Afghanistan is now experiencing the start of yet another Taliban spring offensive – formally announced by the Taliban last month. Attacks in Kabul and in the countryside against district centers continue. Kidnappings and attacks on voter registration locations are mounting. The U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan are working with the Afghan army and police to counter the operations of the Taliban (and ISIS) but are facing significant challenges. One constraint is the reduced size of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF). For example, the 215th Corps in Helmand province is operating at 50% strength in personnel – certainly that is a limiting factor. Below are some recent news reports on the conflict in Afghanistan – grouped into rough categories of security, governance, and development – as well as a few other miscellaneous topics.
Light at the End of the Tunnel. So the Department of Defense seems to be displaying some optimism on the possibility of the ANDSF making advances on the battlefield against the insurgents during this next several months. The continuing ‘messaging’ on the capabilities of the Afghan Air Force (AAF) and the Afghan Special Security Forces (ASSF) would make one believe that the Taliban’s days of controlling or contesting over half of the 400 plus districts in Afghanistan are limited. Some think that because of the increase in the AAF and ASSF capabilities, relaxed rules for U.S. air strikes, and U.S. advisor teams now operating at tactical level (hopefully this will happen) that the war will swing to the ANDSF’s favor – that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. A fair question to ask is just how many tunnels do we have to crawl through? Or is it just an extremely long tunnel?
District Control Update. The Taliban are reasserting its control and presences in many of the rural and ungoverned areas of Afghanistan. Bill Roggio of the Long War Journal updates the status of two districts in Afghanistan from ‘influenced by the government’ to districts at risk’. Resolute Support assesses each of the 407 districts with five categories. Two that were ‘influenced by the government’ have degraded due to increased Taliban activity. Read “Taliban contests 2 new Afghan districts”, Long War Journal, May 3, 2018.
“We’re going to see this through.” The commander of the Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan, General John Nicholson, is interviewed by Mustafa Sarwar of the Gandhara Blog (May 3, 2018) on the current situation in Afghanistan.
Kohistan District Falls to Taliban. The remote Kohistan district in Badakhshan (northern Afghanistan) fell to Taliban fighters. (VOA, May 4, 2018). UPDATE: It appears the ANDSF have taken the district center back from the Taliban. No word on the status of who controls the district itself – that area beyond the walls of the actual district center compound.
Islamic State in Northern Afghanistan. ISIS is replenishing its ranks in Afghanistan as fighters from a range of nations regroup after leaving the battlefields of Iraq and Syria. While the U.S. has had some success in both eastern and northern Afghanistan with operations against ISIS the group seems to be resilient. (Bloomberg, May 4, 2018).
Ghazni Under Threat. Ghazni city is the provincial capital Ghazni province. The Taliban have made things difficult for the security forces in the city and residents fear the city may fall to the Taliban. Read more in “Ghazni: In an Afghan City on the Brink, Government Control is Just an Idea”, Small Wars Journal, May 7, 2018.
Pentagon Chief Spokesperson Dana White – Not a Clue. The top spokesperson for the DoD needs a little history lesson on the conflict in Afghanistan. She recently said that the Taliban are “desperate” because they are “losing ground”. Hmmmm. (Long War Journal, May 7, 2018).
Super Tucanos. The total count of the A-29 Super Tucano light-attack turboprops for the Afghan Air Force (AAF) is now at 22 with the delivery of two more CAS aircraft. The number 22 is impressive but . . . only 12 are currently in Afghanistan. The remainder, a total of 9, are at Moody Air Force Base (AFB) in Georgia where they are being used by the 81st Fighter Squadron to train AAF pilots and maintainers prior to being shipped to Afghanistan. Source: “Afghan Air Force receive latest Super Tucano shipment”, Janes 360, May 2, 2018. Read also “USAF’s 81st Fighter Squadron receives A-29s to support training mission”, Airforce-Technology.com, May 3, 2018.
April Attack by AAF Killed 30 Children. According to a United Nations report an Afghan Air Force helicopter attack on an open-air religious gathering killed 30 children and wounded 51 more in April. The AAF attacked with MD-530 light attack helicopters. (Voice of America, May 7, 2018).
Feel Good Piece from RS HQs. According to this news report by RS the 215th Corps conducted its first close air support mission with MD-530 attack helicopters in April 2018. Well. This report is either wrong (CAS most likely has been called in by Afghan JTACs in Helmand province prior to April 2018) or we are way behind in getting the Afghans up to speed in calling in CAS. Read “Afghan Corps Conducts First Close Air Support Mission After Kandak-Level Advising”, RS, May 6, 2018.
Security Force Assistance Mission or TA3E
1st SFAB at Tactical Level? Not so much. It was with great fanfare that the Army deployed the 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade (SFAB) to Afghanistan in early 2018 to field 36 combat advisor teams to work at kandak level. Apparently the plan has some glitches and many of the “CATs” are still not linked up with their Afghan battalions (kandaks). Some news reports say that there is an extensive vetting of the Afghan kandaks required before the advisors work at that lower tactical level. The vetting is being implemented to mitigate the incidents of green-on-blue incidents (insider attacks) where Afghan soldiers would turn their weapons on the U.S. advisors. One wonders if this vetting should have been scheduled earlier in the year so that the “CATs” could be immediately employed. This is possibly a combination of scheduling the vetting activity too late, a lack of resources (military and civilian contractors who conduct the vetting – both U.S. and Afghan), and an over-protective stance by USFOR-A. See “Trump’s Afghanistan strategy stymied by vetting of local troops”, Politico, May 4, 2018.
Video on EAP. Watch a two-minute long video about how Task Force Southwest is using an Expeditionary Advising Package (EAP) to train, advise, and assist their Afghan partners in Helmand province.
Governance and Politics
‘Tilting at Windmills’ at District Level. Winning a war against insurgents means winning the center of gravity. In Afghanistan that means securing the ‘hearts and minds’ of the people at the local level – each of the 407 districts in Afghanistan. A good counterinsurgency campaign takes into account three huge factors – security, governance, and development. (Some would add a fourth – IO or information operations). Read up on the absurdity of trying to change a thousand-year old culture at the district level in “Afghan Futility and the Not-So-Curious Case of Lieutenant Jordan Rich”, The American Conservative, May 3, 2018.
Political Parties of Afghanistan. A new report looks at the complex issue of political party development over the period of 2001 to 2016 in Afghanistan. By Thomas Ruttig of the Afghanistan Analysts Network (AAN), May 6, 2018 – Inside and Outside the System: New AAN report on Afghanistan’s political parties published.
New Political Alliance Formed. Afghan politics is an interesting topic. Warlords and strongmen whose militia’s fought against each other in past years will often find themselves allied against a common opponent. Read more in “New Alliance Formed Ahead of Afghan Elections”, Voice of America, May 5, 2018.
National ID. The long-awaited electronic identification card for Afghan citizens has finally made its official entrance. However, the ID card seems to be having some technical difficulties as well as some resistance by some of the ethnic groups within Afghanistan. Many observers are hoping that the new e-ID will reduce corruption in the elections of 2018 and 2019. Read more in “Afghan president launches new ID cards amid row over ethnicity”, Reuters, May 3, 2018.
Economy and Development
Pak-Afghan Trade. Goods traveling through Torkham Gate has decreased significantly because of anti-trading policies adopted by the Pakistani government. Afghan traders are now working with other countries such as Iran, India, and China.
WB Agriculture Report. A recent report by the World Bank focuses on the agricultural sector of Afghanistan with emphasis on the employment of Afghan youth in rural areas. Read “Jobs From Agriculture in Afghanistan”, May 2018.
Blood Path to Peace. There is a long history of attempts to get the Taliban to the negotiating table. There is also a long history of nothing much coming out of those attempts. The Afghan government recently called on the Taliban to enter into negotiations with the government – offering a robust package to the insurgent group. Thus far the Taliban have not budged. Read more in “Afghanistan Takes a Bloody Path to Pursue Peace”, by Krishnadev Calamur, The Atlantic, May 2, 2018.
“Peace in Pieces”. Joseph J. Collins, a retired Army Colonel and former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, provides his perspective on attaining peace in Afghanistan. Collins believes that the ‘grand bargain’ – a process where a formal peace agreement takes place – depends on the cooperation of Pakistan (unlikely) and a significant reversal of Taliban fortunes on the battlefield (also unlikely). Short of achieving the ‘grand bargain’ he believes that a peace can be attained in stages. Read “Peace in Pieces in Afghanistan”, Small Wars Journal, May 4, 2018.
Prospects for Peace? Unlikely. Krishnadev Calamur provides his thoughts on the peace process in “Afghanistan Takes a Bloody Path to Pursue Peace”, The Atlantic, May 2, 2018.
A Return to VSO / ALP? MG (Ret) Don Bolduc, Special Forces officer, proposes a return to a ‘top down’ and ‘bottom up’ balanced population-centric approach to establishing stability in Afghanistan similar to the Village Stability Operations (VSO) and Afghan Local Police (ALP) programs. Read “Going Back to the Future: It is Time for Change in Afghanistan”, Small Wars Journal, May 6, 2018.
Afghan Threat Report. The Cipher Brief’s 2018 Annual Threat Report provides an assessment of the security situation in Afghanistan. A little history of the Taliban, subsequent withdrawal of the Soviets, U.S. invasion of Afghanistan (2001), and projection of the future is provided.
“The overall situation in Afghanistan probably will deteriorate modestly this year in the face of persistent political instability, sustained attacks by the Taliban-led insurgency, unsteady Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) performance, and chronic financial shortfalls. The ANSF probably will maintain control of most major population centers with coalition force support, but the intensity and geographic scope of Taliban activities will put those centers under continued strain.”
Soviets in Afghanistan Pre-9/11. The history of the Soviet Union military adventure is long – almost ten years before their withdrawal in 1989. One writer examines the reasons for the invasion by the Soviets as well as the reasons for failure in “Russia Learned Nothing in Afghanistan. Neither Did America”, The National Interest, May 6, 2018.
Legacy, HUMINT, and Politics. One of the more successful intelligence programs in Afghanistan was the DoD contract implemented by a UK firm to provide instruction to the Afghan army and police in HUMINT. The UK trainers (usually in teams of two) working a provincial level enhanced the ability of the Afghan intelligence operators to gather important information on the insurgents. The Legacy program is currently under attack by a U.S. politician and is receiving a lot of bad press. One U.S. politician in particular is up for reelection and appears to be making the issue a means to get re-elected. The contractors that worked in the field did a superb job but their performance is being over shadowed with allegations of fraud and abuse at the corporate level. Such a shame.
Task Force ODIN Changes Command. The 206th Military Intelligence Battalion has taken responsibility for the TF ODIN mission in Afghanistan into 2019. Read “Task Force ODIN completes transfer of authority”, Fort Hood Sentinel, May 3, 2018.
New Cdr for US & NATO Air Forces in Afghanistan. Maj. Gen. Barre Seguin has assumed command of the 9th Air and Space Expeditionary Task Force – Afghanistan and NATO Air Command – Afghanistan. (Stars and Stripes, May 2, 2018).
Future Commander of “Operation Everlasting Support”. In a rare look at future events one enterprising journalist presents an intimate look at a current high school student who is destined through fate to lead troops in Afghanistan. Read “Meet the teenager born after 9/11 who will one day command all forces in Afghanistan”, The DuffelBlog, May 7, 2018.
Remembering the Korengal Valley. A retired Sergeant Major served 31 years in the Army – 15 months of that time was in the Korengal Valley. Read his personal story in “Fifteen Months Is a Long Time”, WUNC 91.5, May 6, 2018.
Top Photo: Afghan Commandos Nangarhar Province NSOCC-A credit, Dec 11, 2017.