohiel Omar Kabir, who was sentenced in 2015 to 25 years in federal prison for providing material support to terrorists and conspiring to kill Americans.

Chelsea bomb suspect Ahmad Rahami was radicalized after a 2014 trip to AfghanistanAP

Chelsea bomb suspect Ahmad Rahami was radicalized after a 2014 trip to AfghanistanAP

Nor does the government monitor these immigrants once they arrive. Investigators now believe Afghan-born Ahmad Khan Rahami, the accused New York City bomber, was radicalized after returning from a 2014 trip to Afghanistan, where his father reportedly once fought as a “mujahedeen.” Afghan-American Omar Mateen, the Orlando terrorist, also maintained Afghan connections through his father, an open supporter of the Taliban.

Our military exchange program is another major hole in security involving Afghan immigration that virtually nobody is talking about. The Pentagon can’t even keep track of the Afghans it brings here for military training exercises designed to help them go back and defend their homeland.

Alarmingly, at least 45 Afghan soldiers have disappeared in the US over the past two years while training at military installations. Many of these AWOL immigrants, who came here on special visas, have extensive training in weapons and explosives. Homeland Security has joined the military in the hunt for the missing Afghans.

Further raising security alarms, the Taliban has infiltrated the Afghan security forces supplying these immigrants. Penetration is so deep that, according to the Pentagon report released earlier this month, the Taliban obtain much of their weapons and ammunition, as well as gasoline, from US-supplied Afghan soldiers.

“Taliban commanders give instructions to their forces to buy weapons, ammunition and fuel from the Afghan army and police,” the report reveals.

It also disclosed that from January 2015 through August 2016, there were 101 insider attacks in which Taliban or other insurgents posing as Afghan security personnel turned on fellow Afghan security force members, killing 257.

Saudi nationals also get a pass under Trump’s restrictions. In fact, they may continue to be ushered in as “trusted travelers” and bypass the normal security process under a deal Obama struck with the kingdom that opened the floodgates to more than 709,000 Saudi students and other visa-holders since 2009. It’s as if 9/11 never happened and 15 Saudi terrorists never infiltrated the country on rubber-stamped visas.

Sperry is a former Hoover Institution media fellow and author of “Infiltration: How Muslim Spies and Subversives Have Penetrated Washington.”

Trump Admin Inherits Continued Insecurity, Corruption in Afghanistan

Afghan security personnel inspect at the site of roadside bomb blast in Kabul, Afghanistan, Dec. 28, 2016 / AP

Afghan security personnel inspect at the site of roadside bomb blast in Kabul, Afghanistan, Dec. 28, 2016 / AP

Washington Free Beacon, by Morgan Chalfant,January 12, 2017:

Donald Trump will need to confront the continued instability and corruption in Afghanistan as well as a resilient Taliban insurgency that continues to challenge Afghan military and police forces, according to the special inspector for Afghanistan reconstruction.

John Sopko, the U.S. government’s special inspector for Afghanistan reconstruction, offered a bleak assessment of the security situation and rebuilding efforts in the war-torn country on Wednesday during remarks at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, admitting that little has improved in Afghanistan over the past two years despite billions of dollars in investments from the United States.

The special inspector general unveiled a list of high-risk challenges facing the new administration in Afghanistan, including the capacity and capabilities of Afghan security forces, corruption, sustainability, on-budget assistance, counter-narcotics, contract management, general oversight, and planning and strategy.

Failure in any one of these eight areas, Sopko said Wednesday, could “fatally undermine the reconstruction mission in Afghanistan.”

The special inspector general identified corruption and poor leadership of the Afghan military and police forces as the root cause of the persisting insecurity in Afghanistan. He pointed to the tens of thousands of U.S. taxpayer-funded “ghost soldiers,” as well as evidence of Afghan forces selling U.S.-bought weapons and fuel for profit.

“Afghan commanders often pocket the paychecks of ghost soldiers for whom the U.S. is paying the salary,” Sopko said. “The number of ghost soldiers is not insignificant. It likely reaches into the tens of thousands of soldiers and police.”

“[Corruption] is so bad that there is evidence that the Taliban have instructed their field commanders to simply purchase U.S.-supplied weapons, fuel, and ammunition from the Afghan government because it is both easier and less expensive for the insurgents to do so,” he continued.

“There are reports that when fuel finally reaches the frontlines in Afghanistan, that some Afghan commanders refuse to use it, refuse to go on patrols, so they can save the fuel which they then can sell on the open market,” Sopko said.

The special inspector general has said as much as 50 percent of U.S.-purchased fuel is siphoned off and sold for profits.

“Our new administration and Congress should ask: Is it finally time to stop talking about combatting corruption and time for the Afghan government to start prosecuting senior officials who are either corrupt or feel they are above the law?” Sopko said.

The Taliban has continued to launch attacks and seize territory in Afghanistan, as U.S. and allied forces have withdrawn troops from the country. President Obama last year decelerated his planned drawdown of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, leaving some 8,400 service members in the country through the end of his term. Gens. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and John Nicholson, commander of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, have both characterized the security situation as a “stalemate.”

The Taliban on Tuesday set off two large bombs near a government compound in Kabul, killing at least 38 people and injuring dozens. The attack was among 56 security incidents that occurred over the last two days in 22 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces, according to the special inspector general.

The Pentagon’s latest assessment of the Afghan military and police forces evaluated them as effective in repelling insurgents in key population areas and retaking territory seized by the Taliban. But Sopko on Wednesday offered a negative take on the assessment, saying that the Afghan forces are “basically playing whack-a-mole, following the Taliban around Afghanistan and retaking territory that was lost.”

“The DoD report reiterates this point by noting that the vast majority of the Afghan national army has little offensive capability,” the special inspector general said. “So, the best spin the Afghan security forces can put on their activities in 2016 is that they were able to retake strategic areas that had temporarily been lost to the Taliban. So, we’re defining success as the absence of failure. At a minimum, they are playing defense and are not taking the fight to the Taliban.”

The United States announced this week that it will send 300 Marines to Afghanistan’s southern Helmand province, in order to train, advise, and assist Afghan government forces fighting Taliban insurgents. Obama marked the end of combat in Afghanistan in December 2014.

Trump has not yet outlined a strategy for Afghanistan, which after 15 years has stretched to America’s longest war, but has pledged to end “nation building” by the United States. Under the new administration, the Pentagon will likely be led by retired Marine Gen. James Mattis, who faces a confirmation hearing to become defense secretary this week.

The United States has spent $115 billion on reconstruction in Afghanistan and is expected to contribute between $5 and $6 billion annually through 2020.

Sopko, who was appointed to the inspector general post in 2012 by President Obama, urged the incoming administration to “conduct a thorough assessment of resources and personnel to ensure they are sufficient to meet our military, law enforcement, and civilian objectives in Afghanistan.” He also recommended the new government work with Afghan and coalition allies to develop a “new and better strategy” in Afghanistan that avoids failures revealed by his office and other oversight investigations.

“Fifteen years in, there is no reason we should be seeing the problems we continue to witness and document in the nearly 250 reports my little office has released,” Sopko said. “My hope, and the hope of my staff, is that the high-risk report we are issuing today and the examples it provides will help guide Congress and the Trump administration as we move into 2017 to ensure a strong, better, and more effective reconstruction effort in what has become America’s longest war.”

Ex-US Employee Mounts Worst Suicide Attack On Americans In Years

From left, President Barack Obama, Assistant Judge Advocate General of the U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Daniel V. Wright and Brig. Gen. Michael S. Repass, commanding general of U.S. Army Special Operations Command, render honors as a team of Soldiers carry the remains of Sgt. Dale R. Griffin during a dignified transfer ceremony at Dover Air Force Base, Del., Oct. 29, 2009. Griffin, who was assigned to 1st Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment, 5th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, was killed in action Oct. 27, 2009, by a roadside bomb in the Kandahar province of Afghanistan. (DoD photo by Jason Minto, U.S. Air Force/Released)

From left, President Barack Obama, Assistant Judge Advocate General of the U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Daniel V. Wright and Brig. Gen. Michael S. Repass, commanding general of U.S. Army Special Operations Command, render honors as a team of Soldiers carry the remains of Sgt. Dale R. Griffin during a dignified transfer ceremony at Dover Air Force Base, Del., Oct. 29, 2009. Griffin, who was assigned to 1st Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment, 5th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, was killed in action Oct. 27, 2009, by a roadside bomb in the Kandahar province of Afghanistan. (DoD photo by Jason Minto, U.S. Air Force/Released)

Daily Caller, by Saagar Enjeti, November 14, 2016:

Afghan officials believe the man responsible for killing four U.S. service members and wounding several others Friday was either an employee or ex-employee at Bagram Airbase.

The suicide attacker, Qari Enayatullah, reportedly lived in the surrounding area and was a known ex-Taliban member. Enayatullah re-entered Afghan society in 2008 under a reconciliation program, designed to make peace with former Taliban terrorists.

Bagram Airbase is one of the most secure U.S. facilities in the world. Enayatullah’s job at the base allowed him to mount such a devastating attack, but it’s unclear how he secured employment. The majority of the nearly 10,000 U.S. forces in Afghanistan are assigned to Bagram Airbase. In the wake of the attack, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul closed its doors as a “temporary precautionary measure.”

The attack comes amid a grim period of losses for U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Two U.S. special operators were killed November 3, and four others wounded in Afghanistan amidst a fierce Taliban attack in the northern part of the country. Four other U.S. soldiers were killed in Afghanistan were killed prior to the November 3 attack bringing total 2016 U.S. casualties to 10 U.S. service-members.

The successful suicide attack also comes as the Taliban makes historic gains across Afghanistan, controlling more territory today than at any time since the U.S. invasion in 2001. The U.S.-backed Afghan Security Forces in turn have suffered 15,000 injuries in the first eight months of 2016, with 5,523 ending in death.

“I would call what is going on right now between the Afghan national defense security forces and the Taliban [as] roughly a stalemate,” Marine Gen. Joseph  Dunford told Congress in September. A senior U.S. administration official went further and termed the overall Afghan situation as an “eroding stalemate.”

Also see: