News, analysis, and commentary about the war in Afghanistan. Topics include security, ANDSF, Resolute Support, peace negotiations, governance, development, podcasts, videos, and more.
Afghan News Summary
The level of violence remains high in Afghanistan despite the U.S. – Taliban deal signed this past February. The overall security situation has not improved since February. The Taliban have continued their attacks on government checkpoints and forward bases – as well as conducting bombing attacks throughout the country.
- The Taliban announced that they will not conduct military operations over a 3-day Eid holiday.
- Russian Bounties on U.S. Troops. President Trump said in a recent interview with “Axios on HBO” on Tuesday, July 28, 2020 that he never raised the topic of Russia’s Taliban bounties with Putin – saying that the intelligence reports were ‘fake news’. He also provided a bit of an excuse for the Russians when he said “Well, we supplied weapons when they were fighting Russia, too.”(National Review, Jul 30, 2020). Retired General John Nicholson, former ISAF commander, provides his thoughts on Russia paying the Taliban to kill U.S. troops in “The U.S. must respond forcefully to Russia and the Taliban. Here’s how.”, The Washington Post, July 13, 2020.
- Ambassador Khalilzad continues to meet with Afghan, Taliban, and other ‘actors in the region’ to facilitate a reduction in violence and the continuing of the prisoner exchange.
- The Ministry of Health reports 36,542 confirmed COVID-19 cases with about 1,200 deaths (as of late July 2020).
- A United Nations report says that civilian casualties dropped by 13% in the first half of the year – the lowest figure since 2012. This was attributed in part in diminished Islamic State attacks and a scale back in operations by U.S. military forces. (Voice of America, Jul 27, 2020). View the report – Afghanistan: Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict Midyear Report: 1 January – 30 June 2020, United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), July 27, 2020, 35 pages, PDF.
- SRSG Deborah Lyons Remarks in Kabul. The UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan met with President Ghani and other senior officials on Tuesday, July 28th in Kabul. Read her prepared remarks.
Khost Protection Force – What Is Next? With the withdrawal of U.S. military forces and CIA paramilitary advisors comes the thorny question of what to do with the Khost Protection Force. The KPF, an Afghan paramilitary group trained and directed by the Central Intelligence Agency, has been a strategic and powerful asset for the U.S. mission in fighting terrorism; but it is disruptive to forms of justice of Afghan society and weakens Afghan institutions. Sulaiman Aziz Popal argues that efforts are needed to bring the KPF under the authority of the Afghan security forces. “Demobilizing the Khost Protection Force: Paramilitary Groups in Afghanistan”, The War Room, United States Army War College, July 17, 2020.
15-Year Old Girl Kills Taliban. An Afghan girl watched the Taliban execute her parents. Then she picked up an AK-47 and killed two of the militants. She is now being hidden by government authorities for her safety. (Radio Free Europe, Jul 22, 2020).
Logar Province – A Threat to Kabul? The province to the south of Afghanistan’s capital city has been very insecure for a number of years. The government controls only parts of three of its seven districts. This provides the Taliban positions closer to Kabul than almost everywhere else. Poor government leadership and a population sympathetic to the Taliban are one of the reasons for the poor security situation in the province. Read a detailed report in “A Threat at Kabul’s Southern Gate: A security overview of Logar province”, Afghanistan Analysts Network (AAN), July 18, 2020.
Stepping Up Attacks. In the weeks since U.S. troops pulled out of bases in eastern Afghanistan frequent Taliban attacks have become the new normal in Nangarhar province. Much of Nangarhar province was cleared of Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP) fighters last year. Many of these areas have now been occupied by the Taliban. “With US troops gone from two bases in eastern Afghanistan, Taliban steps up attacks”, Stars and Stripes, July 28, 2020.
Central Asian Militant Groups? Observers are speculating what will become of the individuals from Central Asia currently fighting alongside the Taliban under the banner of groups like the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). There are three such groups comprised predominantly of Uzbeks and Tajiks. (Terrorism Monitor, The Jamestown Foundation, Jul 28, 2020).
Taliban Winning? U.S. and coalition defense officials are worried that the insurgents are on the way to setting favorable conditions for a successful Taliban regime to take power once the U.S. and NATO drawdown is complete. “Report: Taliban Slowly Pushing Government to the Brink”, Voice of America, July 31, 2020.
Video – Taliban Training Camp in Badakhshan. A recent video celebrates the signing of the agreement that facilitates the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan and promotes the training of its “commandos” at a training camp in northeastern Afghanistan. “Taliban again promotes its Badakhshan training camp”, FDD’s Long War Journal,July 27, 2020.
3,500 ANDSF Killed Last Since Peace Agreement. President Ghani said that more the 3,500 Afghan security forces have been killed since the United States and the Taliban signed a peace agreement in February 2020. Almost 7,000 have been wounded. He says the Taliban have carried out a full-scale offensive against the ANDSF and the government of Afghanistan. (Voice of American, Jul 29, 2020).
ScanEagle Drone Program – Underperformer? The Defense Department spent at least $174 million between 2015 and 2019 to outfit the country’s security forces with fixed-wing drones that provide real-time video.
There were some major oversight problems documented in a recent report. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), SIGAR 20-44 Audit Report, July 2020, PDF, 57 pages.
Romanian Defense Minister Meets with NATO SOF. The Minister of Defense and head of the General Staff met with LTG Eric Wendt, the commander of the NATO Special Operations Headquarters on Thursday, July 30, 2020. One of the topics discussed was the Romanian servicemen active in Afghanistan. (ActMedia.eu, Jul 30, 2020).
Pay Dispute on BAF. African and Asian workers at Bagram Airfield say they are paid less for the same work because of their country of origin. Some workers from India, Kenya, Nepal, and Uganda are considering going on strike against Fluor Corp. (Stars and Stripes, Jul 28, 2020).
U.S. Embassy Guards and COVID-19. Much of the guard force for the Kabul embassy comes from Nepal – and they have been coping with an outbreak of coronavirus. “COVID and Contractors: Nepalis in an American War Zone”, The Diplomat, July 21, 2020.
U.S. Withdrawal from Bases. The Pentagon announced that the U.S. has withdrawn troops from five bases across Afghanistan. The bases – located in Helmand, Uruzgan, Paktika, and Laghman provinces – have been turned over to the ANDSF.
U.S. Pilot Ejects from Afghan A-29. A Super Tucano crashed in the northeastern portion of Afghanistan. The U.S. pilot ejected and has been rescued. The A-29 Super Tucano is the Afghan Air Force’s primary fixed-wing combat aircraft. (The Drive – War Zone, Jul 9, 2020).
The peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban have yet to begun. The exchange of prisoners between the Taliban and the Afghan government has been progressing. The U.S. is now down to 8,600 troops in country with a likelihood of just 4,000 by the U.S. presidential election in November.
Conflict Termination and Afghanistan. Mark Gilchrist, an Australian Army officer whose most recent assignment was a a planner on Headquarters Resolute Support in 2018/19, provides his thoughts on ending a war when the enemy is negotiating from a position of strength. “Blessed Are the Peacemakers: What Afghanistan Can (Re)Teach Military Planners About Conflict Termination”, Modern War Institute at West Point, July 22, 2020.
Government to Come? Talks between the Afghan government and the insurgents are likely to come about in the future. The two entities may likely participate in some type of power-sharing arrangement. However, the new form of government may very well be an Islamic Emirate – a system based on Shari’a (Islamic law). “As Intra-Afghan Talks Loom, Taliban Hark to 1990s Regime”, Gandhara Blog, July 29, 2020.
US Withdrawal – China Gains, India Loses. The U.S. troop withdrawal agreement with the Taliban will allow the United States to significantly reduce the amount of military forces in Afghanistan prior to the November 2020 U.S. election. The Taliban, for its part, has agreed to not attack U.S. or NATO forces. However, violence has risen dramatically since the ‘peace agreement’. The long term outcome will likely favor China. “Giving Iran and Afghanistan on a platter to China”, by Lt Gen Prakash Katoch (retd), South Asia Monitor, July 17, 2020.
Pentagon Spin. Michael Rubin says that the “. . . Pentagon should be honest.” They are putting a positive outlook on a dire situation. Trump wants to withdraw troops out of Afghanistan so he can say prior to the November elections that he ended the ‘forever war’. “Pentagon spin on Afghanistan insults American allies”, The Washington Examiner, July 16, 2020.
Afghanistan and ‘War Fatigue’. When signs of war fatigue present themselves, it is time to abandon combat operations. Spotting war fatigue early will help the nation mitigate costs in lives and money in the long term. “Mirroring Vietnam’s Failures in Afghanistan: DOD’s Descent Into War Fatigue”, War Room, United States Army War College, July 24, 2020.
Mission Accomplished? Not Quite. Diplomatic and economic tools will be the United State’s most effective forms of leverage going forward, and those most in line with future U.S. interests. Elizabeht Threlkeld, a fellow at the South Asia Program at the Stimson Center, explains in “Mission Accomplished? Balancing U.S. Interests and Future Challenges in Afghanistan”, Stimson.org, July 15, 2020.
Governance and Politics
‘Marshal’ Dostum. Afghan Vice President Abdul Rashid Dostum has been promoted to the rank of Marshal. Dostum still maintains considerable influence among the Uzbeks of northern Afghanistan. He is now ‘Marshal of Afghanistan’ – a title earned for his services in resolving political stalmates and contributions to the country’s security.
Government Cabinet Appointments Delayed. President Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah had reached a power-sharing agreement as part of a deal to resolve the presidential election dispute. Part of the deal gives Abdullah the ability to nominate certain cabinet officials. However, as always, the two seem to be in non-agreement on the appointments.
Economy and Development
Mineral Resources and Security. Farzad Ramezani Bonesh writes about how the country’s vast mineral resources present both opportunity and potential dangers. Afghanistan’s vast discovered mineral reserves could help the country become more economically viable and help it achieve its economic goals. But the reality is that the government has failed to come up with a comprehensive approach to manage this potential source of income. “The role of Afghanistan’s resources in security”, Asia Times, July 30, 2020.
Solar Power and Opium. Solar-powered irrigation systems are boosting opium cultivation on farmlands across Afghanistan – turning arid land into fertile ground. Afghanistan is responsible for more than two-thirds of the world’s illicit opium supply. “Solar sows surge in Afghan opium harvest”, Power Engineering International, July 28, 2020.
Kam Air – Story of an Afghan Airline. Kam Air was one of Afghanistan’s first private commercial airline. The airline has enjoyed impressive growth and services over a million passengers each year. The airline supports the country’s commercial, industrial, and tourism sectors. “The Rise and Rise of Kam Air”, Airline Ratings, July 27, 2020. The airline has a storied past – linked to the transport of opium and shipping of money from Afghanistan’s treasury to Dubai for corrupt government officials. See “Afghan corruption, opium, and the strange case of Kam Air”, The Christian Science Monitor, February 5, 2013. At one time it was considered one of the most dangerous airlines in the world – see “Kam Air – Least Safe Airline”, Afghan War Blog, January 14, 2015.
Books, Reports, and Publications
Report – Ghosts of the Past. A 112-page report that draws lessons from local force mobilization in Afghanistan details what the prospects are for the future. The international military and the Afghan state have turned to the local force model quite a few times over the past few decades in an effort to provide security at the local community and district level. The results have been mixed – sometimes providing security and other times creating private militias controlled by local power brokers and warlords. The report finds that local forces can work but there effectiveness is highly variable and context specific. Report is by Afghanistan Analysts Network & Global Public Policy Institute, July 2020.
Book Review – Un-American: A Soldier’s Reckoning of our Longest War, (Bloomsbury, 2020). Erik Edstrom’s book offers a personal and critical view of that Afghan War. Edstrom is a West Point graduate, Ranger School graduate, and former infantry officer who condemns the US senior civilian and military leadership for failing to think through and devise a viable strategy for Afghanistan. Read the review by Robert Cassidy in “A Hard Year in a Long War Without End”, Modern War Institute at West Point, July 15, 2020.
Book Review – U.S. Marines in Afghanistan, 2010-2014: Anthology and Annotated Bibliography. A 6-part collection of 21 commentaries and personal encounters of Marines during their tours in Afghanistan from 2010-2014. (Navy History, Jul 16, 2020).
Report – Strategies for reforming Afghanistan’s illicit networks. A 32-page report by Harris Samad and Fatima Salman examines illicit networks in Afghanistan and provides some policy recommendations to combat the networks. The Atlantic Council, July 15, 2020.
Movies, Podcasts, Webcasts, and Videos
Movie Review – The Outpost. Bill Newcott reviews a true to life film about a remote and indefensible combat outpost in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan. (The Saturday Evening Post, July 2, 2020). Watch the movie trailer.
Taliban and al Qaida Ties. A United Nations report published in July 2020 says that there are still ties between the two groups in Afghanistan. (United Nations Security Council, July 23, 2020, 24 pages, PDF).
Photo / Image: From SIGAR Quarterly Report to Congress, July 30, 2020.