Afghan War Update – May 2020

Afghanistan Conflict Monthly Update - May 2020

The Taliban and Afghan government are not making much progress at the negotiating table; although some prisoner exchanges are taking place. Former CEO Abdullah and President Ghani have come to a ‘political settlement’ on powersharing. Taliban violence is continuing despite pledges to the United States to reduce the level of violence in the conflict. The U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan is on schedule; probably at 8,600 level right now and may be down to zero by the fall presidential elections.

“We are acting as a police force, not the fighting force that we are, in Afghanistan. After 19 years, it is time for them to police their own country. Bring our soldiers back home but closely watch what is going on and strike with a thunder like never before, if necessary!”

President Donald Trump, Twitter tweet, May 27, 2020.


Foreign Combatants with Taliban. Afghan officials say hundreds of foreigners are fighting alongside the Taliban in northern Afghanistan. The militants are mostly from Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Many are fighting in units in Badakhshan province. (RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty, April 29, 2020.

Dissolving the ALP. Former Special Forces officer Don Bolduc gives his opinion on the dismantling of the ALP in “Why dissolving the Afghan Local Police program troubles its American architects“, by Howard Altman, Military Times, May 27, 2020.

Who Is In Control? Frud Bezhan explains how Afghanistan is divided up among the competing war factions. The Afghan government controls the capital, provincial capitals, big population centers, and most of the district centers. The insurgents enjoy control and influence in much of the rural areas. Read more in “The Taliban, The Government, And Islamic State: Who Controls What In Afghanistan?”, Radio Liberty, May 31, 2020.

Taliban vs. ISKP? Some members of the Afghan government say that the Taliban and Islamic State in Khorasan Province are secretly working together. The leaders of Resolute Support and the Taliban say ‘Not so’. Who is right? Read “Clashing assessments of links between Taliban and Islamic State point to problems for Afghanistan’s peace process”, The Washington Post, May 30, 2020.

Can ISKP Survive? The Islamic State in Afghanistan has been hit hard in the past few years by drones, U.S. and Afghan SOF, . . . and the Taliban. The leadership has been culled significantly. Read more in “Can the Islamic State’s Afghan Province Survive Its Leadership Losses?”, Lawfare, May 17, 2020.


Contract – Training Afghan Pilots. Raytheon Technologies has secured a 3-year contract worth $145 million to train Afghan Air Force pilots using rotary and fixed-wing platforms. (GovConWire, May 29, 2020).

Resolute Support

U.S. Withdrawal Proceeding. The U.S. troop drawdown is at or soon will be at 8,600 military personnel in Afghanistan. In addition, the Pentagon is presently plans to the Trump administration for a further withdrawal. One option is the removal of all U.S. troops before the fall 2020 presidential election.

The Mahmand Valley Ranger Raid. Read the story of combat engagement in 2017 that cost U.S. lives but also eliminated the mastermind of a terrorist attack on a Kabul hospital. (The Aviationist, May 25, 2020).

Remote Advising. The drawdown of U.S. troop levels and the coronavirus pandemic has led the U.S. and coalition partners to engage in ‘long-distance’ advising of the ANDSF. Read more in “Coalition sticks mostly to remote advising in Afghanistan”, Stars and Stripes, May 20, 2020.

Germany and Armed Drones? The lead framework nation in northern Afghanistan has used ISR drones over the past several years – conducting unarmed reconnaissance. However, a change could be coming. It has become a political issue with the Christian Democrats agreeing to the proposal while the Greens and Left Party are in opposition. Germany is considering a host of issues on the decision to arm drones in Afghanistan to include religious, legal, tactics, strategy, and politics. There are about 1,300 German troops based in northern Afghanistan. The Heron TP model drone can fly for up to 36 hours and can be armed with modifications. See “German military considers using armed drones”, Deutche Welle, May 11, 2020.

Airstrike Info Now Secret. The Air Forces Central command is no longer providing a regular update on the number of airstrikes in the CENTCOM area of operations (includes Afghanistan). AFCENT cites possible adverse impacts on negotiations with the Taliban as the reason. CENTCOM has up to now released monthly updates online with the total of weapons released as well as ISR sorties. Read more in “AFCENT Stops Releasing Airstrike Information as Taliban Talks Continue”, Air Force Magazine, May 4, 2020.

Peace Negotiations

Prisoner Releases. As of late May the Afghan government has released around 2,700 prisoners and the Taliban have released about 420 prisoners. The tentative agreement calls for a total of 5,000 government-held prisoners and 1,000 Taliban-held prisoners to be released.

Omar Samad on a Settlement. A former Afghan ambassador to France and Canada says that after forty-two years of conflict the Afghan people are owed an opportunity for peace. He calls for an inclusive settlement via international mediation to end the war. Read “Afghanistan Needs a Settlement”, New Atlanticist, May 29, 2020.

Khalilzad’s ‘Decent Interval’. The chief peace negotiator for the United States is either blind or lying. Mohammad Taqi, a Pakistani-American columnist, explains in “Pentagon Report Suggests the US-Taliban Deal Was Inked in Afghan Blood”, The Wire, May 25, 2020.

“The Taliban are playing the Khalilzad entourage like a fiddle – and in his zeal to make a swift exit from Afghanistan, he seems happy to let them do it.”

Mohammand Taqi, columnist for “The Wire”, May 25, 2020.

Governance, Development, & More

Power-Sharing Deal. The Afghan president and former chief executive officer have finally come to a deal to end the months-long feuding within the government. (Reuters, May 17, 2020).

Taliban Law. There are shadow courts to dispense with legal issues across rural Afghanistan. There is the corrupt Afghan government judicial system (where money talks) and the very strict, quick, and efficient Taliban judicial system. Learn more in “Rebel rule of law: Taliban courts in the west and north-west of Afghanistan”, Humanitarian Policy Group, May 2020, 10 pages, PDF.

COVID-19 Update. The pandemic has curtailed a significant part of the operations and training conducted by the ANDSF.

WHO on Coronavirus in Afghanistan. The World Health Organization has published a 4-page summary of news about coronavirus in Afghanistan. As of May 31st there have been 15,205 confirmed cases of people with COVID-19. 38,460 samples have been tested and there have been 257 deaths. Kabul is now the most affected part of the country in terms of confirmed cases. Read more in a brief by WHO dated May 31, 2020.

Food Security. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has published its report on food security and agriculture for Afghanistan. It forecasts high levels of food insecurity due to COVID-19, inflation, and conflict. The weather has been somewhat favorable for agriculture – good snowfall in the winter and adequate rainfall in the spring. See Country Brief Afghanistan, FAO/UN, May 28, 2020.

Water and Southwest Afghanistan. More settlers are setting up homes in the dry regions of Afghanistan in hopes of a new life. However these newly established farms depend heavily on ground water from dug wells. What happens when the wells go dry? David Mansfield provides an explanation in When the Water Runs Dry, Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit (AREU), May 2020.

Bacha Bazi in Afghanistan. Young boys earn money for their families financial needs by selling their dancing skills and bodies. Read more in “Shame and Silence: Bacha Bazi in Afghanistan”, Geopolitical Monitor, May 26, 2020.


Call to Disband CIA’s Militias. Researchers at the Chr. Michelsen Institute in Bergen, Norway have called for the disbandment of militias supported by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. They blame the paramilitary units of being involved in targeted killings and political violence. Read “Peace in Afghanistan? Watch the Militias”, The New Humanitarian, May 26, 2020.

U.S. Hostages – Left Behind? Kimberly Dozier writes about two U.S. citizens held by the Taliban and the likelihood that the U.S. government may not do much to recover them. (, May 8, 2020).

A Failed Partnership. After two decades of investment in blood and money the Americans are reevaluating (once again) their commitment to Afghanistan. Afghan leaders are accustomed to getting Washington’s blank checks and political support – but those days may be ending. The Trump administration just doesn’t see Afghanistan as ‘strategic’ any more. The Afghan elite no longer deserve America’s support. Read Arash Yaquin’s perspective in “Afghans Failed to Build a Strategic Partnership with the US”, Tolo News, May 30, 2020.

“These leaders squandered opportunities to make the system responsible, inclusive, and trusted by the international community and capable of building and sustaining a strategic partnership with Washington”.

Arash Yaquin, former US Embassy Kabul, Senior Cultural Affairs Advisor, and currently Institute of World Politics National Security Researcher.

U.S. Credibility. The move to a peaceful solution to the Afghan government has caused the United States to take actions that it would not normally take. Michael Rubin, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, explains in “US credibility in Afghanistan in danger”, AEI, May 14, 2020.

Pubs, Papers, and Reports

Repository of Afghan Documents. Scores of documents and publications are available in the Taliban Sources Project (TSP) of the University of Oslo.

Report – Terrorism in Afghanistan: A Joint Threat Assessment. This 88-page report (PDF) provides an assessment of terrorism and armed conflict in Afghanistan. It also details related security threats for the United States, Russia, and other key stakeholder countries. EastWest Institute, 2020.

DoD IG Report. The quarterly report to Congress by the DoD Inspector General has been published. See “IG Report on OFS – Afghanistan, May 2020”, SOF News, May 21, 2020.

SIGAR Report. Read the highlights of the latest Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction report to Congress. See “SIGAR Quarterly Report on Afghanistan – April 2020”, SOF News, May 3, 2020.

Movies, Videos, and Podcasts

Movie Trailer – The Outpost. Based on true events this soon to be released movie about a small U.S. unit under siege in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan is getting good reviews. The Battle of Kamdesh at Combat Outpost Keating was on of the bloodiest in the war. Screen Media Films, May 21, 2020, 2 minutes.


Image: Derived from photo by Sgt. Jaerett Engeseth, 75th Ranger Regiment, April 21, 2019.

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