Afghan Conflict Update – Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Map Ghazni Province Afghanistan. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ghazni_Province#/media/File:Ghazni_in_Afghanistan.svg

In the midst of the summer offensive the Taliban would seem to have the initiative. Their five-day assault on Ghazni city held the attention of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) as well as Resolute Support Headquarters. The news coming out of Ghazni was incomplete and spanned a wide spectrum of fact and fiction. Certainly there was great disparity in the accounts of the fighting between that provided by the Afghan Ministry of Defense (MoD) and Resolute Support HQs and the accounts provided by the Afghan and international news media. In northern Afghanistan units of the ANDSF were under attack with some company-size units being overrun on at least two occasions in the past several days.

Security Update

Ghazni City Fight. The Taliban conducted a major offensive in the provincial capital of Ghazni province. One of the 34 provinces of Afghanistan – Ghazni is south of Kabul (Afghanistan’s capital). The fight lasted about six days; with (depending on who you want to believe) the Taliban either controlling most of the city or holding out in small sections of the city. What is probably more important is that the Taliban are pretty much in control of most of the 18 (or is it 19?) districts of Ghazni province. The Afghan Special Security Forces (ASSF) and Special Mission Wing (SMW) have been in the fight to regain control of the city. U.S. troops (101st Abn Div) and U.S. air assets are actively involved in the defense of the city. According to an RS HQs spokesman the air crews accounted for the deaths of hundreds of Taliban.

One USAF PJ assigned to an SF team was wounded by an RPG during the fight in Ghazni. U.S. SOF, elements of Task Force Southeast, and advisors from the 1st SFAB are providing advice to 203rd ANA Corps and 303rd ANP Zone units in and around Ghazni.

At this point (Aug 15th) it appears that the government troops have regained control of the city and the fighting is continuing in the provinces’ districts. Humanitarian aid is now reaching the city although Highway 1 connecting Ghazni with Kabul remains questionable as the Taliban have set up several checkpoints.

ANDSF Base Overrun. An Afghan National Army base in northern Afghanistan has been captured by the Taliban. The base in Ghormach district of Faryab province fell to the insurgents on Monday, August 13th. The assault began on Camp Chinaya on August 12th. Eight Humvees were captured. Of the more than 140 soldiers based there at least 80 have been captured or surrendered while others were killed (20-40?) or fled to the hills. A provincial spokesman said the Afghan government troops were outnumbered, received no reinforcements, and had run out of food, water, and ammunition. Read “Taliban Captures Afghan Army Base in North, Battle for Ghazni Continues”, Gandhara, August 14, 2018. See also “The Afghan Army’s Last Stand at Chinese Camp”, The New York Times, August 14, 2018.

Other Bases Overrun. Reports indicate that another Afghan base was overrun in Balkh province. The news is sketchy but at least 45 ANA soldiers and militiamen were killed with many more missing or captured. This brings to about four the number of bases or outposts taken by the Taliban in Balkh province. In addition, there is a base in Dehraod district, Uruzgan province that has been under siege and is on the verge of falling to the Taliban.

Kabul Bombing – 48 Killed. A suicide bomber killed students preparing to take university exams in Kabul. More than 70 were wounded in the attack. The bombing was against the Afghan Shiite community and was blamed on the Islamic State of Khorasan Province (ISKP). (AP, Aug 15, 2018).

Mini-Tet Offensive. Some observers have the opinion that Resolute Support and the MoD were caught off guard with the number of offensive actions by the Taliban taking place this week across Afghanistan. Read “The Taliban’s mini Tet Offensive in Afghanistan”, Asia Times, August 13, 2018.

Al Qaeda in Afghanistan

Al Qaeda Goes Quiet. The U.S. has two principle missions in Afghanistan. One is the counterterrorism (CT) mission and the other is the Security Force Assistance (SFA) mission where U.S. advisors train, advise, and assist (TAA) the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF). The CT mission was originally focused on al Qaeda; but the attention is now on the Islamic State Khorasan Province (located mostly in Nangarhar and Kunar provinces in eastern Afghanistan). So what is the current situation with al Qaeda? Wesley Morgan explains in “Whatever happened to al Qaeda in Afghanistan”, Politico, August 15, 2018.

Politics, Government, and Society

Life Under ISKP. Women have it tough when living under ISKP. Read “Rape, Forced Marriages, and Child Soldiers – Life Under Islamic State in Afghanistan”, Radio Free Europe, August 12, 2018.

ICRC – Security Guarantee Withdrawn. The Taliban have taken back the agreement with the International Committee of the Red Crescent that guarantees safety for its workers in Afghanistan. (Radio Free Europe, Aug 15, 2018).

Possible Ceasefire? The Taliban may be considering a short-term ceasefire during the Eid holiday. Time will tell.

Foreign Minister and Nicholson Meet. On Monday, August 13, 2018, Minister of Foreign Affairs H.E. Salahuddin Rabbani met with General John Nicholson to discuss the security situation, stability, elections, peace talks, and the Trump strategy for Afghanistan and South Asia. (MFA, Aug 13, 2018).

Commentary

Withdrawing from Remote Bases. For years the U.S. and its allies have been badgering the Ministry of Defense (as well as the Ministry of Interior) to drop the ‘checkpoint mentality’ that puts small groups of soldiers and policemen in isolated checkpoints along roads and in rural areas. These checkpoints are too hard to defend, resupply, and reinforce. In addition, many are simply static (no active patrolling) and can be bypassed or coerced. Now it appears that RS would like to see some larger bases in some districts dismantled – drawing the companies (usually below strength) into more consolidated bases that are easily defended.

But not everyone agrees with RS. Read “The Trump Administration’s Terrible Idea for Afghanistan’s Security Forces”The Diplomat, August 14, 2018.

Wake-Up Call. The fight for Afghanistan’s twelfth largest city should put RS HQs and the international community in alarm status. The city is only 100 miles from Kabul and sits on the strategic Highway 1 that connects Kabul with Kandahar. Read “The Battle for Ghazni: A Wake-Up Call?”, The Diplomat, August 14, 2018.

“Real and Visible Progress”. Gayle Tzemach Lemmon writes about the two sides of the Afghanistan story. One is the ongoing conflict that never seems to end and the other is about the real gains made by Afghanistan in government, progress, services, education, health, and more. Read “Reasons for hope amid Afghanistan’s endless war”, CNN.com, August 8, 2018.

Book Reviews

The Fighters. C.J. Chivers, book author – journalist – and former Marine, has a new book out. The reviews have been good. He presents war in Iraq and Afghanistan at the ground level – platoon and company level action. Read one review in “On the Ground in Afghanistan and Iraq”, The New York Times, August 14, 2018.
www.nytimes.com/2018/08/14/books/review/cj-chivers-fighters.html

Directorate S. The Army University Press has published a review of Steve Coll’s new book about the CIA, Pakistan’s intelligence organization, and Afghanistan.
www.armyupress.army.mil/Journals/Military-Review/English-Edition-Archives/July-August-2018/Rousseau-Directorate-S/

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Map credit: Map depicting location of Ghazni province from Wikipedia Commons.
https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16493140


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