This Lead Inspector General (Lead IG) report to the United States Congress on Operation Freedom’s Sentinel (OFS) is the 18th quarterly report detailing the overseas contingency operation. The report summarizes significant events involving OFS and describes completed, ongoing, and planned Lead IG and partner agency oversight work. This report covers the period from July 1, 2019, to September 30, 2019.
During the quarter, Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, reported that the United States and the Taliban had reached an agreement in principle, in which the United States would reduce from 14,000 to 8,600 troops in Afghanistan. On September 7, President Trump announced further talks had been “called off,” citing a Taliban attack earlier that week that killed an American soldier. The U.S. military increased operations against the Taliban after suspending negotiations.
Afghans went to the polls on September 28 to elect their next president. The results of the election have not yet been announced, but the two leading candidates—incumbent President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah—both declared victory. The Taliban attacked election activities and facilities, which likely contributed to low voter turnout. The technical administration of the election, however, improved compared to previous years according to observers who noted that newly fielded biometric verification devices functioned properly in approximately 90 percent of polling centers.
The spike in violence surrounding the presidential election, coupled with the typical seasonal increase in violence during the summer, created one of the most dangerous periods in recent years for civilians in Afghanistan. There were 34 percent more enemy-initiated attacks this quarter than in the previous quarter. Civilian casualties during the quarter increased by 130 percent compared to the previous quarter and 60 percent compared to the same quarter one year ago.
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria-Khorasan (ISIS-K) remains an enduring threat to U.S. and allied interests in South and Central Asia. While the group has not directed an attack against the U.S. homeland, it regularly issues propaganda to attempt to inspire attacks overseas. ISIS-K has between 2,000 and 5,000 fighters in Afghanistan and continues to recruit disaffected fighters from other violent extremist groups. Despite continued recruiting, ongoing counterterrorism pressure prevented ISIS-K from expanding its territory this quarter.
During the quarter, the Lead IG agencies and our oversight partners issued 13 reports relating to OFS that address topics such as U.S. efforts to implement the Afghan Personnel and Pay System and training for Afghan Tactical Air Coordinators.
Operation Freedom’s Sentinel began on January 1, 2015. U.S. forces conduct two complementary missions under OFS: 1) counterterrorism operations against al Qaeda, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria-Khorasan, and their affiliates in Afghanistan; and 2) training, advising, and assisting the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces through the NATO-led Resolute Support Mission. U.S. counterterrorism efforts remain focused on preventing Afghanistan from becoming a safe haven for terrorists planning attacks against the U.S. homeland and against U.S. interests and partners. The objective of the Resolute Support Mission is to develop self-sustaining Afghan security forces that are capable of maintaining security under responsible Afghan civilian authorities.
Section 8L of the Inspector General Act of 1978 provides a mandate for the three Lead IG agencies to work together to develop and carry out joint, comprehensive, and strategic oversight. Each IG retains statutory independence, but together they apply their extensive regional experience and in-depth institutional knowledge to conduct whole-of-government oversight of these overseas contingency operations.