Provided below are several recent news stories on the current conflict in Afghanistan as well as some news on economic, political, and development topics.
U.S. Soldier KIA in Afghanistan
The Department of Defense announced the death of a soldier who was supporting the Operation Freedom’s Sentinel mission in Afghanistan. Specialist Gabriel Conde, age 22, of the 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division (Alaska) was killed in action as a result of enemy small arms fire in Tagab district, Kapisa province, Afghanistan on Monday April 30, 2018. See “DoD Identifies Army Casualty”, DoD, May 1, 2018.
Spring Offensive. The Taliban have announced the start of their spring offensive and the bombings in Kabul continue. The Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) are increasing their optempo with the arrival of the spring fighting season to keep the Taliban from capturing more of the rural countryside while protecting the major cities and lines of communication.
Embassy Warning. ON May 2, 2018 the United States Embassy in Afghanistan issued a security alert to U.S. citizens.
SIGAR Report. The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) has released its Quarterly Report to Congress (dated 30 April 2018). The report does not have much good news. SIGAR finds that the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) have suffered a 10 percent decline in troop numbers within the last 12 months. Primary cause of the personnel decrease is casualties and desertion. Afghan insurgents are gaining control over more of the population.
ASSF. The Afghan Special Security Forces (ASSF) – special operations units belonging to the Ministry of Interior (MoI) and Ministry of Defense (MoD) – are increasing in size and capability. The ASSF will carry the fight to the insurgents as the Afghan Air Force (AAF) continues to grow in capability and capacity over the next year. The Afghan government – and NATO’s Resolute Support Mission are putting a lot of emphasis on the ASSF and AAF. Graduates of the April 2018 Commando Qualification Course (CDOQC) will be assigned to form up a fourth company in the 1st, 7th, 9th, and 10th Special Operations Kandaks (SOK).
Cobra Strike Kandaks. The Afghan National Army Special Operations Corps is increasing its capability with new units and an increased capacity to train up new Commandos. One of the new special units is the Cobra Strike Kandak. Over 650 new graduates of a special operations course are in the newly formed 6th Cobra Strike Kandak. The new kandaks are part of the Afghan 2020 Roadmap – there will be additional Cobra Strike Kandaks trained up. The CSKs will operate in Mobile Strike Force Vehicles (MSFV) that are heavily armored and mine resistant. Read more in “Commandos add Firepower with Cobra Strike Battlions”, Resolute Support HQs, May 1, 2018.
Kabul Bombing on Monday – April 30th. Twin bombings killed more than 25 people in Kabul. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the bombings. The second bombing took the lives of several journalists and photographers who responded to the first bomb. (Reuters, Apr 29, 2018).
Kandahar Bombing on Monday – April 30th. A VBIED exploded in Daman district, Kandahar province that targeted troops of the Romanian military serving in Afghanistan. The blast also killed and wounded members of the Afghan Uniform Police (AUP). (Military Times, Apr 30, 2018).
1st Female Pilot of AAF Gets Asylum. An Afghan Air Force pilot, who was the first female flyer for the Afghan Air Force (AAF), has requested and received asylum from the United States. For over two years she was trotted out by the U.S. military as a symbol of women’s advancement in the AAF. Gender integration has proven to be an elusive goal in the ANDSF. This certainly is a setback in the narrative that Resolute Support is trying to advance. In addition, a lot of money was spent training her up here in the United States. Perhaps all is not lost. Recruit her to join the Army and fly helicopters! Read more in “Afghanistan’s First Female Pilot Granted Asylum in U.S.”, The Wall Street Journal, May 1, 2018.
District Control. The Taliban have managed to maintain its grip on half of Afghanistan despite US and NATO efforts to force the group from its strongholds. The Long War Journal has been tracking ‘district control‘ in Afghanistan for several years. It has three assessment levels: insurgent controlled, contested, and government controlled. Resolute Support HQs has five assessment levels. Read more in a recent article by LWJ (May 1, 2018).
Turning the Corner. It appears that the favorite soundbite of the U.S. generals in past years of ‘turning the corner’ in Afghanistan will once again be a major theme in 2018 as well. One wonders just how many corners there are in Afghanistan.
EAP Security. A security element from the 4th Infantry Division based in Bagram recently provided force protection to a group of American, Swedish, and Luxembourg advisors visiting northwest Afghanistan. The 150 advisors, making up an Expeditionary Advisory Package or EAP, were supporting ANDSF units in their efforts against the Taliban and other insurgent organizations for a period of 11 days. Read more in “Dagger Company conducts Expeditionary Advising Mission”, DVIDS, April 4, 2018.
Women in ANDSF. The NATO and Afghan government goal of having 10% of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces made up of women by 2020 will not be realized. A rather ambitious goal for a very conservative society to say the least. Read more in “A Battle of Several Fronts: Afghan Women in the Security Services”, The Diplomat, April 30, 2018.
Governance and Politics
District Governance. District governors and officials in Afghanistan are subject to attack and intimidation by Taliban insurgents – especially in the rural contested areas. According to recent US government data the Kabul regime controls just 56 percent of the 400 plus districts in Afghanistan. The district governors and ministry representatives working at district level have some security challenges. Read more in “The Job Hazards of an Afghan District Governor”, Deutsche Welle, April 27, 2018.
Economy and Development
Growing Opium. The annual opium harvest will begin soon and many of Afghanistan’s farmers will be busy with the scraping of gum off poppy bulbs to be used in making opium, heroin, and other drugs. Opium production hit a record high in 2017. (Reuters, Apr 30, 2018).
Can’t Win – Can’t Leave. The latest attacks in Kabul are indicative of the failure of Resolute Support to assist the Afghan security forces in improving security in Kabul and rolling back gains in the rural areas of Afghanistan. Simon Tisdall, a foreign affairs commentator, provides his perspective in “The US and Afghanistan: can’t win the war, can’t stop it, can’t leave”, The Guardian, May 1, 2018.
War is Going Badly. James Clark reads the SIGAR Quarterly Report to Congress (April 2018) and concludes that “The War in Afghanistan Is (Still) Going Terribly”, Task & Purpose, May 1, 2018.
Give Peace a Chance. The Afghan conflict has been in a stalemate for the last several years. Some observers say this makes it possible for a negotiated settlement. Read ‘Is America Ready for a Peace Deal in Afghanistan?”, The National Interest, May 2, 2018.
Timeline of the U.S. in Afghanistan. The Taliban insurgency remains resilient sixteen years after U.S.-led forces toppled its regime in what has become the United States’ longest war. View an informative narration of the timeline of the U.S. involvement since 2001 by the Council of Foreign Relations.
ISIS in Afghanistan. The deteriorating situation in Afghanistan is a result of Taliban successes in many of the rural areas of the country as well as terrorist attacks by the Islamic State in Kabul. Read more in “Afghanistan’s Black Monday and ISIS”, Afghan Studies Center, May 2, 2018.
Top Photo Credit: Afghan soldiers of the 6th Cobra Strike Kandak conduct a live fire exercise near Kabul, Afghanistan in their Mobile Strike Force Vehicle (MSFV) on April 29, 2018. The 6th CSK is one of Afghanistan’s newest special operations unit. Photo by Martha Schaeffer, NATO Special Operations Component Command – Afghanistan (NSOCC-A).