“When I leave Afghanistan this time it will be my last time as a soldier…I would like to leave a country that is peaceful and unified. That is a tall order but that would be my hope.”General Scott Miller, RS Commander, December 2018
The Afghan war enters 2019 with no real difference from 2018. The Taliban still control or contest most of rural Afghanistan. The Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) continue to man ‘static’ defensive positions and checkpoints, conduct offensive ‘clearing operations’ to root out Taliban forces, and react to Taliban attacks of district centers.
Leadership Changes. In late December 2018 President Ghani appointed new acting ministers for two of the security institutions. Asadullah Khalid is the new acting minister for defense and Amrullah Saleh is the new acting minister for interior. Both are former heads of the National Directorate of Security (NDS).
CIA’s Paramilitary Forces. Read an interesting article about the Central Intelligence Agency’s paramilitary forces in Afghanistan. See “C.I.A.’s Afghan Forces Leave a Trail of Abuse and Anger”, The New York Times, December 31, 2018.
And the Rebuttal. Ian Allen, a former Marine and CIA Clandestine Service Officer, spent time in Afghanistan working with paramilitary groups. He takes issue with the Dec 2018 NYT’s piece on the CIA’s paramilitary forces. Read “On Nobility and the CIA’s War in Afghanistan”, The Cipher Brief, January 3, 2018.
CIA’s Khost Protection Unit – Accused. Some reports are saying that the Central Intelligence Agency’s paramilitary unit in eastern Afghanistan has been killing civilians. (Afghanistan Analyst Network, Jan 21, 2019).
Green Village Attack. A residential compound in Kabul for contractors and workers of private firms, PMCs, humanitarian organizations, UN, and other international organizations was attacked with a car bomb on Monday, January 14, 2019. Four people died and over 90 were injured; many of them Afghans. An American and Indian citizen were among the dead. I lived there for a few years and had experienced a few attacks on this complex (one in early 2012) and this was by far the worst attack (a friend sent pictures). Some German policemen were also ‘slightly injured’. The attack was carried out by a suicide bomber and four insurgents. Taliban social media accounts posted Google images of the location of Green Village. (Pajihwok, Jan 15, 2019).
Wardak Attack. The National Directorate of Security (NDS) suffered a major setback in in Maidan Shar, Wardak province on January 21st when scores of its officers were killed by the Taliban. A mixture of NDS and local uprising fighters are dead. The NDS has been instrumental in the support of selected militia groups. The attack was initiated with a suicide bomber in a vehicle (SVBIED) ramming into the intelligence compound. He drove through the front gate at a high rate of speed and detonated within the compound. Reports say the vehicle was a captured ANDSF Humvee. Then gunmen entered the intelligence compound killing scores. Some estimates of casualties exceed 100 people; other estimates are lower. One Ministry of Defense source said over 126 government security forces killed. A likely figure is probably 50-60 dead. Thus far, there are no reports of U.S. deaths in the incidents.
Tension on Border. Turkmenistan is reportedly registering reservists as troubles mount on the Afghan border. Many of the Afghan districts bordering Turkmenistan are fully or partially controlled by militants. (Radio Free Europe, Jan 15, 2019).
The Sangorian: An Uprising Force in Helmand? An anti-Taliban militia has been weakening the Taliban movement in Helmand province. Read more in “The Sangorian: Weakening the Taliban from Within”, Terrorism Monitor – Jamestown Foundation, January 11, 2019.
Kabul City Security. The Ministry of Interior has started a new initiative to reduce the number of checkpoints in Kabul. It will use a plan to patrol with mobile units to prevent crimes and ensure law and order in the city. (Tolo News, Jan 2, 2018).
ANA TF. The Afghan National Army Territorial Force is being mobilized. This new local defense force falls under the control of the Ministry of Defense. A similar force – the Afghan Local Police – was established by U.S. special forces in 2010 and now has about 28,000 police. The ALP falls under the Ministry of Interior. The ANA TF has sometimes been referred to as the ANA Territorial Army. Read an analysis of the ANA TF in “The Afghan Territorial Force: Learning from the Lessons of the Past“, Afghanistan Analysts Network, January 15, 2019.
TA in 207th Corps Area. Some 300 members of the newly established ‘Territorial Army’ have completed their 3-month long training and will soon deploy to locations in western Afghanistan. (Tolo News, Jan 14, 2019).
ANP and Maintaining Facilities. The Afghan National Police have been provided millions of dollars of equipment and facilities. Most are not used because of corruption, illiteracy, ineptness, and other reasons. Read more in “Afghan police have Western training and facilities, but wonder how to maintain them”, Stars and Stripes, December 29, 2018.
Resolute Support Mission
Turkey Extends Deployment. In December 2018 the Turkish parliament ratified a motion to extend the presence of Turkish troops in Afghanistan for two more years. In addition, it also extended the authority of the Turkish government to permit foreign Army personnel to be transported to and from Afghanistan through Turkey.
Insider Attack in Herat. NATO advisors came under attack on January 2, 2019 when Afghan border policemen fired rockets at the NATO troops visiting an Afghan unit. The Italian advisors were unhurt according to RS HQs. One of the attackers was killed. An Afghan policewoman was wounded during the attack.
Marines Leaving Helmand? With the likely drawn down of U.S. troops in Afghanistan on the horizon there is speculation of where the drawn down will take place. Some are looking at Helmand province where Task Force Southwest is based. Read “New in 2019: Is This the Final Task Force Southwest Rotation to Afghanistan?”, Marine Corps Times, January 3, 2018.
2nd SFAB to Deploy. Despite President Trump’s ‘tweet’ that over 7,000 U.S. troops will be brought home from Afghanistan the 2nd Security Force Assistance Brigade (SFAB) is still on schedule to deploy to Afghanistan. See “Army Chief: 2nd Advisory Team Will Go to Afghanistan Despite Withdrawal Plan”, Military.com, January 16, 2019.
Afghan-German Detained for Espionage. A dual national who worked for the German military has been detained on suspicion of passing data to an Iranian intelligence agency. He was a language expert and cultural advisor for the Bundeswehr. (Voice of America, Jan 15, 2019).
The Advisor and The Interpreter. An article printed in Military Review in 1968 has relevance today as well. Read “Interpreter – – or Filter”, Military Review, February 1968.
Postponement. The presidential elections, originally scheduled for April 2019, will now be held on July 20, 2019. The postponement will allow officials to fix ‘technical problems’ that became apparent during the October 2018 parliamentary elections. The implementation of the biometric identification system during the October elections was extremely flawed. Election personnel were not adequately trained on how to use the systems and many of the staff didn’t even show up at the polling sites. The voter lists were incomplete and many times fraudulent. Many of the polling booths opened several hours late.
Candidates. There are several candidates running for president to include current president Ashraf Ghani, current CEO Abdullah Abdullah, Hanif Atmar, former Afghan warlord Hekmatyar, and several others.
Parliamentary Elections – Some Good? Ahmadullah Achiwal points out some of the positive results of the recent parliamentary elections held in October 2018 in Afghanistan. (Eurasia Review, Jan 14, 2018).
Paper – Afghan Elections. Thomas H. Johnson, of the Naval Postgraduate School, has penned a 123-page report about elections in Afghanistan. Read The Myth of Afghan Electoral Democracy: The Irregularities of the 2014 Presidential Election, posted by Afghan Institute for Strategic Studies, January 2019.
Trump and Afghanistan
Another Surprise Decision. President Trump surprised a lot of people – to include senior administration, defense, and state officials – when he indicated that he would order the withdrawal of 7,000 U.S. military personnel from Afghanistan. The unanticipated change in plans will certainly cut back on the ability of Resolute Support to conduct the security force assistance mission at levels below police zone or army corps level. It is unlikely that the U.S. would cut back on its SOF units that conduct and support the counter terrorist (CT) mission.
Trump’s History Lesson on Afghanistan. During a January 2nd cabinet meeting and subsequent press conference President Trump said that the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979 because Afghanistan was sending terrorists to the Soviet Union. He went on to say that the U.S. is 6,000 miles away and that Pakistan, India, and Russia should do the fighting against the Taliban in Afghanistan. Most Afghan Hands have a different take on the Soviet invasion and occupation of Afghanistan. Seth Jones (who spent a year with U.S. SOF in Afghanistan) provides a history lesson in “The Soviet Experience in Afghanistan: Getting History Right”, Lawfare Blog, January 13, 2019.
SIGAR Reports. President Trump has instructed the Secretary of Defense to stop the publication of the quarterly reports on Afghanistan by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. Not sure how that would work as the reports are mandated by Congress.
It seems everyone is engaging in peace talks. The Taliban are meeting with the Iranians, the Pakistanis are meeting with the Russians and Chinese, the U.S. is meeting with the Taliban. However, the Taliban refuse to meet with Afghan government officials.
Khalilzad. U.S. Special Envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad has been racking up the frequent flyer miles traveling throughout the Middle East and South Asia in his quest to bring peace to Afghanistan. He has been meeting with Afghan government officials, leaders from the countries in the region (Pakistan, India, etc.), and the Taliban. The Taliban have criticized Khalilzad of straying from the agreed upon agenda and the talks are now stalled.
Taliban Conditions for Talks. The Taliban are willing to talk to U.S. representatives as long as three issues are discussed:
- U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan
- Lifting ban on movement of Taliban leaders
- Exchange of prisoners
Weakening Bargaining Position. One of the up front demands by the Taliban is that all foreign troops must leave Afghanistan. Usually, this would be one of the points that would be ‘bargained’ during negotiations. However, this was abruptly taken off the table when President Trump announced in December that half of the U.S. troops (about 7,000) would be redeployed back to the states.
New Afghan Rep to UN. Ms. Adela Raz has been appointed by President Ghani to replace the country’s current permanent representative to the United Nations in early 2019. Ms. Raz has a diverse background. Her education was in the Boston Massachusetts (U.S.) area where she attended Simmons College and the Fletcher School at Tufts University. She served with the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) as well as in various positions in the Afghan government.
Privatizing the War
The resignation of Secretary Mattis has removed one of the obstacles of using contractors to train and advise the ANDSF. Mattis was an opponent of the Erik Prince plan for the Afghan conflict. The new acting SEC DEF is reportedly on friendly terms with Prince. One of the ironies of the Afghan conflict is how many contractors are already engaged in the train, advise, and assist (TAA) mission. These training and advising cotractors are generally found at the ministry, institutional, and operational levels (ANA corps).
Stay or Go
Trump’s Afghan Plans. Aaron O’Connell, a history professor at UT Austin and former U.S. Marine, writes about President Trump’s policies toward Afghanistan in “What Will Be The Fate of Trump’s Afghan Campaign?”, War on the Rocks, January 18, 2019.
Ending the Conflict. Gary Anderson, a retired Marine Corps colonel who spent some time in Afghanistan, provides his perspective on how to resolve the long-running conflict. Read “A Satisfactory End State for Afghanistan”, The Washington Times, December 31, 2018.
Stay in Afghanistan, But . . . Richard N. Haass says that the United States should avoid a rapid, unconditional exit from Afghanistan but also minimize the costs of staying. Read “Agonizing Over Afghanistan”, Council on Foreign Relations, January 14, 2019.
Consequences. Four writers with the RAND Corporation have collaborated on a 15-page report about the U.S. leaving Afghanistan. Read Consequences of a Precipitous U.S. Withdrawal from Afghanistan, RAND, January 2019.
Making Afghan Intel Work. Tamim Asey, a former Afghan Deputy Minister of Defense and Director General at the Afghan National Security Council, argues that now is the time to lay a strong foundation and reform the Afghan intelligence apparatus. Read “Making Intelligence Work: A Call to Reform and Re-organize the Afghan Intelligence Community”, Small Wars Journal, December 24, 2018.
Afghan Elite Need to Step Up. Tamin Asey argues that the country of Afghanistan has some choices to make on its future on the domestic and international front. Read “The End of the Longest American War and the Uncertain Future of Afghanistan”, Small Wars Journal, January 19, 2019.
CIA’s Work in Afghanistan. Tim Lynch, a retired Marine Corps infantry officer and a contractor with 8 years in Afghanistan, provides his thoughts on the Central Intelligence Agency’s paramilitary activities. Read “Fighting in the Shadows”, The Freq, January 15, 2019.
Impediments to the US Mission in Afghanistan. Manoj Kumar Mishra takes a look at the rationale for U.S. intervention in Afghanistan and the morphing of the mission. (Asia Times, Dec 28, 2018).
“I’ll Be Back” Policy is Better. A former Marine Corps officer provides his perspective on the current conflict in Afghanistan. He believes it is futile to build a functioning state in a land that has never had one. Read “There is No Military Victory in Afghanistan“, The National Interest, January 7, 2019.
Lessons Learned with COIN. Barbara Elias, an Assistant Professor of Government at Bowdoin, says that military dominance is no guarantee to winning a COIN conflict. Read “Coercing an Ally: The Problem with Counterinsurgency Warfare”, Bowdoin, January 9, 2019.
Camp Commando Report. The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) has published a 26-page report on construction at Camp Commando. The base is the location of the Afghan National Army Special Operations Command (ANASOC). (SIGAR 1909 Inspection Report, Dec 2018).
CRS Report. An update by the Congressional Research Service on Afghanistan has been published. Read a 17-page report entitled Afghanistan: Background and U.S. Policy in Brief, January 16, 2019.
Nomads. Dr. Antonio Giustozzi writes a 26-page report entitled The Role of the Afghan State in Managing Nomadism and Nomad-Settler Conflict, an Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit (AREU) issues paper, December 2018.
Guardian Angel’s in Afghanistan, U.S. Army, January 21, 2019, 2 minutes. This short video explains the duties and responsibilities of Guardian Angels who are tasked with providing internal security to Soldiers during combat operations in Afghanistan. The GAs focus on all aspects of security threats as well as exit routes in emergency situations to keep advisors safe.
BSC at BAF. The Biomedical Science Corps at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan is composed of both officers and enlisted Airmen from 15 different career fields. Learn what they do at the Craig Joint Theater Hospital at BAF. (455th Air Expeditionary Wing, Jan 19, 2019, 1 min).