FACT CHECK: Do The Taliban Control Nearly 45 Percent Of Afghanistan?

Brad Sylvester | Fact Check Reporter

Al Jazeera News claimed on Twitter that “the Taliban controls nearly 45 percent of Afghanistan.”

Verdict: False

The Taliban control or influence up to 13 percent of the districts in Afghanistan. They contest a significant portion of the rest of the country.

Fact Check:

The Taliban are an Islamic fundamentalist group that has been waging war against the Afghan government and allied forces for nearly two decades. From 1996 to 2001, they controlled most of Afghanistan, but were driven from power in 2001 by a U.S.-led invasion.

A new report from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) shows that the Afghan government has lost ground to the Taliban in recent years. Al Jazeera linked to an article about the report in its tweet, but it mischaracterized the report’s findings.

SIGAR found that only 12 percent of districts in Afghanistan are under “insurgent control or influence” as of July 2018. Ten of Afghanistan’s 407 districts are under direct insurgent control, it found, while another 39 are under the “influence” of insurgents. This is for all insurgents, of which the Taliban are the predominant group.

The Afghan government has control or influence of 226 districts, or 55.5 percent of the country, the lowest figure since SIGAR began analyzing district-level data in November 2015.

The report states that the remaining 32 percent of districts are “contested,” meaning that neither the government nor the insurgents exert control or influence. The tweet from Al Jazeera likely conflated the number of contested districts with the number of districts controlled or influenced by insurgents, as they add up to 45 percent of all districts when combined.

The number of districts under the control of the Afghan government has dropped from 63 percent of all districts in August 2016 to 56 percent as of the latest report. Over the same time frame, the number of districts under insurgent control or influence grew from 8 percent to 12 percent, while the number of contested districts grew from 29 percent to 32 percent.

Afghan government forces are not only losing ground but also troops.”The average number of ANDSF (Afghan forces) casualties from May 1 to October 1, 2018, is the greatest it has ever been during like periods,” reads the report.

While the exact number of casualties is classified, Secretary of Defense James Mattis said Oct. 30 while speaking at the U.S. Institute of Peace that Afghan forces had suffered more than 1,000 casualties in August and September alone.

A study done by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) suggests the situation is worse than SIGAR has been reporting. FDD reported in its Long War Journal that 50 percent of the districts in Afghanistan are contested, compared to the 32 percent put forward by SIGAR.

The Long War Journal also found that just over half of Afghanistan’s population lives outside of government controlled areas, whereas SIGAR reports that 35 percent lives in districts that are contested, controlled or influenced by insurgents.

FDD says that the Taliban are in control of 13 percent of all districts.

“The Taliban is better organized and more motivated than Afghan forces. The Taliban uses its mastery of the rural areas of Afghanistan to take the fight to the Afghan forces. The sanctuary in Pakistan and the support of the Pakistan state is critical,” Bill Roggio, a senior fellow at FDD, told The Daily Caller News Foundation in an email. “Additionally, I believe the Afghan people have become apathetic and disenchanted with the Afghan government due to issues such as the government’s inability to protect them from the Taliban, corruption, and poor governance in general.”

Studies done by The Long War Journal suggest that a number of the districts listed by SIGAR as controlled by or under the influence of the Afghan government are, in fact, either contested or under Taliban control. Back in August, The New York Times reported that seven districts effectively captured by the Taliban in Ghazni province were not listed as being under Taliban control in military reports.

The U.S. military has had troops in Afghanistan since 2001, making it the longest foreign war in American history.

Al Jazeera did not respond to a request for comment.

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Brad Sylvester

Fact Check Reporter

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