- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 15, 2018

With the Taliban mounting a major offensive in western Afghanistan, a government watchdog said Tuesday that the Pentagon has underestimated the strength of Afghan Security Forces, selling the fighting force short by about 17,000.

The Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), which monitors Pentagon and other government efforts inside the war-torn nation, said the Defense Department recently estimated the strength of Afghan forces at 296,409. The actual level of the country’s force, formally known as the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces, is 313,728 as of Jan. 31.

SIGAR — which has a history of clashing with Pentagon officials over its critical analyses of reconstruction efforts inside Afghanistan — released an updated report Tuesday afternoon with the new figures. The watchdog said the incorrect information is the latest in a series of errors that make it difficult to fully assess the strength of Afghan forces at an especially critical time.

U.S. leaders, the inspector general says, have released information in a “seemingly haphazard fashion.”

“This is the latest in a series of problems [the inspector general] has faced with DOD’s responses to our requests” for information about Afghan forces, the watchdog said.

The new Afghan force estimates come as the country faces another Taliban assault in western portions of the country near the Iran border. Afghan officials told the Associated Press that Taliban fighters have pushed past security checkpoints in the Farah Province.

“Security checkpoints around the city have collapsed into the hands of the Taliban, causing high casualties among security forces,” said Fared Bakhtawer, the head of the Farah provincial council.

U.S. and NATO forces say they’ll reinforce the Afghan-led offensive.

“The Afghan security forces are bringing their full capabilities, consisting of Army, Police, Commandos and Air Force, to bear on the situation,” NATO said in a statement Tuesday, also pledging to “stand firm beside our Afghan partners” in the face of the Taliban assault.

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