The Afghanistan conflict continues to be a stalemate. Taliban and other insurgent groups are attacking isolated outposts, threatening district centers, and conducting high-profile bombing attacks in city centers. The Afghan special operations forces are rapidly responding to the insurgent attacks and conducting offensive clearing operations across the country. The Brussels Summit held by NATO centered on a number of issues – the NATO Resolute Support Mission being one of the more important ones (although Trump’s antics managed to steal most of the headlines). UNAMA is reporting that Afghan civilian deaths from the conflict are the highest in ten years at the mid-year point.
The U.S. continues to suffer fatalities in Afghanistan. SFC Christopher Celiz, a U.S. Army Ranger, died on July 12th during a big operation against the Taliban in eastern Afghanistan. CPL Joseph Maciel of the 3rd ID died in an insider attack while providing security for the 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade are recent deaths.
Read some news stories, commentary, and analysis about the Afghanistan conflict from the past week in the excerpts below:
The war continues in the rural countryside. Assassination of government officials, district center attacks, and capture of remote government security force outposts are common news. The ANDSF is in a reactive mode; except for most of the Afghan SOF operations. The fight against ISIK in Nangarhar province is ongoing with the IS fighters getting pummeled but still returning to fight another day. Everyday there are attacks and engagements taking place across the country. Provided below are a small sampling of security news.
Bomb Kills 20 in Sar-e Pul Province. An attack took place of a meeting between villagers and the Taliban. The Islamic State is suspected of conducting the attack.
Afghan SOF Free Prisoners. 58 prisoners held by the Taliban were freed by Commandos in Helmand province. Four soldiers, 15 policemen, two doctors, and 33 civilians were being held. Helmand is the most hotly contested province in Afghanistan. Of the 14 districts, seven are controlled by the Taliban and the other seven are contested. (The Long War Journal, July 17, 2018).
Eagle Strike Company. Over 100 Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers graduated from a six-week training course in Kandahar province. The members of the 205th ANA Corps will form up a quick reaction force that will respond to critical situations in the province – by aircraft or ground movement. The ANA soldiers were trained by members of the 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade. Read “Afghan 205th Corps Increases Capability with Eagle Strike Company”, Army.mil, July 16, 2018.
NATO and Afghanistan Conflict
NATO / Afghan Joint Statement on Afghanistan. A press release, dated July 12, 2018 , was sent out by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization on the Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan. The biggest news is the continued NATO commitment to sustain the train, advise, and assist mission for the ANDSF and to extend the financial sustainment of the Afghan forces through 2024. The planned session at the Brussels Summit 2018 on Afghanistan was scrubbed when President Trump pressed the other 28 NATO nations to hear his complaints about defense burden sharing instead. But the decisions on NATO were likely scripted well in advance. Read the press release here.
UK to Double Troops. The British government has been requested to increase its troop levels in Afghanistan by the United States. The troop increase will bring the UK’s total number to about 1,100. Most will be in a combat role based in the Kabul area and are likely to come from the Welsh Guards. See “Britain to almost double troops in Afghanistan after U.S. request”, Reuters, July 10, 2018.
Australia and AAF’s Black Hawks. Although not a NATO member Australia has been deeply involved in the Afghan conflict since 2001. There are now plans for Australia to continue its participation in NATO’s RS mission by providing advisors to the Afghan Air Force Black Hawk program. (Air Force Technology, July 16, 2018).
UAE and Qatar Join Coalition. Two more countries are bringing the number of nations supporting NATO’s coalition in Afghanistan to 41. Both are described as new members – but . . . it seems to me I bumped into some UAE SOF on several previous trips to Afghanistan. Perhaps it was just my imagination. (The Washington Times, July 6, 2018).
New TAAC-South Commander. Personnel from the Train, Advise, and Assist Command – South witnessed a transfer of authority ceremony. The new commander is U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Smiley. Many of TAAC-South’s members are from the U.S. 40th Infantry Division (CA NG) and 2nd IBCT of the 4th Infantry Division. Numerous other personnel from the U.S., NATO, and partner nation countries are also part of TAAC-South. (Army.mil, July 5, 2018).
US in Afghanistan
Ghani – U.S. Staying the Course. President Ghani met with President Trump during the Brussels Summit 2018 event in mid-July and came away reassured that the U.S. will continue to support Afghanistan and won’t pull troops out. (Defense One, July 15, 2018).
Massive Increase in Airdrops. Parachuting supplies and equipment to remote bases in Afghanistan has increased significantly this year. The airdrops are used to sustain Afghan and U.S. forces in offensive and defensive operations against the Taliban. Read “Here’s what a massive spike in airdrops says about the war in Afghanistan”, Military Times, June 10, 2018.
Bizarre Case of Stolen Valor. In 2013 a double IED bombing took place in Zabul province, Afghanistan that took the lives of several military and State Department personnel. The incident took place while a U.S. convoy was delivering books to an all-girls school. A top official with the SUNY Update Medical University claimed to be part of the U.S. convoy and at the scene of the IED explosion . . . except . . . he wasn’t there. This claim and other unrelated claims that could not be substantiated has caused him to resign his job at SUNY that paid $340,000 a year. Read more in “SUNY official resigns after Afghanistan bombing lie exposed”, New York Post, May 21, 2018.
Another Civilian Surge? The U.S. Department of Defense wants to push more civilians to Afghanistan to fill vacant positions. 30% of the DoD positions in Afghanistan are unfilled. Expeditionary civilians serve in technical, support, and advisory roles in the combat zone. DoD civilians usually deploy on one year tours. Read more in an article by J.P. Lawrence – “Surge of DOD Civilian Employees Is Needed in Afghanistan, Mattis Says”, Stars and Stripes, July 10, 2018.
Losing the Drug War. The U.S. along with the UK and other nations have been fighting a losing battle to curtail drug production in Afghanistan. Whether it is in forming elite Afghan anti-drug units, using alternative crops, buying out farmers with money, or using bombs from the air – the drug trade continues to blossom. Read “The Secret Story of How America Lost the Drug War with the Taliban”, Politico, July 8, 2018.
Secretary Pompeo’s Visit
“. . . They Cannot Wait Us Out”. Secretary of State Pompeo visited Afghanistan in early July. He met with U.S. and Coalition troops at Bagram Air Field (BAF) and with senior U.S. commanders and Afghan government leaders – President Ghani and CEO Abdullah. He is optimistic that the South Asia strategy implemented by the Trump administration is working. He says that the Taliban “. . . cannot wait us out”. Hmmmm. I am thinking that they can – it has been 17 long years already.
Long-time Friend. Pompeo referred to the U.S. as Afghanistan’s ‘enduring partner’. Read more in an article by The New York Times, July 9, 2018.
“Embassy Air”. During his visit to Kabul the Secretary of State rode in a contractor-operated service that transports state dept personnel around the country and within the Kabul area. (The WarZone, July 9, 2018).
Insider Attack – Changes Coming? In the aftermath of the insider attack that killed a soldier from the 3rd Infantry Division the U.S. military in Afghanistan may be adjusting how it does the train, advise, and assist mission. Read “Army ponders changes after insider attack in Afghanistan”, Army Times, July 16, 2018.
Guardian Angel Training. In mid-2012 the number of insider attacks that were killing U.S. and ISAF personnel in Afghanistan caused ISAF to halt partnered and advisory missions for weeks. The operations resumed but only after certain mitigation procedures were implemented – such as Guardian Angel training. Learn more in “U.S. Soldier Killed in Afghanistan Was Part of Guardian Angel Unit”, The New York Times Magazine, July 11, 2018.
Direct Peace Talks? News reports say that the White House is frustrated with the lack of progress in Afghanistan and has ordered direct talks with the Taliban. It appears that despite Resolute Support HQs constant proclamations that the new South Asia Strategy is working – it isn’t. General Nicholson was reported to have said that direct talks between the U.S. and Taliban are probably necessary – but it appears these news reports misinterpreted some of his comments. See a Resolute Support news release on the topic published on July 16, 2018.
Political Deal with Hezb-e Islami. Casey Garret Johnson, a researcher focusing on politics and conflict in Afghanistan, has penned a report analyzing the September 2016 agreement between Afghanistan’s National Unity Government (NUG) and Hezb-e Islami. The pact called for the militant group to renounce violence and accept the Afghan constitution. In return the Afghan government would free prisoners, resettle some refugees, and integrate fighters into the ANDSF. Read “The Political Deal With Hezb-e Islami: What it Means for Talks with the Taliban and Peace in Afghanistan”, United States Institute for Peace, July 6, 2018.
Unsuccessful Peace Programs. Kate Clark of the Afghanistan Analyst Network (AAN) explains in great detail the past four efforts to disarm, demobilize, reconcile, and reintegrate Taliban fighters. Read Graft and Remilitarisation: A look back at efforts to disarm, demobilise, reconcile and reintegrate, AAN, July 12, 2018.
Islam Used for Peace. Tariq Ali Bakhiet, Director General of Political Affairs for the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, writes about the need for religious leaders to step up and advocate for peace in Afghanistan. See “The Taliban Has Used Islam as a Weapon of War. This is How Afghanistan Can Use it for Peace”, Time.com, July 18, 2018.
UNAMA Report on CIVCAS. The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan is reporting that high civilian casualty rates are continuing. During the period of January to June 2018 more civilians were killed than at any comparable time over the last ten years since records have been kept. Most of the casualties were from IEDs – many bombings of urban areas by ISKP and the Taliban. A very small fraction were by international forces (airstrikes). (UNAMA, July 15, 2018).
Dry Spell Affects Afghan Living Conditions. The non-governmental organization known as REACH has published a 164-page report on the poor winter snowfall amounts and current dry spell in Afghanistan. Read Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Dry Spell Assessment, ReliefWeb.int, June 2018.
Countering the ALP & Local Uprising Groups. The Afghan Local Police (ALP) established by U.S. SOF and local uprising groups (formed sometimes by the NDS?) are feared by the Taliban because of their effectiveness in countering the insurgency. Read how the Taliban counter these community defense organizations in Enemy Number One: How the Taleban deal with the ALP and uprising groups, Afghanistan Analysts Network (AAN), July 19, 2018.
Commentary & Papers
China – India Cooperation in Afghanistan. Chayanika Saxena, a graduate fellow & PhD candidate at the National University of Singapore, writes on the common good that can be accomplished in the Afghanistan conflict by China and India. Both countries are considered, to varying degrees, political and economic rivals. However they share a common interest in a secure and stable Afghanistan. Read why it is important that these two powerful nations cooperate in their efforts in “Afghanistan: A Theater for Managing India-China Rivalry”, The Kabul Times, July 10, 2018.
Humanitarian Assistance and CIVCAS. Jason Lyall of Yale University has penned a 47-page paper that examines the effect of humanitarian aid rendered during a civil war. He draws on his experience and research into the Afghanistan conflict. Read Civilian Casualties, Humanitarian Aid, and Insurgent Violence in Civil Wars, SSRN, July 12, 2018.
Technocrats and Warlords. In the 17th year of war (since the U.S. invasion in 2001) the Afghan elites are still fighting each other. Warlords, drug kings, and strongmen pose a strong challenge to the central government located in Kabul. Read “Afghanistan: Technocrats vs. Warlords”, The Diplomat, July 7, 2018.
Reset Time. Haroun Mir says it is “Time to hit the political reset button in Afghanistan”, Asia Times, July 18, 2018.
War of Attrition. Anthony H. Cordesman says that it seems as though the U.S. is fighting a war of attrition long enough and well enough for the threat to drop to a level that Afghan forces can handle or accept a peace settlement credible enough for the U.S. to leave. Read The Afghan War of Attrition: Peace Talks Remain an Extension of War by Other Means, Center for Strategic & International Studies, July 16, 2018.
Female Suicides in Afghanistan. Thousands of Afghan women attempt to take their lives every year. In Afghanistan it is estimated that 80% of suicide attempts are made by women. Read “Why female suicide in Afghanistan is so prevalent”, BBC News, July 1, 2018.
Virginity Exams. Heather Barr, a senior researcher with Human Rights Watch, tells us about a new policy in Afghanistan that will bar government health workers from engaging in medically meaningless vaginal exams to determine if they are virgins. Read “A Step Toward Ending ‘Virginity Exams’ in Afghanistan”, Human Rights Watch, July 10, 2018.
Photos – 1950s and 1960s. View 35 photos of Afghanistan from a more peaceful and prosperous time. “Afghanistan in the 1950s and 60s”, The Atlantic, July 2, 2013.
Podcast – 10th Anniversary of Battle of Wanat. In the summer of 2008 a group of U.S. soldiers at a remote base were attacked by Taliban fighters. Nine Americans would die and many more wounded. July of this year is the ten year anniversary of this intense battle. Colonel Bill Ostlund was the commander of the battalion whose soldiers were in the fight. He reflects on the battle in this hour-long podcast entitled The Spear – Tenth Anniversary of the Battle of Wanat, Modern War Institute at West Point, July 12, 2018.
10 Years After Wanat. Todd South explains why the lessons learned from a battle in a remote valley in Afghanistan remains important to the Army’s need to train, equip, and support small units so they can fight effectively in future battles. (Army Times, July 14, 2018).
Erik Prince on Afghanistan. The founder of Blackwater and former Navy SEAL gives his perspective on three things that need to be done to better support Afghanistan conflict. Embedded mentors for conventional Afghan units, better air support, and improved governance. He promotes a unique plan – using contract advisors – to get the ANDSF fighting once again. While it will never come to fruition he does have some interesting points. Watch A Better Solution for Afghanistan, posted on YouTube.com by Wars of Waste, July 10, 2018.
Airdrop Resupply of US SOF in Afghanistan. U.S. Special Operations Forces, in conjunction with Afghan Commandos, are pursuing fighters of the Islamic State of Khorasan Province in Nangarhar province, Afghanistan. Located at remote bases with roadways subject to IED emplacement the SOF teams are reliant on aerial delivery of supplies and equipment. Watch a two-minute long video of the loading of supplies to be airdropped to SOF teams on the ground. (Resolute Support, June 1, 2018).
Airstrikes Against ISIS-K. A number of airstrikes against Islamic State Khorasan Province fighters were conducted in May 2018 in support of U.S. and Afghan special operations forces in Nangarhar province, Afghanistan. (NSOCC-A, May 31, 2018, 5-min long video).
Resolute Support Gender Advisor, RS HQs, July 2, 2018. The RS gender initiatives advisor – Royal Australian Air Force Group Captain Kirrily Dearing discusses Afghanistan’s gender initiative progress and plans for the future.
The ANDSF Is Only Getting Stronger, RS HQs, July 18, 2018. U.S. Army Captain Christopher Collins, an operations advisor with the 1st SFAB, tells us the Taliban cannot win against Afghan forces.
One Shot One Kill – ANA Sniper Training, Resolute Support HQs, June 23, 2018. A Marine instructor provides a 2-min brief on how Afghan National Army 215th Corps (Helmand) instructors conduct proficiency training using the M24 sniper weapons system at Camp Shorabak.
Photo: Top photo is of an Afghan Special Security Force (ASSF) soldier by Resolute Support, June 27, 2017.