Afghanistan Update 20180723

German advisors at TAAC North review a sand table depicting an exercise plan. RS HQs photo February 16, 2018.

Mid-summer is generally the halfway point for the fighting season; or at least approaching it. The Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) are reportedly (if you can take the word of the Resolute Support PR folks) pressing the Taliban and other insurgent groups hard across Afghanistan. In past years the Afghan Special Security Forces (ASSF) – the SOF units of the MoD and MoI – have carried the brunt of the offensive operations conducted by the ANDSF. Presumably the conventional ANDSF have stepped up to the plate as well – leaving their garrisons and many checkpoints to conduct clearing operations. According to RS HQs the ANDSF keeps making progress in both capacity and capability. The U.S. has stepped up its advisory effort (notably deploying the 1st SFAB) and increased its air support of the ANDSF. The ultimate aim is to force the Taliban to the negotiating table.

All this makes for a great news release and sounds awesome. Except when one receives the periodic official reports from DoD and SIGAR or the unofficial reports from observers like The Long War Journal where we get the metrics on what percentage of the population and/or districts is controlled, influenced, or contested by the Taliban. That number appears to be increasing every year. A true measure of success by the ANDSF would be seeing that metric (as well as CIVCAS incidents) steadily decline. Perhaps by early winter – the end of the fighting season – we will hear some good news.

Meanwhile American, NATO, and partner nation units and individuals continue to rotate into and out of Afghanistan in this 17-year long conflict. The NATO nations are to be congratulated on sticking with the U.S. over the long haul – responding to the invocation of Article 5 in 2001 – and now promising (Brussels Summit 2018) to continue to fund and support the ANDSF until 2024. In fact, the latest batch of incoming Resolute Support advisors and staff are going through their advisor training at the Joint Forces Training Center (JFTC) in Bydgoszcz, Poland (July 2018). The number of nations in the Coalition providing troops and support to Afghanistan increased from 39 to 41 in the past few weeks – with the addition of the UAE and Qatar. (Although I ran across UAE SOF a few times on previous tours in Afghanistan – so I don’t know exactly how ‘new’ the UAE commitment is. But, once again, makes for a great news release).

Provided below are a selection of recent news reports, some commentary, and a little analysis.

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Security Update

RS Update – Upbeat As Usual. The news from the Resolute Support HQs public affairs office continues to be positive. A recent press release says that the ANDSF has increased military pressure on the “. . . Taliban irreconcilables, ISIS-K, and other terrorists . . .” since it has resumed offensive operations following the expiration of the Afghan government’s ceasefire extension. Several insurgent leaders have been killed and many more insurgents captured or killed. The press release stresses that the Taliban need to give peace a chance and that they have no opportunity to defeat the ANDSF. Read “U.S. General Says Afghan Forces are ‘Showing No Signs of Stopping'”Resolute Support, July 21, 2018.

Votel Review of Afghan Conflict. The commander of U.S. Central Command, General Joe Votel, is taking a look at the current Afghan war strategy of the Trump administration. The strategy, rolled out in August 2017, was designed (in part) to increase military pressure on the Taliban to bring them to the negotiation table. So far, that has not worked out as planned. See “US general reviewing Trump’s year-old Afghan war strategy”, Military Times, July 19, 2018.

See also – on the same topic – an official news release by DoD. Read “South Asia Strategy Working in Afghanistan CENTCOM Commander Says”, Department of Defense Media Activity, July 19, 2018.

CIVCAS. A family of 14 died in a recent airstrike in northern Afghanistan. Eight were women and three children. U.S. officials deny they were civilians.

Russia and Tajikistan. Two countries have been working in concert with each other close to the Afghan border to mitigate the possibility of insurgent and terrorists spillover into Central Asia. (Khaama Press, July 19, 2018).

ISKP vs Taliban. The fight between the Islamic State of Khorasan Province and the Taliban is continuing. Currently the battle is taking place in eastern and northern Afghanistan. Khorasan Province is the name given to an ancient region that incorporated parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan. ISKP is also having success with its terrorist bombings in Kabul – the nations capital.

Kabul – Gardez Highway. The road from Kabul to Gardez is becoming less secure with constant harassment and checkpoints being conducted by the Taliban. (Pajhwok News, July 18, 2018).

Regional States Weighing In. Russia, Pakistan, China, and Iran are starting to assume a bigger role in what happens in Afghanistan. Part of the motivation is the resilience of the Islamic State of Khorasan Province (ISKP). (Asia Times, July 19, 2018).

US in Afghanistan

AFCENT Airpower Summary for Afghanistan – June 2018. U.S. Air Force Central Command has published its OFS / RSM airpower report (ending 30 June 2018) for Afghanistan. U.S. manned and remotely piloted strike aircraft flew 685 sorties and released 572 weapons. In addition the U.S. airdropped 126,000 pounds of supplies to U.S. and Afghan ground forces in June.

40th ID (CA NG). The 40th Infantry Division has been stationed in Kandahar province filling out billets on the Train, Advise, and Assist Command – South staff and advisory teams. Read up on how one soldier has earned his ‘combat patch’ and gained some experience as well on this deployment to Afghanistan. (DVIDS, July 15, 2018).

Task Force Spartan & HIMARS. A crew chief for a High Mobility Artillery Rocket System provides insight into his duties and responsibilities. Currently he is deployed to southern Afghanistan. The HIMARS unit is supporting TAAC-South and Task Force Southwest with fire support. (TF Spartan DVIDS, June 30, 2018).

‘Fly to Advise’. When hundreds of Security Force Assistance Advisory Teams or SFAATs were deployed throughout the country and embedded with ANA and ANP units at kandak and district level they were usually located on or adjacent to their counterparts base or district center. Sometimes the SFAATs would have to travel 10 to 30 minutes to conduct their TAA mission – usually by ground movement in M-ATVs or MRAPs. Now the advisor teams don’t embed or work on a ‘persistent’ basis with their Afghan counterparts at brigade or kandak level – they ‘fly to advise’. Watch a quick video on how they get there.

1st Security Force Assistance Brigade (SFAB)

The Army is standing up six Security Force Assistance Brigades. The 1st SFAB is currently in Afghanistan. The plan was to field 36 advisor teams to work with the ANDSF at brigade and kandak level. The advisor teams got off to a slow start – not working a kandak level initially because of vetting of ANDSF and logistical issues. It appears the brigade is halfway through its deployment. Apparently, according to some news accounts, the SFAB won’t be replaced until three months after its departure from Afghanistan. Hmmmm. Not much of a left seat right seat transition.

Rough Start for 1st SFAB. An article wrote by Thomas Gibbons-Neff (former USMC and now a reporter) says that the latest insider attack in Afghanistan has put the 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade under the microscope. Sounds like the brigade has had a rough start. Read “Insider Attack in Afghanistan Exposes Risks for Advisers at Center of Trump Strategy”, The New York Times, July 20, 2018.

1st SFAB at Work in Logar Province. Read a recent article about combat advisors from the 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade providing support to Afghan partners in the use of the Persistent Threat Detection System (PTDS) to capture IED makers and bomb-making equipment. (Task Force Southeast Public Affairs, July 19, 2018).

205th’s Eagle Strike Company. A rapid reaction force is now up and running in Kandahar province – thanks in part to the efforts of the 1st SFAB. (Army.mil, July 16, 2018).

Peace Prospects

The three-day cease-fire that took place in June has inspired some hope in Afghanistan on the possibility of peace talks to end the long Afghan war. Press accounts of soldiers from the ANDSF and Taliban taking ‘selfies’ together provided the opportunity for many observers to renew calls for negotiations. Some press reports say that the White House is considering direct talks with the Taliban – but these were quickly denounced by the administration and senior military leaders. Prospects to talks to start are a bit better now than in past years – so it is possible but still not probable.

Edging Closer to Peace. The recent three-day break in the war between Afghan security forces and the Taliban have inspired those who are seeking to restart peace talks. Read a 29-page report that outlines how to re-establish peace talks – Building on Afghanistan’s Fleeting Ceasefire, Asia Report No 298, International Crisis Group, 19 July 2018.

New Cease-Fire. Afghan President Ghani is considering announcing an August cease-fire with the Taliban. (VOA, July 21, 2018).

Governance and Politics

Return of Dostum. First Vice President (and General) Abdul Rashid Dostum has returned to Afghanistan. It is expected that he will resume his duties with the government. He has been in self-exile in Turkey for about one year after accusations surfaced that he abused the former governor of Jawzjan. Shortly after his arrival a bomb explosion took place at the international airport in Kabul. Dostum had already departed the airport for his residence. Civilians and security force personnel were among the casualties of the suicide bombing. Most observers refer to Dostum as a warlord from northern Afghanistan who is opportunistic and one who committed human rights violations over the course of his career. Some think he is the answer to Afghanistan’s problems. Read “General Dostum, the hero Afghanistan deserves”, Lima Charlie News, July 22, 2017.

Taking Down the Warlords. President Ghani has embarked on a campaign to diminish the power of the strongmen and warlords in Afghanistan. He has directed his security forces to arrest a few of these warlords who have private militia at their disposal. The problem with this tactic is the warlords found in most of the 34 districts of Afghanistan all have ties to members of the political elite at the national level. Ghani’s problem is to continue this process in a way that reflects actions against warlords of all ethnic groups and political organizations. Read “Ghani Goes After Afghanistan’s Warlords”The Diplomat, July 19, 2018.

Converting Warlords. Ihsanullah Omarkhail, a consultant and political activist, provides an argument for decreasing the power and reach of the regional warlords and their private militias. Read “Afghanistan must convert warlords into peacelords”, Asia Times, July 19, 2018.

More Female Prosecutors. The international community has been pressing the Afghan ministries for greater participation by Afghan females. This includes improving women’s representation in the legal sector. (Asia Foundation, July 18, 2018).

Commentary

Blowing Up Afghanistan. Brigadier General (Ret) Don Bolduc, a retired Special Forces officer, believes that the policymakers and senior general officers have failed the personnel fighting in Afghanistan at the tactical level. He believes the U.S. has made several significant missteps in Afghanistan. Some of the mistakes include: (Task and Purpose, July 19, 2018).

  • Wasting opportunity
  • Operate conventionally in an unconventional environment
  • Diplomatic failure
  • Emphasis on CT vs more effective SOF approaches
  • Incorrect operational constructs

Decentralization Needed. On July 10th Erik Prince, former SEAL and founder of Blackwater, put out a video advocating for the privatization of the war in Afghanistan. His plan involved the use of private contract advisors who would train, advise, and assist the Afghan army at the kandak level over the long-term – contractors staying on assignment for years on end. He also advocated for a permanent air support organization using aircraft similar to the A-29 Super Tucano flown by professional contract pilots. It is a plan that has some merits but also some problems. Read more in “Decentralization – Not Privatization – is the Heart of Success in Afghanistan”Small Wars Journal, July 2018.

Trekking the Wakhan Corridor. A photo-journalist provides a description of a trek through the remote mountains of northeast Afghanistan. (WAtoday, July 18, 2018).

Videos

Female Tactical Platoon Showcases Skill, Lethality for the Fight, Resolute Support Headquarters, July 10, 2018. Members of the FTP attached to the elite Ktah Khas unit of the Afghan Special Security Forces (ASSF) are shown during a capability exercise. NSOCC-A video by SGT Joe Parrish.
www.dvidshub.net/video/613978/female-tactical-platoon-showcases-skill-lethality-fight

A-10 Thunderbolt II Takes Off From Kandahar Airfield, US Air Forces Central Command, May 20, 2018. (2 mins, just jet engine noise, no words).
www.dvidshub.net/video/602236/10-thunderbolt-ii-takes-off-kandahar-airfield

RS HQs Gender Advisor. The NATO-led Resolute Support gender initiatives senior advisor, Royal Australia Air Force Group Captain Kirrily Dearing, discusses Afghanistan’s gender initiative progress and plans for the future. (July 2, 2018).
www.dvidshub.net/video/613512/resolute-support-gender-advisor-part-4

Afghan Air Force Emergency Air Drop. A quick video showing the Afghan capabilities with emergency load drops. (July 5, 2018).

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Photo: German advisors at TAAC North review a sand table depicting an exercise plan. RS HQs photo February 16, 2018.


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