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Obama Leaves Office With Strong Taliban, Crumbling Afghan Gov’t

REUTERS/Pawel Kopczynski.

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Saagar Enjeti White House Correspondent
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Afghanistan’s parliament dismissed seven cabinet ministers in a single week, deepening its political crisis amid historic Taliban battlefield gains.

President Barack Obama campaigned in 2008 on a promise to withdraw troops from Iraq and win the “good war” in Afghanistan. After surging troops to nearly 165,000 in 2011, he precipitously withdrew them and ended the U.S. combat mission in Afghanistan in 2014.

Since the end of the U.S. combat mission in 2014, the Afghan government has been roiled by political crisis. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani governs in a tenuous power sharing agreement with Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah, his main political rival. The Afghan parliament’s move is reportedly an attempt to clear a way for Abdullah to rise to the rank of prime minister.

As Kabul squabbles over political power, the Afghan Defense Forces are suffering historic casualties in their fight against the Taliban. Afghans suffered 15,000 injuries in the first eight months of 2015, with 5,523 ending in death. The numbers reflect a beleaguered force with an astoundingly high rate of attrition.

“The ANDSF lacks a risk-management system and therefore relies heavily on U.S. forces to prevent strategic failure,” a new U.S. report on Afghanistan found. Civilian casualties have also sky rocketed, with nearly 2,500 civilian fatalities so far in 2016, and another 6,500 wounded.

The Taliban now controls more territory than at any time since the U.S. invasion in 2001, and is potentially poised to take five major cities spanning hundreds of miles apart. Obama has committed to keeping nearly 9,000 troops in Afghanistan by the end of his presidency, and has loosened the U.S. aerial rules of engagement against the group.

“I would call what is going on right now between the Afghan national defense security forces and the Taliban [as] roughly a stalemate,” Marine Gen. Joseph  Dunford told Congress in September.  A senior U.S. administration official termed the overall Afghan situation as an “eroding stalemate.”

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