An update on news, analysis, and commentary on the Afghan conflict for the month of June 2020.
Russian Bounty for American Lives. Various news outlets are reporting that a Russian military intelligence unit linked to assassination attempts in Europe had offered rewards for the killing of American and coalition troops in Afghanistan. Unit 29155 of the GRU is reported to be the responsible agency. There are varying accounts of the credibility of the information. (Reuters, Jun 26, 2020). President Trump has denied knowing about the Russian bounties for dead U.S. troops. (New York Intelligencer, Jun 26, 2020). Members of both political parties in Congress are demanding some answers from the White House and Department of Defense on this topic. (National Public Radio, Jun 29, 2020).
Bloodiest Week in Decades. Afghanistan’s security forces suffered an extremely hard week in the later part of June. Over 290 members of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) were killed. Over 550 were wounded. The Taliban carried out 422 attacks in 32 provinces. See “Afghan Security Forces Suffer Bloodiest Week in 19 Years”, Voice of America, June 22, 2020.
Insider Attack Investigation. On September 3, 2018, Army Command Sergeant Major Timothy Bolyard was shot and killed by Afghan National Police security detail. He was a member of the 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade, a six-time Bronze Star recipient, and veteran of seven deployments. (Army Times, Jun 24, 2020).
Resolute Support Mission
Free Lunch. Billing mistakes by the U.S. military resulted in Coalition members getting free meals at the dining facility at NATO’s Afghanistan headquarters in Kabul. The total of free meals provided amount to more than $9 million. And that was just one dining facility in the country. Fifteen countries are obligated to pay for the dining services while 20 other Coalition countries get a pass on paying for meals. (SIGAR, Jun 26, 2020).
U.S Troop Drawdown. The current troop level is somewhere around 8,600. It appears that the Trump Administration is about to announce (or implement) another reduction of an additional 4,000 troops. This would be the lowest level in country since 2001. The withdrawal agreement with the Taliban has the U.S. completely withdrawn by April 2021.
White House Letter to Congress. The Trump Administration has published a letter to Congress laying out how military operations are supporting the U.S. counterterrorism efforts. Afghanistan gets a mention. (White House, June 9, 2020)
NATO Members Recommit. Several members of the Coalition are continuing to rotate units into Afghanistan – so the commitment to continue support to the RSM remains strong. This could change with continued U.S. withdrawals.
4th SFAB. The 4th Security Forces Assistance Brigade has finished up its deployment training at Fort Polk and will soon head to Afghanistan.
COVID-19 and Afghanistan
COVID Update. There have been over 31,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Afghanistan with about 800 deaths. The U.S. has removed contractors and halted all non-essential services and activities at Forward Operating Base Fenty in Jalalabad. It is believed that this is due to an outbreak of coronavirus; however, it could be because of the desire to rapidly draw down forces in Afghanistan. See “Army halts MWR at Afghanistan base, orders contractors to leave to prevent virus spread”, Stars and Stripes, June 26, 2020.
Coronavirus Threat. The COVID-19 pandemic is reducing the number of Afghan security forces available to fight the Taliban. Some units are reporting suspected infection rates of 60 to 90 percent. It is estimated by the Afghan Health Ministry that as many as 26 million people in the country could be infected with the virus and the death tool could reach 100,000. Read “Coronavirus sweeps through Afghanistan’s security forces”, The Washington Post, June 24, 2020.
The government of Afghanistan has freed almost 4,000 Taliban prisoners. The U.S. – Taliban agreement calls for a release of up to 5,000 prisoners. The Taliban have released over 1/2 of the 1,000 prisoners that they have agreed to free.
Corruption Undermines Afghan Govt Position. John Sopko, the head of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), said that a corrupt Afghan government weakens its negotiation stance with the Taliban. See “US watchdog: Afghan gov’t weakened ahead of Taliban talks”, The Washington Post, June 25, 2020.
Do the Taliban Really Want Peace? Michael Semple, a professor at Queen’s University Belfast, reviews the Taliban’s actions on the battlefield and at the peace table. He asks “Can the Taliban Be Part of a Lasting Peace in Afghanistan”, World Politics Review, June 29, 2020.
UK Ambassador Addresses UNSC. Read a statement by Ambassador Jonathan Alle, the UK Charge d’Affaires to the United Nations, about the situation in Afghanistan. See “Achieving the goals of the peace agreement in Afghanistan”, GOV.UK, June 25, 2020.
Pakistan Can Help. Michael Rubin argues that Afghanistan’s eastern neighbor could do a lot more to bring peace to the region. He says the ball is now in Islamabad’s court. Read “This Is How Pakistan Can Fulfill Its Promises to Afghanistan”, The National Interest, June 28, 2020.
Possible Haqqani Network – Taliban Discord. The COVID-19 pandemic has struck some of the insurgency’s leadership. According to Yelena Biberman, an associated professor of political science and book author, this could cause a fracture within the Afghan insurgency. Read “A divided Taliban could unleash a new proxy war in Afghanistan”, Atlantic Council, June 29, 2020.
UNODC World Drug Report. The United Nations Drugs and Crime Office’s report shows a decrease in the cultivation of opium in Afghanistan in 2019. Government eradication activities had almost no effect on illicit farming. (Afghanistan Analysts Network, Jun 25, 2020).
Report on Afghan Corruption. The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan has published a report entitled Afghanistan’s Fight Against Corruption: Crucial for Peace and Prosperity. This 78-page PDF was published in June 2020.
Videos, Podcasts, and Movies
Webinar – The Broader Implications of U.S. Disengagement from Afghanistan. Javid Ahmad, Ronald Neumann, J. Alexander Thier, and Elizabeth Threlkeld take part in a Zoom webinar panel discussion about the U.S. departure from Afghanistan. Middle East Institute, June 26, 2020, 1 hour.
Movie Tidbits – War Machine. In 2017 a satirical war movie was released that starred Brad Pitt where he depicts the role of General McChrystal – the ISAF commander in Afghanistan. (Republic World, Jun 26, 2020).
Photo: U.S. Army Capt. Curtis W. Clerkley, assigned to the 2nd Security Force Assistance Brigade (SFAB), provides updates to British Army Brig. Gen. Leigh R. Tingey during an Afghan-led and executed clearance operation Sept 25, 2019 in Southeastern Afghanistan. Tingey served as the commander of Task Force-Southeast while deployed to Afghanistan from August 2019 through March 2020 in support of Operation Freedom Sentinel and Resolute Support to train, advise and assist the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) and institutions. Photo by MSG Alejandro Licea.