The January 2020 SIGAR Quarterly Report to Congress is now available for reading. The 222-page PDF is available on the website of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction.
The report summarizes SIGAR’s oversight work and provides updates on reconstruction efforts (security, governance, development, etc.) during the months of October, November, and December 2019. The SIGAR quarterly reports tend to have specific themes; this report highlights the danger that corruption poses to Afghanistan and assesses the effectiveness of Afghanistan’s anticorruption strategy.
Contents of the Report
Section 1- Afghan Corruption
The first section of the report assesses Afghan anticorruption activities, the threat corruption poses in decreasing donor support, how Afghans suffer the consequences, and what the international community can do.
Section 2 – SIGAR Oversight Activities
This section describes the various audits, inspections, special projects, lessons learned, investigations, and other SIGAR oversight activities. In addition, it provides information on the SIGAR budget and staff.
Section 3 – Reconstruction Update
For many military readers – especially those who served or will serve as advisors in Afghanistan; this is perhaps the most interesting section. It covers reconstruction, status of funds, security, governance, economy, and social development.
Section 4 – Other Agency Oversight
This final section describes the completed oversight activities and the ongoing oversight activities.
Appendices and Endnotes
There are seven appendices that cover various topics to include reconstruction funding, SIGAR investigations, classified material associated with this report, methodological notes in the production of this report, and more. One of the more informative appendices is Appendix G: Abbreviations and Acronyms. There are always new terms and acronyms for the Afghan conflict produced by the U.S. military and Resolute Support headquarters – it is hard to keep track of them. And last are the Endnotes where SIGAR consistently documents the contents of their reports. This report has 637 endnotes!
“A State of Strategic Stalemate”
Both the U.S. and the Afghan government concede that the only way to put an end to the war in Afghanistan is through a negotiated settlement between the Afghan government and the Taliban. Getting to the negotiated settlement is the ‘wicked problem’. In the meantime Taliban attacks have continued at a high tempo. According to Resolute Support HQs “. . . enemy-initiated attacks during the fourth quarter of 2019 were at the highest level for a fourth quarter of any year since recording began in 2010.” 
Reduction of US Forces. The United States ‘quietly’ reduced troop levels in Afghanistan over the past year – probably a 2,000 personnel reduction. The Secretary of Defense, Mark Esper, has indicated that the level of troops may go as low as 8,600. This may likely occur whether or not there is a ceasefire or negotiated settlement to the conflict. Esper says that the U.S. would “. . . still be able to execute its unilateral counterterrorism mission and its role in the multinational RS mission to train, advise, and assist the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF).” 
Some Data Not Available. Data that used to be available to SIGAR for publishing in its unclassified reports have since been ‘classified’ or is now unavailable. Some statistics such as ANDSF casualties, unit-level authorized and assigned strength, ANDSF performance assessments, and district assessments are no longer presented in the unclassified SIGAR reports. 
There is some good news. Civilian casualties declined in late 2019. ANDSF personnel strength is reported to have increased by 7% since last quarter. The Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Defense are making some progress in accounting for their personnel. Both ministries are making headway in improving their retention of personnel and recontracting those who have separated from service.
ANDSF Casualties. The ANDSF continues to suffer casualties at a high rate – although the figures are classified. Most casualties are the result of engagements of local patrols, attacks on checkpoint operations,  or during offensive operations. The rate of insider attacks against ANDSF members was higher than in past years.
Another ‘New’ Assessment Tool. Once again the Combined Security Transition Command – Afghanistan (CSTC-A) has rolled out a ‘new and improved’ ANDSF assessment tool. This ‘new tool’ will replace the current advisor-engagement tool and the milestone tracker previously used. CSTC-A has identified five priorities and objectives for the Afghan security forces that will help advisors assess their train, advise, and assist (TAA) efforts. 
About the ANDSF. This SIGAR report provides a detailed assessment of the ANDSF (as much as the unclassified data allows) starting on page 80. The Afghan National Army, Afghan National Police, Afghan Air Force, and Afghan Special Security Forces (SOF) each have a section of the report.
Once again SIGAR has provided unvarnished reporting about the Afghan conflict. The quarterly reports by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction tend to present the most accurate (unclassified) picture of how things are going on the ground. Absent from these reports are the skewing of data to reflect the ‘great progress’ being made found in many official Department of Defense reports, press briefings, and ‘feel good’ news releases.  If you follow the events in Afghanistan or are involved in the advisory effort then these SIGAR reports are worth reading.
Quarterly Report to the United States Congress
January 30, 2020, PDF, 222 pages
Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction
 See page 65 for quote on frequency of enemy-initiated attacks. In the past the summer was typical known as the ‘fighting season’. Winter was when the Taliban would return to their homes or cross over to Pakistan to refit, retrain, and regroup. As the years have gone by the optempo in the conflict has increased during the winter months.
 Certainly a troop reduction to 8,600 would severely impact the train, advise, and assist mission. This troop reduction would force RS HQs to pull advisory teams off lower echelon tactical units, possibly return to a ‘fly to advise’ advisory mission for some of the ANA Corps, and reduce the training and advising at the institutional and ministry level.
 District level assessments used to be a key indicator of who was ‘winning’ the war. However, Resolute Support stopped assessing whether the Afghan government or the Taliban ‘controlled’ or ‘influenced’ any of the approximately 34 districts.
 For years ISAF and then Resolute Support HQs has been attempting to get the MOI and MOD to reduce the thousands of checkpoints scattered in remote outposts throughout the country. This ‘checkpoint mentality’ takes manpower from offensive operations, doesn’t accomplish much in regards to security, provides opportunity for corruption at the checkpoints (illegal tolls to pass through), and provides the insurgents easy targets to attack.
 One could write a book on the various assessment processes used by ISAF and then Resolute Support for the security ministries and the ANDSF. It seems that almost every year new metrics are devised to inform the higher staff on how well or poorly the ANDSF is doing and what areas need attention.
 We have “turned the corner” so many times in the past 18 years it feels like we are skating on an ice pond doing figure eights!
Photo: A element of the Afghan National Army Special Operations Command (ANASOC) making comms in the field. DOD photo, April 2019.