Afghan security forces shrinking, insurgency growing: Watchdog

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Among the casualties are women, children, emergency responders, journalists and media workers.

On the day of the attacks, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres expressed outrage and extended his deepest condolences to the families of the victims.

In its report, the Special Inspector-General for Afghanistan Reconstruction said the numbers in the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces (ANDSF), which include the army, air force and police, totalled an estimated 296,400 personnel as of January.

Insurgents in Afghanistan are gaining strength while government forces are losing personnel, a US watchdog told Congress Tuesday, a day after at least 31 people were killed in extremist bombings in the Afghan capital of Kabul.

Asked what his goal in Afghanistan was in the next year, US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told a Congressional hearing he wanted "a more capable Afghan force, between their military and their police (and) the violence levels going down".

Militants are targeting journalists in Afghanistan because they are weakened and want more news coverage in order to undermine the country's electoral process ahead of an expected vote in October, Pentagon chief James Mattis said on Monday.

"This is the normal stuff by people who can not win at the ballot box, so they turn to bombs", he said.

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The radical militant group Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attacks, according to the statement.

A separate shooting in eastern Khost province killed a BBC reporter.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani announced in February that the government is willing to hold peace talks with the Taliban without preconditions if the Taliban stops committing acts of terror and accepts the Afghan constitution.

Last year, RSF ranked Afghanistan the third most unsafe country in the world for journalists, and on Monday the watchdog urged the worldwide community to guard the media from future attacks. "Those responsible for such crimes must be swiftly brought to justice", the United Nations chief said. And in November previous year, broadcaster Shamshad TV was stormed by gunmen who killed one person.

In 2002, he became a full-time photo stringer, rising through the ranks to become the bureau's chief photographer.

Marai, 41, left behind six children, including a newborn daughter.

"This tragedy reminds us of the danger that our teams continually face on the ground and the essential role journalists play for democracy", AFP's CEO Fabrice Fries said.

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