Afghanistan Update June 2019

General Scott Miller, commander of the NATO Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan, meets with Afghan President Ghani in September 2018.

Recent news, analysis, and commentary about the Afghan conflict: security, governance, development, Resolute Support, Taliban, and the ANDSF. Found below are a sampling of news articles, reports, publications, and papers about the Afghan conflict from the last few months.

Security

The ebb and flow of the security situation has not changed much over the past several months. The Taliban still control much of the countryside and contest or control many district centers. The ANDSF still has a ‘defensive posture’ and maintains way too many checkpoints. The Afghan Air Force is getting better each month but its effectiveness on the battlefield has not been the ‘game changer’ RS HQs has said it would be. The Afghan Special Security Forces (ASSF) are the most lethal force on the ground and continues to take the fight to the Taliban; liberating districts that have fallen to the Taliban – but they are only a small fraction of the Afghan security forces.

Two U.S. Troops Killed. On June 26, 2019 the Department of Defense announced that two service members died in Afghanistan from enemy action. News reports indicate that they were killed by small arms fire in southern Uruzgan province.

U.S. and CT in Afghanistan. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Joe Dunford recently said that the U.S. will not leave Afghanistan until certain counterterrorism interests are addressed. (The Washington Times, May 29, 2019). See also “Meeting U.S. Counterterrorism Objectives in Afghanistan”, Real Clear Defense, June 13, 2019.

U.S. Troops Injured. Four Americans were injured during a suicide bombing on a convoy of armored SUVs on May 31, 2019. The incident happened in the eastern part of Kabul. (Stars and Stripes, May 31, 2019).

A Hard Landing. U.S. authorities say that US troops were injured during a ‘hard landing‘ of an Army CH-47 in late May in Helmand province. This incident was not a result of combat action. The aircraft was destroyed. (Army Times, May 31, 2019).

IS Expands Reach. Reports indicate that the number of Islamic State fighters in Afghanistan number in the thousands. Security officials are concerned that IS will use Afghanistan as a training and support base from which to launch terrorist attacks against European and U.S. targets. Read “Islamic State expands reach in Afghanistan, threatening West”, AP News, June 10, 2019.

This War Will Never End. Franz J. Marty, a journalist in Kabul, provides good reading on the conflict in the rural areas of Afghanistan. (The Diplomat, June 13, 2019).

Taliban

The insurgents are busy overrunning remote district centers (VOA, May 15, 2019) – which they hold for days or weeks until dislodged by Afghan Commandos. A typical example is the constant fight over Bala Murghab district – one that changes hands periodically. (Tolo News, May 31, 2019). In addition, the Taliban and the Islamic State of Khorasan Province continue their bombing campaigns (VOA, May 30, 2019) in Kabul and other large cities of Afghanistan. The stalemate continues.

Taliban Threaten Media. The insurgents have put the Afghan media on notice that they are legitimate targets if the broadcast news that supports the Afghan government. They specifically mention “anti Taliban ads” produced by the government and broadcast or printed by the media.

Taliban Prisoners Released. As part of an effort to convince the Taliban to open negotiations with the Afghan government President Ghani has authorized the unconditional release of hundreds of insurgents. The prisoners have been released since the beginning of June – as part of the observance of Eid al Fitr. Many of the released Taliban fighters will likely join their comrades on the battlefield. The prisoner release is unlikely to prod the Taliban to begin negotiations with the Afghan government. See “Afghan government unconditionally releases hundreds of Taliban prisoners”, The Long War Journal, June 12, 2019.

Some critics say the release of hundreds of Taliban prisoners by President Ghani may prolong the war in the south and provide the Taliban with increased manpower. It probably will not encourage the Taliban to engage in talks with the Afghan government. (Asia Times, June 14, 2019).

ANDSF

The Afghan National Defense and Security Forces began their ‘spring offensive’ a few months back. As usual, the Afghan Commandos led the fight against the Taliban. The ANDSF continue their clearing operations (usually by the Afghan Special Security Forces) as well as maintaining their thousands of small, remote static checkpoints that are frequent targets of the Taliban. Year after year Resolute Support says the ANDSF are improving and year after year we witness the security situation get worse. Things that make you go “Hmmm”.

Afghan SOF Officer is Deputy Minister of Interior. A motivated Afghan special operations officer is off to a good start in an attempt to combat corruption with the Ministry of Interior. General Khoshal Sadat has been fighting the Taliban all his life, joining a special operations unit in 2003. Read “New commander takes on corruption “mess” in Afghan police”, Reuters, June 4, 2019. Some good news for a change!

Reducing Checkpoints. The Afghan security forces are firm believers in the use of small, remote checkpoints to provide security along roads in rural areas. Naturally these are easy targets for the insurgents and checkpoints are constantly being attacked. The Coalition has been attempting (for many years) to get the ANDSF to limit the many checkpoints in order to reduce casualties and consolidate combat power that can then conduct offensive operations. Up to now – the ANDSF has been uncooperative. But is there change in the air? Read “Under US pressure, Afghan army starts closing checkpoints”, Yahoo.com, June 18, 2019.

A Sustainable ANDSF. Tamim Asey, a former Deputy Minister of Defense for Afghanistan, provides his thoughts on how to sustain the ANDSF. See “Economizing Defense: A Roadmap for Building Sustainable Afghan Security Forces”, Global Security Review, June 12, 2019.

A Look at the UH-60 Program for Afghanistan. Afghanistan’s ability to defend itself is being hurt by an American effort to help. How the U.S. has hampered the Afghan Air Force with the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter. Read “How Not to Win the Afghan War”, POGO.org, May 20, 2019.

C-208 Pilot Training in States Has Ended. The pilot training program for Afghan airmen for the C-208 Caravan hit some bumps on the road to success. Apparently half of the prospective pilots deserted their classroom training for destinations unknown within the U.S. and Canada. Read more in “Afghan pilot training ends after almost half went AWOL in America”, Air Force Times, May 2, 2019.

Facilities Built, Never Used. SIGAR released a report about a Border Patrol headquarters in Nimroz province that cost $5 million but that has never been used. Definitely a waste of U.S. taxpayers money. (April 2019).

Female Participation in ANDSF. Zarifa Sabet provides an article on the obstacles and challenges to women who seek to serve in the ANDSF. She provides recommendations for “Improving Female Participation in Defense and Security Institutions in Afghanistan”, Geopolitical Monitor, June 19, 2019.

‘Green on Green Attacks’. The insider threat against ISAF personnel reached a significant level in 2012 – almost derailing the coalition effort. Just as important, however, is the threat against the ANDSF from within its ranks. Read “Brother against Brother: How a Taliban infiltrator killed three in Helmand”, Stars and Stripes, May 4, 2019.

Resolute Support

NATO’s Resolute Support Mission continues to enjoy the support of the participating nations. The vast majority of the Coalition plan to ‘stay the course’ . . . as long as the U.S. doesn’t conduct a drastic departure. Of course, everyone continues to watch President Trump’s Twitter feed for signs of a shift in U.S. policy.

NATO Reaffirms Support. At the plenary meeting of the Afghan National Army Trust fund Board held on June 4, 2019 at NATO Headquarters – NATO Allies and partners confirmed their support to the financial sustainment of the Afghan security forces. During the session the representatives reviewed the Trust Fund management, implementation and performance, and outlined future requirements. (NATO, June 4, 2019).

1st AD to Afghanistan. The U.S. Army announced that elements of the 1st Armored Division headquarters will deploy this summer in support of coalition and partner operations in Afghanistan. (Army Times, June 1, 2019).

Reaper Support for TFSW. The Marines of Task Force Southwest will be receiving continued ISR support. General Atomics has been awarded a $36M contract to keep the MQ-9 flying over Helmand province, Afghanistan. (UPI, May 31, 2019). The turnaround in Helmand province – if DoD statements are to be believed – has been good. A few of the districts controlled by the Taliban have been recaptured by the ANDSF.

NATO Air Command Leadership. Col. John Walker has been selected for the grade of BG will become the deputy commander of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization Air Command – Afghanistan.

U.S. Airstrikes Hitting the Wrong Targets. The use of airpower in a counterinsurgency is sometimes problematic. Read “US bombs kill Afghan allies for the third time in three months”, Stars and Stripes, June 13, 2019. The increase in U.S. airstrikes against insurgents are certainly going to cause a corresponding increase in ‘collateral damage’.

NZ Downsizing. New Zealand is continuing its commitment to Afghanistan but is reducing its manpower level from 13 to 11 personnel. Read “New Zealand to refocus deployment to Afghanistan”, Scoop Independent News, June 10, 2019. At one time this country had a fairly robust presence in Afghanistan.

Metrics of Success? Is RS HQs measuring district control in Afghanistan? Not so much. Evaluating counterinsurgency efforts? No longer important. Air strikes and body counts? The new approach! Read “Military Pressure and Body Counts in Afghanistan”, War on the Rocks, by Jonathan Schroden, May 17, 2019.

Governance

District Control and Governance. Ali Mohammad Sabawoon provides a comprehensive study of how public services are delivered in Nad Ali district of Helmand province. The district is controlled in part by the Taliban and Afghan government. Via Afghanistan Analysts Network (AAN), June 2, 2019. The same study is provided about Andar district, Ghazni province by AAN.

Female Minister for Mines. The Afghan acting minister for mining and petroleum is Nargis Neha – a 37 year old woman who once was a refugee in Pakistan. She is outspoken on issues of reform and the inclusion of women in government. She is the ‘acting’ minister because she refuses to bribe some parliamentary members who want pay-offs for their vote of approval. (The National, June 3, 2019).

Afghanistan’s Judiciary – Not So Independent. The Afghan Supreme Court would appear to be in the President’s ‘pocket’ – at least according to Sayed Ziafatullah Saeedi. Read his commentary in “How Afghanistan’s Judiciary Lost Its Independence”, The Diplomat, June 5, 2019.

Peace Talks

The negotiations with the Taliban continue along several avenues. While ‘progress’ is being reported the prospect of a settlement soon seems dim. The Taliban are not talking to the Afghan government. The U.S. is in direct talks with the Taliban – so much for the ‘Afghan-led and Afghan-owned’ peace process. The government of Afghanistan is not united and lacking in legitimacy. Many observers believe the peace talks are providing political legitimacy to the Taliban and buying them more time until the U.S. finally decides to depart Afghanistan.

Lessons for America. Two members of the Modern War Institute at West Point (one a career SF officer) have penned a 90 page report about the long-running conflict in Colombia. They believe there are some lessons learned in the report that could be applied to the Afghan peace process. Read “Lessons for America’s Longest-Running War from the Americas’ Longest-Running Insurgency”Modern War Institute, May 29, 2019.

Report on Peace. Ashley Jackson has published a 24-page report entitled Perspectives on Peace from Taliban Areas of Afghanistan. The publication covers several topics to include peace talks with the current Afghan government, consolidating power after the talks, and seeking post-conflict ‘justice’. (United States Institute for Peace, May 2019).

Trump’s Peace Plan – Results? Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute has penned a 12-page tract entitled Assessing the Trump Team’s Afghanistan Peace Plan, Afghan Institute for Strategic Studies, May 2019.

Taliban Benefiting from Talks. An analysis by South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) concludes that the Taliban are benefiting politically and militarily in the ongoing and slow peace negotiation process. Read “Afghanistan-US: Slow Surrender – Analysis”, Eurasia Review, June 4, 2019.

Stick With Diplomacy. Rear Admiral (ret) Leendert Hering provides his perspective on the current diplomatic efforts to secure peace in Afghanistan and withdraw U.S. troops. Read “Here is What America Must Get Right Before it Leaves Afghanistan”, Newsweek, June 5, 2019.

An Indian Perspective. Kriti M. Shah provides a South Asian view of the ongoing peace negotiations for the Afghan conflict. Read “The problem with the Afghan peace process”, Observer Research Foundation (ORF), June 13, 2019.

Elections

Some Elections Postponed. The Independent Election Commission has dropped plans to conduct provincial and district council elections in conjunction with the presidential election. The head of the IEC cited time, budget, and security constraints leading to the decision. (Radio Free Europe, May 29, 2019).

Biometrics. The presidential elections will be conducted this fall. President Ghani is running once again, as are several other candidates. The biometric voting process appears to be scrapped – not enough systems and trained personnel to operate the equipment.

Database on 2018 Elections. Colin Cookman has compiled a comprehensive dataset on the Afghanistan 2018 parliamentary elections.
https://github.com/colincookman/afghanistan_election_results_2018

Miscellaneous

Pompeo Visit. The U.S. Secretary of State visited Kabul on June 25th and met with President Ghani, CEO Abdullah, and former president Karzai. He discussed the Afghan peace process, need for credible elections. One wonders if he provided hints on a U.S. withdrawal schedule. The secretary also spent some time with Resolute Support and met with General Scott Miller.

John Walker Lindh Released. The first American to face charges related to the War on Terror is now out of jail. Captured at age 21 in Afghanistan fighting for the Taliban – he was convicted and imprisoned for over 18 years. Read “He Was Branded the ‘American Taliban’. Now He’s Getting Out of Jail”, The Atlantic, May 22, 2018. And more on Lindh . . . OpsLens interviews retired LTG Boykin (SF) about the release of Lindh in “A Travesty of Justice”, May 29, 2019, 16 mins.

Importance of a Free Press. M. Ashraf Haidari, the Ambassador of Afghanistan to Sri Lanka, provides a summary of the gains made by the media in Afghanistan. He says that Afghanistan’s free press is providing a critical service for the country’s young democracy. Read “How Free Press Has Strengthened Democracy in Afghanistan”, The Diplomat, June 12, 2019.

Conference – Call for Papers. The SOAS of the University of London will be conducting a conference with the theme “Afghanistan in the World: 100 Years of Independence” to take place in London 18-19 October 2019.

Time for SIGAR to Go? Daniel Runde thinks it is time to close the doors on the Special Inspector General for the Reconstruction of Afghanistan. Hmmmm. Not sure that is such a good idea; DoD certainly has been less than forthcoming in it reports. Read “It’s time to sunset SIGAR”, The Hill, June 26, 2019.

Interview – Ambassador Bass. The U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, John Bass, is interviewed by Tolo News about the prospects for peace and the upcoming presidential election. (Tolo News, May 29, 2019).

Arms Smuggling in Afghanistan. There are an abundance of weapons in Afghanistan. Many of them copies of the Russian AK-47. Smugglers and arms traders get many of their weapons from areas of Pakistan. Franz Marty, a Kabul-based war journalist, provides details in “In Search of Illegal Arms Traffickers in Afghanistan”, Popular Front, June 2019.

Corruption

Afghan Anti-Corruption Institutions. Jelena Bjelica provides a detailed account of the many different organizations dedicated to stopping corruption . . . details their ineffectiveness. Read “Afghanistan’s Anti-Corruption Institutions: Too many, and with too few results”, Afghanistan Analysts Network (AAN), May 20, 2019.

Kabul’s War on Crime. In the midst of poverty many of the citizens of the capital resort to criminal activity. The Kabul police have difficulty stopping the criminals. Read “Afghanistan’s Other War”, The Diplomat, June 4, 2019.

MoI Corruption – Meat Contract. No news update about Afghanistan is complete without references to corruption! Several members of the Ministry of Interior (MoI) are under investigation for taking part in a corruption scheme that paid millions of dollars for meat for the Afghan National Police to a contractor (that never arrived). (Tolo News, May 30, 2019).

More Corruption. The American University of Afghanistan – an entity that has received lots of financial support – has now been revealed as a ‘center of corruption’. Read “Missing Millions Put an American-Funded Afghan College Under Scrutiny”, The New York Times, May 30, 2019.

Drug Trade

Opium – Not Going Away. “For years, Afghanistan has been the global leader in opium production, despite some $8.9 billion spent since 2002 by the U.S. government to stop production and trafficking in narcotics.” Read “As pressure for Afghan peace grows, drug threat remains”, Reuters, June 6, 2019.

Counter Drug Opns in Helmand. The U.S. effort to damage the Taliban’s narcotic business has been . . . unproductive. Tim Lynch, a retired Marine Corps infantry officer (and years of experience as a contractor in Afghanistan) provides an update on the war on opium in Helmand province. He also gives us an update on Task Force Southwest in his article entitled “A look at Task Force Southwest and the American effort to cripple the Taliban drug trade”, The Freq, June 9, 2019.

Commentary

A Colonial Army? Malcolm Whittaker, an attorney from Texas, has presented a novel approach to the U.S. involvement in the Afghan conflict. He proposes the establishment of a ‘Western-led New Model Army’ for Afghanistan. Shades of the past – some interesting points but would never be accepted by the Afghans I suspect. Read “Outlasting the Taliban to Achieve Victory in Afghanistan”, Real Clear Defense, May 29, 2019.

COIN in Zaranj – 2010-2012. A former Marine and U.S. contractor, Tim Lynch, provides a short summary of the security and development efforts in Zaranj province several years back. Read “The Counterinsurgency Fight in Zaranj, Afghanistan, 2010-2012”, The Freq, May 24, 2019.

Managing Expectations. Annie Pforzheimer, a recently retired career diplomat (with some Afghan experience), writes about managing expectations in Afghanistan.

“It would be contrary to our interests to cut off assistance to the Afghan security forces before there is genuine peace and a path toward regional buy-in to Afghan stability”.


Read her essay entitled Afghanistan: Rightsizing Expectations, American Foreign Service Association, June 2019.

“Coercing Pakistan”. Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) comments on Pakistan in “Winning in Afghanistan Requires Taking the Fight to Pakistan”, The National Interest, June 3, 2019.

“The stability of Afghanistan—and the denial of its territory to terrorist groups—requires a good-faith Pakistani agreement to cease backing extremists, and after nearly two decades, this means, coercing Pakistan.”

Pakistan’s Goals in Afghanistan and Central Asia. Dr. Manoj Kumar Mishra (Lecturer at Autonomous College in India) writes about Pakistan’s objectives for Afghanistan. Read “Pakistan’s Interests in Central Asia and Its Afghan Strategy – Analysis”, Eurasia Review, June 19, 2019.

Returning to Helmand. A former Marine (now photo journalist) returns to Helmand province. Read this comprehensive report on the U.S. efforts in southwest Afghanistan – with a personal perspective on the Afghan conflict. “Back to the Long War: Helmand Province Eight Years Later”, Pacific Standard, June 6, 2019.

Impasse. Neville Teller provides his perspective on the Afghan conflict. He describes the recent history of Afghanistan as one of great power competition and warring tribes. Read “Impasse in Afghanistan”, Eurasia Review, June 8, 2019.

“Fighting the Wrong War”. Lawrence Sellin, a retired Army colonel, writes that the U.S. did not recognized the real threat – Pakistan. Read “America’s One Big Mistake in Afghanistan – fighting the wrong war”, Military Times, June 26, 2019.

Conundrum. Amin Saikal, book author and professor, provides his thoughts on the current state of affairs in Afghanistan in “The Afghanistan conundrum”, The Strategist, Australian Strategic Policy Institute, June 17, 2019.

Books, Reports, and Publications

Review of American Cipher. Nicholas Utzig, a former U.S. Army aviation officer (he served as an embedded advisor to an Afghan special operations aviation unit) has reviewed a book about Bowe Bergdahl. Read “Five Years Gone: What Bowe Bergdahl’s Odyssy Tells Us About the United State’s Endless War in Afghanistan”, Los Angeles Review of Books, May 30, 2019. There are several ‘takes’ on this book – one critic (not Utzig, the reviewer of the linked article) alleges that the authors used the book to advance their political views and agenda and built the story accordingly.

SIGAR Quarterly Report – April 2019. The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) has published its Quarterly Report to the United States Congress (April 30, 2019). Read 252 pages of what is going right (and wrong) with the U.S. effort in Afghanistan.
https://www.sigar.mil/pdf/quarterlyreports/2019-04-30qr.pdf

‘Divided Responsibility’ – SIGAR Report. A new report has been published that focuses on security force assistance in Afghanistan. The 210-page report was published on June 14, 2019 by SIGAR and is entitled Divided Responsibility: Lessons from U.S. Security Sector Assistance Efforts in Afghanistan, SIGAR, June 14, 2019.

UN OCHA Report for 2018. United Nations OCHA Afghanistan has published its 2018 Humanitarian Response Plan Year-End Report. (June 2019, 24 pages).

UNAMA Report. The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan is required to submit a report every three months about the Afghan conflict to the UN General Assembly on developments in Afghanistan. (June 14, 2019, 16 pages).

Global Peace Index 2019. A new report cites Afghanistan as the least peaceful country in the world. Out of 163 countries Afghanistan ranked . . . 163. See “Global Peace Index 2019: Measuring Peace in a Complex World”, Vision of Humanity, June 2019, 107 pages, PDF.

Videos

TAAC-Air. A two-minute long video about the Train, Advise, Assist Command – Air mission. (DVIDS, 20 Dec 2018).
https://www.dvidshub.net/video/661380/taac-air


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