COVID-19 Cases

Afghanistan is likely to face 'health disaster' from coronavirus U.S. watchdog


Afghanistan, beset by poor health care, malnutrition, war and other vulnerabilities, is likely facing a coronavirus "health disaster," a watchdog report to the United States. Congress has warned.

The report released by Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) John Sopko late Thursday could raise concerns among U.S. officials and legislators that the pandemic threatens to derail has stalled U.S .- led peace efforts.

The spread of COVID-19 has already impacted Afghanistan significantly, the report said, ranging from complicating the peace initiative to forcing border crossing closures that have disrupted commercial and humanitarian delivery.

"The numerous and, in some cases, unique vulnerabilities in Afghanistan-a weak health-care system, widespread malnutrition, porous borders, massive internal displacement, contiguity with Iran, and ongoing conflict-make it likely that the country will face a health disaster in the coming months," the report said.

In the impoverished country, rising food prices will likely worsen the crisis, Sopko said in a letter accompanying the report.

As the pandemic has spread, Washington has pushed the Taliban and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to free thousands of militant at-risk and government prisoners as a precursor to peace talks initially scheduled to begin on March 10.

However, Kabul was not a party to a Feb. 29 U.S. troop withdrawal agreement between the Taliban and Washington calling for the releases. Differences over the pace and the number of prisoners to be released have helped put a stop to the peace effort, which could suffer a major blow if many inmates die.

Afghanistan has confirmed close to 2,200 cases of coronavirus and 64 deaths, according to local news reports quoted by the Ministry of Health.

The report said the NATO-led international coalition declined to make data about the number of attacks the Taliban launched in the first three months of 2020 available for public release.

It was the first time the data has been denied publication since SIGAR began using them in 2018 to track levels and locations of violence, the report said.

The coalition, it said, explained that the data are "now a critical part" of internal U.S. government deliberations on negotiations with the Taliban, which since the Feb. 29 deal have escalated attacks against Afghan security forces.

The Pentagon added that the data release could resume once those deliberations are over, the report said.