Afghan Conflict Update – September 2019

CRU-222

According to some the peace talks will yield an agreement between the Taliban and the United States that will lead to a peaceful resolution of the Afghan conflict. However President Trump has put a damper on that for the time being. Violence still rages across the country. The Taliban recently attempted a takeover of Kunduz – once again. The Afghan commandos continue to take the fight to the insurgents. Bombings in the major cities and assassinations of government officials at the sub-national level have not decreased. Currently the major focus for many is the elections scheduled for the end of September.

Security

Tracking the Deaths. According to the British Broadcasting Corporation an average of 74 men, women, and children were killed every day in Afghanistan throughout the month of August. BBC confirms that there were 611 security incidents in which 2,307 people died. Most were combatants but a fifth of the deaths were civilians. Read “Afghanistan war: Tracking the killings in August 2019”, BBC News, September 16, 2019.

Violence to Rise. A senior U.S. general officer says that he expects violence to rise in the lead-up to the election in the last part of September. (Military Times, Sep 16, 2019).

Kunduz City Attack. The Taliban attacked the northeastern city of Kunduz from three directions in the early morning of August 31, 2019. The clashes between the insurgents and government forces continued for several hours. Afghan commandos responded and the insurgents were cleared from most parts of the city within 24-48 hours. This was the third time the Taliban have mounted a sizable attack on the provincial capital in just four years. Some believe that the ANDSF prevented the takeover of a provincial capital while others think the Taliban were just showcasing their ability to conduct a ‘hit and run’ operation in a large city.

Green Village Bombing. A compound located in Kabul not far from the international airport was bombed on Monday, September 2nd. The compound houses hundreds of foreign diplomats, contractors, and humanitarian workers. A tractor loaded with explosives caused at least 16 fatalities and over one hundred injured. Five foreigners were killed to include a member of the Romanian diplomatic staff. The Taliban claimed credit for the attack. Some news reports say that Germany pulled dozens of police advisors out of Green Village after the bombing. The German police officers have been in Afghanistan since 2002 as part of the German Police Project Team. (Editor’s note: I lived in Green Village off and on for a number of years while working as a contractor. Nice place to live but prone to attacks from time to time.)

OBL’s Son Killed. According to the White House Hamza bin Ladin, a high-ranking al-Qa’ida member and son of Usama bin Ladin, has been killed in a U.S. counterterrorism operation in the Afghanistan / Pakistan region.

Bombing Drug Labs – an Unsuccessful Op. The U.S. has spent millions of dollars blowing up the meth and heroin labs in Afghanistan. But there is not much success from the effort or expense. Read “Behind the U.S.’s Bogus War on Taliban Drug Labs”, VICE News, September 18, 2019.

Resolute Support

NATO Support Continues. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization recently held a meeting in Ljubljana, Slovenia. A multitude of issues and topics were discussed at the conference. Among them was Afghanistan – the group reaffirmed their support for Afghan security forces. See “NATO Chiefs Support Afghanistan Resolute Support Mission, Look to Future”, Eurasia Review, September 16, 2019.

Another Green Beret Killed. The U.S. Special Forces community has been hit hard this year in Afghanistan. On Monday, September 16, 2019 Sergeant First Class Jeremy Griffin of the 1st Special Forces Group was killed in Wardak province.

CIA and Militias. Senior White House advisers have proposed secretly expanding the C.I.A.’s presence in Afghanistan if international forces begin to withdraw from the country. But the CIA may not be on board with the plan. Read “Trump Administration Officials at Odds Over C.I.A.’s Role in Afghanistan”, The New York Times, September 2, 2019.

AC-130J In the Afghan Air. The new Ghostrider gunship has been deployed to Afghanistan. The improved gunship sporting a 105 mm artillery piece can perform at higher altitude ceilings and has longer endurance. Read more in “AFSOC’s ‘Ultimate Battle Plane’ Now Operating in Afghanistan“, Military.com, September 16, 2019.

ANDSF

ANDSF – Still Worth Supporting. Afghan Colonel Abdul Rahman Rahmani and Jason Criss Howk (U.S. commentator) provide a case for the continued support of the ANDSF. Read “Afghan Security Forces Still Worth Supporting”, Military Times, August 31, 2019.

Police and Afghanistan. A career U.S. Army military police officer discusses the Rule of Law and role of the police in the long-running Afghan conflict. Read “The US Military is Not, and Can Never Be, Afghanistan’s Police”, Defense One, September 18, 2019.

New Intel Chief. Ahmad Zia Siraj has been appointed by President Ghani as the new acting chief of Afghan intelligence – the National Directorate of Security. (Khaama Press News Agency, September 9, 2019).

Taliban

Taliban Operations Continue. The insurgents are striking in the cities and in the rural areas against a variety of targets. Voter registration centers, district officials, ANDSF units and checkpoints, electrical power pylons, and others are being attacked.

International Committee of the Red Cross. The humanitarian organization has been allowed by the Taliban (effective Sep 2019) to resume its activities in Afghanistan – according to a statement by the Taliban. It had been on notice since April 13, 2019 to curtail its activities in the country.

Suicide Bombings. The use of suicide bombers employing motorcycles, vehicles, and vests to conduct bombings against targets are almost a daily occurrence. On Tuesday (Sep 16th) a bomber struck a rally in Parwan province for President Ashraf Ghani. At least 24 people were killed and more than 30 others wounded. (Voice of America, Sep 17, 2019).

Advising and Security Force Assistance

NLD SOF in Afghanistan. An informative article about Netherlands special operations forces conducting the train, advise, and assist mission with the Afghan Territorial Force 888. (Magazines Defensie, Sep 2, 2019).

Assessing USAF Advising Efforts. Riley Murray, an Air Force officer, draws parallels between the Air Force advisory mission in South Vietnam and the current USAF advisory mission with the Afghan Air Force. He believes that U.S. Air Force advising concepts have been poorly suited towards irregular conflicts. Read “An Assessment of Air Force Advising Concepts in Small Wars, “Paper Falcons”, Small Wars Journal, September 2019.

Paper – Air Advising and the Afghan A-29 Program. Major Michael M. Trimble (USAF) has authored a 131-page paper (PDF) entitled Asymmetric Advantage: Air Advising in a Time of Strategic Competition. The paper is published by the USAF Air University Press, August 2019. There are several chapters on the current status of the USAF advising effort. Of note for SOF professionals is the chapter about the training effort for the Afghan Air Force A-29 Super Tucano program.

Fixing Security Force Training. Advising foreign forces is a hard but necessary task for the U.S. military forces. One former advisor says that the U.S. Army needs a comprehensive approach to advising foreign forces and has to find a way to maintain talented leaders in the advising ranks. Read “Tactical Advising is Not the Problem: How to Get Security Force Training Right”, Small Wars Journal, September 2019.

Commentary

Bolduc – Time to Leave Afghanistan. A retired two-star Special Forces general says it is time to leave Afghanistan. Don Bolduc served multiple tours in Afghanistan – to include time as the CJSOTF-A commander – when the Village Stability Operations and Afghan Local Police programs were being implemented. Read his essay in “I Served 10 Tours in Afghanistan. It’s Time for Us to Leave”, Time.com, August 30, 2019.

A Fractured Taliban? Unlikely. Andrew Watkins comments on the belief of some observers who think that the Taliban lack unity and may splinter with the onset of a peace agreement. Read his thoughts on this topic in “Taliban Fragmentation: A Figment Of Your Imagination?”, War on the Rocks, September 4, 2019.

War is Over – Pakistan Won. Michael Rubin, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), says that it is an open secret that the Taliban peace deal will bring an American exit but not peace. Read “The Afghanistan War is Over, and Pakistan Has Won”, American Enterprise Institute, September 4, 2019.

Prince on Afghanistan. Erik Prince, former Navy SEAL and founder of Blackwater, says the conventional way of fighting the war on terror and the Afghan conflict is not working. He says that America must return to what works against asymmetric, clever enemies. He believes that the abandonment of Afghanistan is ‘utter foolishness’ and that we should get back to small, innovative, and unconventional solutions to our national security problems. Read “US needs to change how it fights wars”, Asia Times, September 16, 2019.

Ambassador Crocker on Afghanistan. Jay Nordlinger interviews former Ambassador Ryan Crocker about America’s longest war. See “Crocker on Afghanistan”, National Review, September 18, 2019.

Looking Back. A Marine veteran writes about his tour of duty in Helmand province, Afghanistan. Read “A Marine Looks Back at His Battles in Afghanistan”, The New York Times, September 16, 2019.

Picking Your Fights. Rod Lyon, a senior fellow at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, says that the U.S. needs to re-evaluate its fight against terrorism and the battle for Afghanistan. He points out the threat by near-peer competitors that should be driving a strategic reorientation. Read “The US needs to choose its battles carefully”, The Strategist, September 17, 2019.

Peace Negotiations

A few weeks back the U.S. and Taliban reached an “agreement in principle” which was awaiting approval by President Trump. Although the Afghan government has thus far been left out of the negotiation process the agreement would have led to the Taliban entering into talks with the government of Afghanistan. But now . . . everything is now on hold based on President Trump’s decision to call the peace talks off. Some observers have called the agreement a surrender while others say it is the best deal that could be had.

“The Taliban has never been hit harder than it is being hit right now. Killing 12 people, including one great American soldier, was not a good idea. There are much better ways to set up a negotiation. The Taliban knows they made a mistake, and they have no idea how to recover!”

President Trump statement on Twitter where he announced the suspension of of peace negotiations with the Taliban, September 14, 2019.

Pompeo May Not Sign Peace Deal. According to Kim Dozier, a columnist on national security and defense issues, Secretary of State Pompeo was hesitant to sign the agreement between the U.S. and the Taliban citing it as ‘risky’. Read more in “Secretary of State Pompeo Declines to Sign Risky Afghan Peace Deal”, Time.com, September 4, 2019.

‘A Rush to Failure’? A group of former U.S. diplomatic officials have collaborated on an opinion piece that states the U.S. should only conduct a full troop withdrawal if there is real peace. They are worried about Afghanistan becoming a new center of terrorism harboring groups dedicated to attacking the United States. Read “US-Taliban Negotiations: How to Avoid Rushing to Failure”, Atlantic Council, September 3, 2019.

Talks in Moscow. In the wake of the failure of the U.S. – Taliban talks the insurgents sent a delegation to Russia to discuss prospects for a withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. The purpose of the meeting, according to Taliban spokesmen, is to assess the level of regional support for forcing the U.S. to leave Afghanistan. Read “Afghan Taliban send team to Russia after U.S. talks collapse”, Reuters, September 14, 2019.

Taliban – al-Qaida Links. One of the ingredients in the peace negotiations is the Taliban promise to deny sanctuary to and to sever its relationship with al-Qaida. However, that may not happen. Kathy Gannon of the Associated Press provides details in “Jihad, history link Taliban to al-Qaida in Afghanistan”, Military Times, September 18, 2019. In another article, Bill Roggio of the Long War Journal, writes about the support that the two organizations provide to each other.

Elections

Ghani the Favorite? It is hard to gauge who is going to win the presidential election but most observers are thinking the current president will emerge the victor. The office of ‘Chief Executive Officer’ may soon disappear into the history books.

Concentrating on Elections not Peace Talks. The Afghan government, in the aftermath of the peace talk failures between the Taliban and the U.S., is now prioritizing its efforts on the presidential election scheduled for September 28, 2019. Spokesmen for the Afghan government say that the new country’s leadership will then pick up the efforts for a negotiated settlement with the Taliban. See “Kabul Rules Out Peace Deal with Taliban Before September 28 Election”, Radio Free Europe, September 14, 2019.

Biometrics Equipment Field. The Afghan Independent Election Committee (IEC) has distributed voter biometric devices to ten provinces so far. The devices are intended to prevent electoral fraud and violations during the upcoming presidential election. Thus far the use of biometric equipment in past elections has been problematic due to technical difficulties, improper training, and corruption. Read more in “IEC Dispatches Biometric Devices to 10 Provinces”, Ariana News, September 2, 2019.

Rivalry at the Top. Afghan President Ashrah Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah continue to spar with each other in the lead up to the presidential election. Read “Abdullah, Ghani Rivalry Likely to Cloud Afghan Presidential Polls”, Gandhara Blog, September 16, 2019.

Politics and Governance

‘One Land, Two Rules’. The delivering of public services by the Afghan government in Taliban contested or controlled districts is examined by authors with the Afghanistan Analysts Network (AAN). The Taliban’s military dominance in the Zurmat district of Paktia province has allowed them to assert their will over how the government and NGO-provided public services are delivered. This is a case study of how the Taliban and Afghan government share the responsibility for governance in one of the many districts where the Taliban exert partial or full control. (AAN, Sep 4, 2019).

EU Supports WFP. The European Union provided financial support to the United Nations World Food Program that assisted over 150,000 people hit by devastating flash floods during 2019. The WFP conducted food distributions and cash transfers (allowing needy recipients to purchase from the local economy). The intense seasonal rains followed the worst drought in a decade and the dried out ground was unable to absorb water. These two factors contributed to the many flash floods this spring.

Reports and Books

Book Review – NATO in Afghanistan. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization rallied to the call to face the growing threat posed by transnational terrorism after the terrible events of September 2001. Deborah L. Hanagan, a retired military intelligence and foreign area officer in the U.S. Army, examines why NATO succeeded in Afghanistan when history suggests most coalitions fracture under pressure. Read more about NATO in the Crucible: Coalition Warfare in Afghanistan, 2001-2014, Hoover Institution Press, September 2019.

Nomad Sedentarisation. Dr. Antonio Giustozzi has written a 24-page paper on the process of the settlement of Afghan nomads into permanent communities. Read Nomad Sedentarisation Processes in Afghanistan and Their Impact on Conflict, Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit (AREU), September 16, 2019.

Some History

Mines and IEDs in the Soviet-Afghan War. The 1979-1989 Soviet war in Afghanistan lasted more than nine years and mine warfare was a big part of that war. The Soviets and their Afghan counterparts employed millions of anti-personnel mines. Their enemy, the Mujahideen, also employed anti-tank and anti-personnel mines – both fabricated and improvised. Read a four-page article by LTC (Ret) Lester W. Grau entitled “IEDs, Land Mines, and Booby Traps in the Soviet-Afghan War”, Infantry, Summer 2019.

Videos

Consequences of U.S. Withdrawal. In a 5-minute long interview Afghan National Security Advisor Hamdullah Mohib and Afghan Deputy Security Minister General Khoshal Sada talked about the impact of a U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. CBS News, September 13, 2019.
https://www.cbsnews.com/video/afghan-security-officials-on-the-impact-of-a-u-s-withdrawal-from-afghanistan/

Afghan Security Chief Issues ISIS Warning. A top Afghan security official says they have found ‘connections’ between al Qaeda and ISIS fighters in a 2-minute video. CBS News, September 13, 2019.
https://www.cbsnews.com/video/afghan-security-chief-warns-of-isis-connections-in-u-s/

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Photo: Afghan Ministry of Interior’s Crisis Response Unit 222. Photo by Resolute Support Twitter 12 Feb 2018.


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