Washington/MAIMANA - Upbeat assessments of an improving security situation in Afghanistan do not line up with the facts on the ground, the Pentagon watchdog said Monday, pointing to “few signs of progress” in the war-torn nation.

Top US officials and military commanders insist Afghan security forces are doing a better job of maintaining order, even though the Taliban are staging repeated attacks and the Islamic State group has conducted a series of high-profile suicide blasts. “This quarter, US officials stated that the Taliban was not achieving its objectives and that momentum was shifting in favor of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF),” the Inspector General of the Pentagon’s office said. “However, available metrics showed few signs of progress.”

The top US commander in Afghanistan, General John Nicholson, in November said the fight had “turned the corner” and predicted that the Afghan security forces will expand government control of the population from about 64 percent now to 80 percent over two years.

But the inspector general said there had been “little positive change” in the first quarter of 2018, with just 65 percent of the population living in areas under government control or influence.

At the same time, the number of Afghan security force personnel dropped from 331,708 to 313,728 - a figure that is 11 percent below its authorized strength of 352,000.

“This shortfall, at a time when there is an increased emphasis on building the lethality of the ANDSF, renews concerns about recruiting, retention, and casualty rates of the ANDSF and the overall effectiveness of the ANDSF,” the report states.

Afghan forces repel Taliban attack

Afghan security forces have repulsed Taliban attempts to overrun Khawja Sabzposh district in the northern Faryab province, police said Monday.

“A group of Taliban militants launched multi-pronged attacks on security checkpoints in Khawja Sabzposh district late Sunday night, triggering heavy battle which lasted until 4:00 a.m. local time Monday and the militants after suffering casualties fled away,” provincial police spokesman Abdul Karim Yurush told Xinhua.

Gunmen kill 5 demining workers

Five Afghan demining workers were killed and another went missing after they were attacked by gunmen in the country’s southern province of Kandahar on Monday, local police said.

“The incident occurred on Monday morning in Malang Karaiz locality, Maywand district, west of provincial capital Kandahar city. A probe is still on,” Zia Durrani, provincial police spokesman, told Xinhua. The killed were part of a joint team, including demining personnel, which was busy conducting an assessment survey for a gas project, he said.

9 Haqqani militants killed

in Afghan airstrikes

At least nine militants of Haqqani militant group had been killed following airstrikes in Paktika province, eastern Afghanistan, the command of special forces said Monday.

“Afghan Special Operations Forces-related airstrikes targeted militants of Haqqani terrorist network in Sar Hawza district, Paktika province Sunday, killing nine Haqqani gunmen and destroying two motorcycles,” Operational Coordination Group Afghanistan said in a statement.

Afghan forces and the NATO and US-led coalition troops continued the mopping-up operations as spring and summer known as fighting season are drawing near in the mountainous country.

As a Taliban-linked group of militants, the Haqqani network was designated as a terrorist group by the United States in 2012.

Iran denies helps to Taliban

in Afghanistan

Iran’s Foreign Ministry on Monday denied the allegations that it helps a Taliban push in an Afghan province bordering Iran, state TV reported.

The claim is instigated by the US commanders who try to divert public opinion from the real cause of the flare-up in violence, Foreign Ministry Spokesman Bahram Qasemi was quoted as saying.

“The Taliban’s attack on Afghan cities and their recapture by government forces is not a new thing and is not related to good relations between the two neighboring countries,” Qasemi said.

“US commanders who have been unable to establish security in Afghanistan after years of massive military presence and shedding the blood of thousands of innocent people are trying to deflect the public opinion of Afghanistan from the real reasons behind the perpetuation of the war by accusing the Islamic Republic of supporting the Taliban,” he said.

For four decades, Iran has been standing by the government of Afghanistan to defend their sovereignty and independence, he added.

Fighting has continued in Farah province on the border with Iran where the insurgents came close to overrunning the provincial capital, prompting its police chief to echo US claims that Iran was supporting the Taliban.