Afghan Conflict Update 20180920 – Elections coming up, Afghan police taking casualties, Special Mission Wing, negotiations with the Taliban – there is lot’s going on in Afghanistan – some good and some not so good.
Helicopter Shot Down. The Taliban claimed it shot down an Afghan military helicopter in the western province of Farah on Friday, September 14. (FDD’s Long War Journal, Sep 15, 2018).
Challenges for the ANP. The Afghan National Police are on the front lines of the fight against the Taliban. They have been and continue to take significant casualties in the long-running Afghan conflict. A recent article notes the difficulties the ANP face in “Forced to fight as soldiers and taking casualties, Afghan police demand reforms”, Reuters, September 17, 2018.
“More Dangerous Than Ever”. The Taliban control more territory than at any point since the removal of their regime 17 years ago. Although both sides are attempting to gain the upper hand the conflict appears to be in a stalemate. The Taliban control many of the rural districts and continually threaten many other district centers. The government is in control of the major cities, provincial capitals, and almost all of the ring road (at least during daylight hours). Read “Why Afghanistan is more dangerous than ever”, BBC News, September 14, 2018.
Insider Attack in Char Bolak District. Nine members of the Afghan Local Police (ALP) were killed by another policeman at a checkpoint in northern Balkh province this past week.
Security and Ashura. The ten-day commemoration of Muharram by Afghanistan’s Shia Muslims will require more security. This is a sacred time for the Shiites that peaks on Thursday. It is also the time that the Islamic State of Khorsan Province (ISKP) likes to conduct terrorist attacks against the Shi’ite community. The size of the Shi’ite community is somewhere between 10 to 20% of the population – depending on which resource you turn to. Most are Persian-speaking Hazaras and Tajiks. Read “Before Ashura: Extra security measures in place for second year running”, Afghanistan Analysts Network (AAN), September 19, 2018.
Afghanistan’s Special Mission Wing. Marty Skovlund embeds with the SMW in Afghanistan and provides insight on the unit’s mission and performance. The SMW supports the Afghan Commandos and other units of the Afghan Special Security Forces. (BRCC, Sep 2018).
Resolute Support Mission
Kabul Base Infrastructure Improves. The folks working and living on the RS HQs compound across the street from the American Embassy are seeing some improvements to the small complex that houses RS HQs personnel. In addition, future plans include a massive C2 center – 3-stories high with over 800 workspaces.
This past summer the ‘temporary’ pax terminal was replaced with a more permanent structure and a control tower for incoming and outgoing rotary wing traffic. In 2010 the only aircraft that used the soccer field were those carrying VIPs. Everyone else moved by a convoy that ran once or twice a day or by single or double vehicle movement. From 2010 to 2014 I usually traveled between the airport and ISAF/RS compound by vehicle. From 2015 to 2017 it was by rotary wing. Now the soccer field sees constant rotary wing traffic. This is due to the insecurity of the short route from RS HQs to the Kabul airport.
Read more in “NATO base in Kabul is building more amid open-ended US commitment”, by Chad Garland, Stars and Stripes, September 17, 2018.
New Zealand Continues the Mission. The New Zealand Defence Force will continue military training deployments to Afghanistan. The Afghan deployment will be extended to September 2019. (ReliefWeb, Sep 17, 2018).
Changes in Patrol Strategy. The deaths of three Czech soldiers in Afghanistan in August 2018 has prompted some changes in patrolling procedures. Czech soldiers will no longer lead joint patrols with the ANDSF – the patrols will now be led by Afghan soldiers who will be covered by NATO troops. (Radio Praha, Sept 15, 2018.
IPCB Meets in Kabul. Abdullah Abdullah addressed the opening ceremony of the International Police Coordination Board. The IPCB stood up in January 2007 in the city of Kabul to act as the main coordination board for police reform in Afghanistan.
Feeding the SFAB. A few members of the 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade are now at a base in Tarin Kowt formerly used by NATO Special Operations Forces. The SFAB soldiers are advising and training the ANDSF and are enjoying the culinary expertise of cooks from the 4th ID. Read “Feeding the force: Improving morale one meal at a time”, 4th ID PAO, Sep 14, 2018).
Election Challenges. The parliamentary elections are scheduled for next month. Once again the international community is hoping that Afghanistan can manage to run an election that is not riddled with corruption – like almost every single one since 2001. There are some challenges with the electoral process but candidates are busy campaigning. We shall see how this election works out. Fingers crossed but ready for disappointment once again.
UK Rep on Elections. Ambassador Karen Pierce, the UK Permanent Representative to the United Nations provided remarks at the UN Security Council Briefing on Afghanistan. (Gov.UK, Sep 17, 2018).
Fake Tazkeras. A statement by the Government Media & Information Center about the investigation into fake IDs. (GMIC, Sep 19, 2018).
Taliban – Winning the Hearts and Minds. Learn how the Taliban are governing Charkh district. The militant’s new strategy is to out-govern the U.S.-backed Afghan administration in Kabul. It seems to be working in the rural districts. Read “The Taliban’s Fight for Hearts and Minds”, Foreign Policy, September 12, 2018.
Taliban Rule at District Level. Of the almost 400 districts in Afghanistan there are some that are governed by the Taliban and others that are influenced by the Taliban. Michael Semple, a professor at Queen’s University Belfast, examines how the Taliban govern the Chapa Dara district of Kunar province in eastern Afghanistan. See “Afghanistan’s Islamic Emirate Returns: Life Under a Resurgent Taliban”, World Politics Review, September 18, 2018.
Ghani Meets with Modi. President Ashraf Ghani met with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi to discuss bilateral relations and the security situation in Afghanistan.
Afghan Ambassador Steps Down. The ambassador to India is calling it quits and returning to Kabul. He served there for six years.
Some Corruption in the IT World. News reports on Twitter say that the Minister of Communication & Information Technology sent a text message from his mobile phone to a candidate to head up the Directorate of Technology and Innovation. Seems to get the job the candidate has to provide $10K. Business as usual in Afghanistan. I wonder if the Minister really understands how C&IT works?
BSA Tensions. Discussions are getting heated about the bilateral security agreement between Afghanistan and the United States. Members of the Afghan parliament “. . . have voted to review the security pact considering the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan.” (Khaama Press, Sep 19, 2018).
Russian Talks. Afghanistan’s deputy foreign minister is visiting Moscow to see if a new round of peace talks on Afghanistan can take place. It was originally scheduled for September 4th but delayed by Kabul. The euphoria of possible peace talks this summer has faded to a more realistic attitude. The past RS Cdr was a big promoter on the possibility of peace talks; in time we will see if the new RS Cdr feels compelled to advance the notion that peace is around the corner or to adopt a more realistic public stance that the ever-present talk about peace . . . is just a lot of talk.
Drought Conditions. Afghanistan’s water resources are diminishing causing problems for agriculture and resulting in a shortage of drinking water. More than 20 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces are experiencing drought conditions. (Tolo News, Sep 17, 2018). Various international agencies are sounding the alarm on this problem.
UNDP Reports from Herat. The United Nations Development Program has been working with the Afghan Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation, and Livestock (MAIL) on several projects in Herat province. Read “Out and About with UNDP’s Deputy Country Director”, UNDP Afghanistan, September 3, 2018.
Commentary and Analysis
RS HQs Messaging Mission. It is no secret that Resolute Support’s media team has been working over time trying to convince us that the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) is improving in their capabilities and that the Taliban are being forced to the negotiating table by military, diplomatic, and political pressure. Sometimes it is perplexing trying to figure out who the ‘target audience’ is in that STRATCOM activity. Now news comes to us via Erin Banco, a national security reporter, that attempts to get Fox News signed on as a ‘presidential influencer’ possibly took place. Read more in “General’s Secret Weapon to Keep Trump in Afghanistan: Fox News”, Daily Beast, September 17, 2018.
US Shot Itself in the Foot. Maj Gen Harsha Kakar (India) writes on how the United States has backed itself into a corner. It can’t resolve the dispute in Afghanistan militarily – the Afghan security forces are too weak, corrupt, and ineffective. The peace process is stymied because the Taliban are winning on the battlefield and Pakistan isn’t really interested in a peaceful Afghanistan (something about ‘strategic depth’). The U.S. is taking measures to force Pakistan to cooperate but Pakistan is / will just turn more towards China for support. The U.S. needs the Pakistan ground lines of communication (LOCs) and airspace to conduct operations and supply the logistical tail. If the U.S. had not alienated Iran over the nuclear weapons agreement it might have been able to use Iranian ports to move equipment and supplies into Afghanistan . . . but that is history now. So, like it or not, the U.S. has to deal with Pakistan . . . on Pakistan’s terms. Read more in “US responsible for mess in Afghanistan”, Indian Defence Review, September 13, 2018.
Prince – Ending the War. Erik Prince, former Navy SEAL and former head of Blackwater, is continuing his lobbying for a plan to use private contractors as air support and trainers to resolve the Afghan conflict. He thinks the current complement of U.S. SOF along with 6,000 contractors could do the trick. At the height of the surge (2011?) the U.S. probably had in excess of 100,000 contractors in Afghanistan. Now everyone is aghast that he proposes 6,000 advisors and trainers. Going un-noticed is the significant number of contracting advisors and trainers in country already. Not all his ideas are bad; but it is a non-starter due to political reasons. (BBC, Sep 18, 2018, 4 mins, video).
Eulogy for Haqqani. Thomas Joscelyn provides context to al Qaeda’s eulogy. Read “Analysis: Al Qaeda eulogizes Jalaluddin Haqqani”, FDD’s Long War Journal, September 17, 2018.
Winning in Afghanistan. Jeff Schogol recently returned from Afghanistan. He provides us a glimpse of the security situation in Kabul and across the country. Read “Afghanistan, 17 Years Later: This Is What Winning Looks Like”, Task & Purpose, September 13, 2018.
The ‘Golden Hour’ – Medical Care in Austere Locations. Dr. Kai Engstad, a surgeon with experience in austere environments (Kurdistan, Myanmar, etc.), provides his perspective on the ‘Golden Hour’ and facing “. . . the reality of smaller footprints, immature deployments in nonpermissive environments, much less logistical infrastructure, and a paucity of evacuation assets.” Read “How The ‘Golden Hour’ Created a Crisis in Care for the Deployed Warfighter”, Task & Purpose, September 17, 2018.
Reports and Books
UN Report on Situation in Afghanistan. The United Nations has published its quarterly 16-page report entitled “The Situation in Afghanistan and Its Implications for International Peace and Security”, Report of the Secretary-General, September 10, 2018.
UNAMA Briefing. Read the transcript of Mr. Tadamichi Yamamoto’s briefing to the United Nations Security Council. (United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, Sep 17, 2018).
Read also United Nations Security Council Debate on the Situation in Afghanistan – a statement by H.E. Mahmoud Saikal, Afghan Ambassador to the U.N., September 17, 2018, pdf file.
America’s TCNs. Everyone is aware of the huge contractor presence in the war zones of today’s conflicts. There are times where the number of contractors outnumbered the number of military personnel in both Iraq and Afghanistan. While many of those contractors were U.S. (I did six years as a contractor in Afghanistan) the bulk of the contractors were “Third Country Nationals” or TCNs. TCNs were not U.S., Afghan, or Iraqi citizens but from a different country of origin – Nepal, Philippines, Uganda, etc. Two new books are out that tell the story of the TCNs. Read “The Nepalis Fighting America’s Wars”, The Diplomat, September 19, 2018.
Fiscal Cost of Conflict. Philip Barrett examines how conflict inflicts a monetary penalty. Read The Fiscal Cost of Conflict: Evidence from Afghanistan 2005-2016, International Monetary Fund, September 11, 2018.
John Sopko on LL in Afghanistan. The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) addressed a conference at the University of Ottawa, Canada on September 19, 2018. His opening statement was a quote from a former American Ambassador (2003):
“If present trends continue, five years from now Afghanistan is likely to look very much like it does today: reconstruction stagnation, a weak central government starved of resources, unable to extend its influence to regions where oppressive warlords reign, opium production soars, and guerrilla warfare in Afghan-Pakistani border areas generated by Pakistan-based Muslim extremists . . .”
Sopko’s prepared remarks can be read in this 13-page PDF.
Videos and Podcasts
Podcast – What’s Next for the Haqqani Network?, AfPak File, September 19, 2018. A joint podcast of RFE/RL and The Wilson Center explores the impact of Haqqani’s death may have on the war in Afghanistan. Guests are Sahar Khan, Daud Khattak, Michael Kugelman, and Haroun Mir. (36 minutes).
Video – MEDEVAC Flights to Germany. A 4-min long video explains the mission of the 455th Expeditionary Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron based at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan. (455th AEW, Sep 15, 2018).
Photo: British helicopter flight over Kabul. Photo by Resolute Support, Feb 14, 2018.