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WASHINGTON: The number of Afghan security forces decreased by nearly 11 per cent in the past year, the US government’s top watchdog on Afghanistan said on Tuesday, an indication of the difficulty Kabul will have in dealing with its precarious security situation.

Twin blasts in the Afghan capital Kabul killed at least 26 people on Monday, including nine journalists who had arrived to report on the first explosion and were apparently targeted by a suicide bomber.

The attacks, a week after 60 people were killed as they waited at a voter registration centre in the city, underlined mounting insecurity despite repeated government pledges to tighten defences.

The attacks in rapid succession were a grim reminder of the strength of both the Taliban and the militant Islamic State group’s emerging Afghanistan branch to wreak violence despite stepped up air attacks under US President Donald Trump’s new policy for the 16-year-old war.

In a report released on Tuesday, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, or SIGAR, said the number of forces in the Afghan National Defense and Security forces (ANDSF), which includes the army, air force and police, totalled an estimated 296,400 personnel as of January. That was a drop of 10.6 per cent compared to the same month in 2017. The authorised strength of the ANDSF is 334,000 personnel. The United States has for nearly two decades been seeking to build Afghan security forces capable of defending and holding territory. “Building up the Afghan forces is a top priority for the US and our international allies, so it is worrisome to see Afghan force strength decreasing,” John Sopko, the head of SIGAR, said.

Published in Dawn, May 2nd, 2018