War in Afghanistan (2015–present)

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War in Afghanistan (2015–present)
Part of the War in Afghanistan (1978–present) and
the Military intervention against ISIL
Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan (2015–present).svg
Military situation in Afghanistan on 19 February 2017
  Under control of the Afghan government, NATO, and allies
  Under control of the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and Islamic Jihad Union
  Under control of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant
(For a more detailed map of the current military situation, see here.)
Date 1 January 2015 – ongoing
(2 years, 7 months, 2 weeks and 4 days)
Location Afghanistan
Status

Ongoing

  • Security and control of Afghanistan taken over by Afghan security forces
  • NATO implements a support mission
  • Continued counter-terror operations being conducted by NATO forces
  • ISIL establishes presence in eastern and southern Afghanistan and begins to recruit fighters[16]
  • In 2015 Taliban briefly captured Kunduz in northern Afghanistan[20]
  • U.S. withdrawal completed in December 2016 and enlarged presence in Afghanistan with 8,400 troops remaining indefinitely[21]
  • The Taliban split into two rival groups in late 2015[22]
  • ISIL retreats to Kunar Province by the end of March 2016[23]
  • Afghan government and Hezb-e Islami Gulbuddin sign peace agreement in September 2016[24]
Territorial
changes
As of November 2016, the government controlled or influenced 233 districts of Afghanistan (63.6% of the population, 57.1% area); the Taliban controlled or contested 174 districts (36.5% of the population 42.9% of the area[25])
Belligerents

 Islamic Republic of Afghanistan

Allied groups:

Resolute Support[3]
 United States
 Italy
 Germany
 Georgia
 Turkey
 Romania
 United Kingdom
 Australia
 Czech Republic
 Poland

Taliban

Allied groups



Taliban splinter faction
(from late 2015)
Allied groups


ISIL-KP[16]

Allied groups

Commanders and leaders

Ashraf Ghani
(President of Afghanistan)
Abdullah Abdullah
(CEO of Afghanistan)
Abdul Rashid Dostum
(Vice-President of Afghanistan)
Mohammad Mohaqiq
(Deputy CEO of Afghanistan)
Atta Muhammad Nur
(Governor of Balkh Province)
Bismillah Khan Mohammadi
(Defense Minister of Afghanistan)
Sher Mohammad Karimi
(Chief of Army Staff)
General Muhayuddin Ghori
(Commander of the 207th Zafar Corps) [26]
Coalition:

Haibatullah Akhundzada
(Supreme Commander)[5][27]
Sirajuddin Haqqani
(Deputy of the Taliban)[28]
Mullah Mohammad Yaqoob
(Deputy of the Taliban)[29]
Anwar ul Haq Mujahid
(Commander of Tora Bora Military Front)[30]
Gulbuddin Hekmatyar
(2015–2016)
Flag of Jihad.svg Ayman al-Zawahiri
(Emir of al-Qaeda)


Muhammad Rasul
(Emir of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan)[22]
Mansoor Dadullah
(Deputy of Military Affairs)[22]

Haji Najibullah
(Commander of Fidai Mahaz)[32]

Hafiz Saeed Khan  (ISIL Emir of Wilayat Khorasan)[33]
Mullah Abdul Rauf 
(Deputy Emir)[34]

Usman Ghazi [35][17]
Strength

ANSF: 320,000352,000[36]
RS: 13,000+[37]

  • 9,800 (2015), 8,400 (2016)[38]
  • 1,000
  • 760[39]
  • 500
  • 500 (2016)[40]

Taliban: 30,000–60,000
[41][42]

HIG: 1,500–2,000+[46]
Flag of Jihad.svg al-Qaeda: 50–300[47][48][7][49]

Fidai Mahaz: 8,000[32]
 ISIL: 1,000–3,000[50][51]
ISIL supporters: ~10,000 (Russian presidential envoy estimate)[52]
Casualties and losses

14,727+ killed, 25,105+ wounded[53][54][55]
44 killed, 208 wounded[56]
2 killed[57][58], 3 wounded[59]

Other NATO members: 6 killed[60]
25,500 killed[c][61] 3,472+ killed, 800+ wounded[62][63][64][65][66][67]
100 killed[68]
24,850 civilians killed 2009–2016[69] and 789,761 displaced[70][71]

a The continued list includes nations who have contributed fewer than 200 troops as of May 2017.[72]
b Iran and Russia have been accused of giving support to the Taliban.[73][74][75][76][77] However, both nations deny these allegations.[78][79][80]

c Number includes ISIL fighters, whose deaths are also listed in their separate column.

War in Afghanistan (2015–present) refers to the period of the War in Afghanistan following the U.S.-led 2001–2014 phase. The U.S.-led war followed the September 11 attacks, aiming to attack al-Qaeda and deny it a safe haven in Afghanistan by removing the Taliban from power.[81][82] After 2001, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) became increasingly involved, eventually running combat operations, under the direction of a U.S. commander. On 28 December 2014, NATO formally ended combat operations in Afghanistan and transferred full security responsibility to the Afghan government, marking the beginning of the new phase of the conflict.[83][84]

The withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, as well as other NATO troops, and the transfer of many combat roles from NATO forces to the Afghan security forces occurred between 2011 and 2016. A bilateral security agreement was signed between the US and Afghanistan that allows NATO troops to remain after the withdrawal date in an advisory and counter-terrorism capacity.[85] The NATO troop presence amounts to approximately 13,000 troops including 9,800 Americans, as well as 26,000 military contractors.[86][87][88] The relatively small American presence there has been active in executing airstrikes as well as providing close air support (CAS) for the Afghan forces. Not counting CAS missions, American airstrikes are estimated to have killed 2,600–3,400 people since January 1, 2015, of which 125 to 182 are estimated to be civilians.[89]

Background

ISAF troops changing mission and beginning the Resolute Support Mission

As early as November 2012, the U.S. was considering the precise configuration of their post-2014 presence in Afghanistan.[90][91] On 27 May 2014, President Barack Obama announced that U.S. combat operations in Afghanistan would end in December 2014. A residual force of 9,800 troops would remain in the country, training Afghan security forces and supporting counterterrorism operations against remnants of al-Qaeda. This force would be halved by the end of 2015, and consolidated at Bagram Air Base and in Kabul. Obama also announced all U.S. forces, with the exception of a "normal embassy presence," would be removed from Afghanistan by the end of 2016.[92] These plans were confirmed with the signing of the Bilateral Security Agreement between the United States and Afghanistan on 30 September 2014.[93]

The Special Operations Joint Task Force – Afghanistan, the remnant U.S./NATO special forces organisation, includes a counter-terrorism task force. In the words of the U.S. Special Operations Command Factbook for 2015, this task force '[c]onducts offensive operations in Afghanistan to degrade the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and the Haqqani Networks in order to prevent them from establishing operationally significant safe havens which threaten the stability and sovereignty of Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the United States.'[94] This task force is similar to previous forces such as Task Force 373.

The Taliban began a resurgence due to several factors. At the end of 2014, the US and NATO combat mission ended and the withdrawal of most foreign forces from Afghanistan reduced the risk the Taliban faced of being bombed and raided. In June 2014, the Pakistani military's Operation Zarb-e-Azb, launched in the North Waziristan tribal area in June 2014, dislodged thousands of mainly Uzbek, Arab and Pakistani militants, who flooded into Afghanistan and swelled the Taliban's ranks. The group was further emboldened by the comparative lack of interest from the international community and the diversion of its attention to crisis in other parts of the world, such as Syria, Iraq and Ukraine. Afghan security forces also lack certain capabilities and equipment, especially air power and reconnaissance. The political infighting in the central government in Kabul and the apparent weakness in governance at different levels are also exploited by the Taliban.[95]

Timeline

2015

On 5 January, a suicide car bomber attacked the HQ of EUPOL Afghanistan in Kabul, killing 1 person and injuring 5. The Taliban claimed responsibility.[96] On 15 January, Afghan security officials arrested five men in Kabul in relation to their suspected involvement in the 2014 Peshawar school massacre in Pakistan.[97] In mid-January 2015, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant established a branch in Afghanistan called Wilayah Khorasan and began recruiting fighters[16] and clashing with the Taliban.[98][99] However, an Afghan military officer stated that he believed the Afghan military could handle any threat that the group presented in the country.[16]

American forces have increased raids against "Islamist militants," moving beyond counter-terrorism missions. This is partially due to improved relations with the United States due to the Ghani presidency. Reasoning used for these raids include protecting American forces, which has been broadly interpreted.[100] One raid, a joint raid by American and Afghan forces arrested six Taliban connected to the 2014 Peshawar school massacre.[101] American Secretary of Defense Ash Carter traveled to Afghanistan in February 2015;[102] during a period when it was discussed that the U.S. would slow down its withdrawal from Afghanistan.[103]

In February 2015, the headquarters element of the U.S. 7th Infantry Division began to deploy to Afghanistan.[104] It will serve as the Resolute Support Mission's Train Advise Assist Command - South headquarters. It will be joined by 10th Mountain Division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team, and 101st Combat Aviation Brigade.[105]

On 18 March 2015, Hafiz Wahidi, ISIL's replacement deputy Emir in Afghanistan, was killed by the Afghan Armed Forces, along with 9 other ISIL militants who were accompanying him.[106]

On 19 March 2015, it was reported by Reuters that the U.S. military bases in Kandahar and Jalalabad are likely to remain open beyond the end of 2015, a senior U.S. official said, as the Federal Government of the United States considers slowing its military withdrawal to help the new government fight the Taliban. The anticipated policy reversal reflects U.S. support of Afghanistan's new and more cooperative president, Ashraf Ghani, and a desire to avoid the collapse of local security forces that occurred in Iraq after the U.S. withdrawal there.

On 25 March, the Afghan National Army killed twenty-nine insurgents and injured twenty-one others in a series of operations in the Daikundi, Ghazni, and Parwan provinces.[107] Eleven people, including one U.S. service member, died in a Taliban attack on Camp Integrity in Kabul in August.[108]

Suicide bombers attack Hetal Hotel in May 2015. Norwegian Marinejegerkommandoen special forces were central in saving 37 Australian hostages while they were in direct contact with the Australian ambassador in Kabul.[109]

Kabul Parliament attack

On 22 June 2015, the Taliban detonated a car bomb outside the National Assembly in Kabul, and Taliban fighters attacked the building with assault rifles and RPGs.[110][111] A Taliban fighter driving a car loaded with explosives managed to get though security checkpoints before detonating the vehicle outside the parliament's gates. Six Taliban insurgents with AK-47 rifles and RPGs took up positions in a construction site nearby.[112] Members of Parliament were evacuated to safety, while security forces battled the insurgents in a two-hour gun battle. Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said all seven attackers were killed by police and no MPs were wounded.[113] The UN mission in Afghanistan said a woman and a child were killed in the attack, and forty civilians were injured.[114]

Taliban negotiations

Chinese officials have declared that Afghan stability affects separatist movements in the region, including in China's West[115] as well as the security of the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor.[116] China and Pakistan have been involved in negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban.[115][117][118][119][120] The Quadrilateral Coordination Group-consisting of Afghan, American, Chinese and Pakistani officials have been inviting the Taliban to discuss peace talks since January 2016, but currently they are presumably preoccupied with fighting each other and the government forces. A meeting between representatives of both sides were expected to take place in early March but the Taliban stated they would not participate.[121][122][123][124][125][126]

The bombing of the Kabul parliament has highlighted differences within the Taliban in their approach to peace talks.[127][128] In April 2016, President Ashraf Ghani "pulled the plug" on the Afghan governments failing effort to start peace talks with the Taliban[129]. And due to the Haqqani Networks integration into the Taliban leadership, it will now be harder for peace talks to take place.[130][131] Although leader of the Taliban, Haibatullah Akhundzada, said a peace agreement was possible if the government in Kabul renounced its foreign allies.[132]

Kunduz Offensive

Heavy fighting has occurred in the Kunduz province,[133][134] which was the site of clashes from 2009 onwards. In May, flights into the Northern city of Kunduz were suspended due to weeks of clashes between the Afghan security forces and the Taliban outside the city.[135] The intensifying conflict in the Northern Char Dara District within the Kunduz province led the Afghan government to enlist local militia fighters to bolster opposition to the Taliban insurgency.[136] In June, the Taliban intensified attacks around the Northern city of Kunduz as part of a major offensive in an attempt to capture the city.[137][138][139] Tens of thousands of inhabitants have been displaced internally in Afghanistan by the fighting. The government recaptured the Char Dara district after roughly a month of fighting.[140]

In late September, Taliban forces launched an attack on Kunduz, seizing several outlying villages and entering the city. The Taliban stormed the regional hospital and clashed with security forces at the nearby university. The fighting saw the Taliban attack from four different districts: Char Dara to the west, Aliabad to the south-west, Khanabad to the east and Imam Saheb to the north.[141][142] The Taliban took the Zakhel and Ali Khel villages on the highway leading south, which connects the city to Kabul and Mazar-e Sharif through Aliabad district, and reportedly made their largest gains in the south-west of Kunduz, where some local communities had picked up weapons and supported the Taliban.[141] Taliban fighters had allegedly blocked the route to the Airport to prevent civilians fleeing the city.[143] One witness reported that the headquarters of the National Directorate of Security was set on fire.[144] Kunduz was recaptured by Afghan and American forces on October 14, 2015.

Taliban infighting

On 11 November 2015, it was reported that infighting had broken out between different Taliban factions in Zabul Province. Fighters loyal to the new Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansoor fought a Pro-ISIL splinter faction led by Mullah Mansoor Dadullah. Even though Dadullah's faction enjoyed the support of foreign ISIL fighters, including Uzbeks and Chechens, it was reported that Mansoor's Taliban loyalists had the upper hand. According to Ghulam Jilani Farahi, provincial director of security in Zabul, more than 100 militants from both sides were killed since the fighting broke out.[145]

The infighting has continued into 2016; on 10 March 2016, officials said that the Taliban clashed with the Taliban splinter group (led by Muhammad Rasul) in the Shindand district of Herat with up to 100 militants killed; the infighting has also stifled peace talks.[121][146]

As a result of the infighting, which has resulted in Mansour being consumed with a campaign to quell dissent against his leadership; Sirajuddin Haqqani, chief of the Haqqani Network was selected to become the deputy leader of the Taliban in the summer of 2015, during a leadership struggle within the Taliban. Sirajuddin and other Haqqani leaders increasingly run the day-to-day military operations for the Taliban, in particular; refining urban terrorist attacks and cultivating a sophisticated international fund-raising network, they have also appointing Taliban governors and began uniting the Taliban. As a result, the Haqqani Network is now closely integrated with the Taliban at a leadership level, and is growing in influence within the insurgency, whereas the network was largely autonomous before, and there are concerns that the fighting is going to be deadlier. Tensions with the Pakistani military have also been raised because American and Afghan officials accuse them of sheltering the Haqqanis as a proxy group.[130][131]

Taliban offensive in Helmand Province

In 2015 the Taliban began an offensive in Helmand Province, taking over parts of the Province. By June 2015, they had seized control of Dishu and Bagharm killing 5,588 Afghan government security forces (3,720 of them were police officers).[147] By the end of July, the Taliban had overrun Nawzad District[148] and on 26 August, the Taliban took control of Musa Qala.[149] the status of the remaining districts, by 18 December 2015, is that Taliban and Afghan security forces are contesting Nahr-i-Sarraj, Sangin, Kajaki, Nad Ali and Khanashin (Afghan security forces claim to have previously "ejected" the Taliban from the Khanashin district center, with 42 Taliban fighters killed) whilst Garmsir, Washir, and Nawa-i-Barak are believed to be contested.[150]

In October 2015, Taliban forces had attempted to take Lashkar Gah; the capital of Helmand province, the Afghan's 215th Corps and special operations forces launched a counteroffensive against the Taliban in November,[151] Whilst the assault was repelled, Taliban forces remained dug into the city's suburbs as of December 2015.[152] December 2015 saw a renewed Taliban offensive in Helmand focused on the town of Sangin, Sangin district fell to the Taliban on 21 December, after fierce clashes that killed more than 90 soldiers in two days.[153] It was reported that 30 members of the SAS alongside 60 US special forces operators joined the Afghan Army in the Battle to retake parts of Sangin from Taliban insurgents,[154] in addition, about 300 U.S. troops and a small number of British troops are in Helmand and are advising Afghan commanders at the Corps level.[155][156]

On or around 23 December, approximately 200 Afghan Police and Army forces were besieged inside the towns police headquarters, with ammunition, military equipment and food having to be airdropped to their positions, with the rest of Sangin being under Taliban control, and an attempted relief mission failing.[152][157][158][159][160] As of 27 December 2015, the Taliban control the districts of Musa Qala, Nawzad, Baghran, and Disho and districts of Sangin, Marja, Khanishin, Nad Ali, and Kajaki have also experienced sustained fighting according to Mohammad Karim Attal, the chief of the Helmand Provincial council.[161]

U.S. Army soldier in Nangarhar Province, 6 January 2015

Senior American commanders said that the Afghan troops in the province have lacked effective leaders as well as the necessary weapons and ammunition to hold off persistent Taliban attacks. Some Afghan soldiers in Helmand have been fighting in tough conditions for years without a break to see their family, leading to poor morale and high desertion rates.[155] In early February 2016, Taliban insurgents renewed their assault on Sangin, after previously being repulsed in December 2015, launching a string of ferocious attacks on Afghan government forces earlier in the month. As a result, the United States decided to send 700 to 800 soldiers American troops from 2nd battalion 87th Infantry Regiment, 10th Mountain Division, in order to prop up Afghan army's 215th Corps in Helmand province, particularly around Sangin, joining US special operations forces already in the area.[162][163][164][165][166]

On 23 February 2016, CNN announced that Afghan troops pulled out of Nawzad and Musa Qala districts in Helmand Province on 20 and 21 February in what a senior military official said was a "tactical" move. Head of the local provincial council Mohammad Karim Atal told CNN, "Afghan soldiers had paid a heavy price and had recaptured some of the areas in those districts by shedding their blood only few months back, but now because of mismanagement, lack of coordination and weak leadership they left them in the hands of enemies."[167]

On 14 March 2016, Khanneshin District in Helmand Province fell to the Taliban; and district by district, Afghan troops are retreating back to urban centers in Helmand.[166][126] In early April 2016, 600 Afghan troops launched a major offensive to retake Taliban-occupied areas of Sangin and the area around it,[168] an Afghan army offensive to retake the town of Khanisheen was repelled by the Taliban, desertions from the army in the area are rife.[169] By 28 July 2016, the outlook on the situation in Helmand province was good, U.S. military officials are now expecting a major Taliban offensive. General Nicholson said, “Now, fighting season's not over. We anticipate we'll see other enemy attempts to regain territory in Helmand. But thus far, things are on a real positive trajectory.” [170]

TAAC-E advisers in February 2015

Despite US airstrikes, militants besieged Lashkar Gah, reportedly controlling all roads leading to the city and areas a few miles away. The US stepped up airstrikes in support of Afghan ground forces. Afghan forces in Lashkar Gah were reported as "exhausted" whilst police checkpoints around the capital were falling one by one; whilst the Taliban sent a new elite commando force into Helmand called "Sara Khitta" in Pashto.[171][172][173] Afghan security forces beat back attacks by Taliban fighters encroaching on Chah-e-Anjir, just 10 km from Lashkar Gah; Afghan special forces backed by U.S. airstrikes battled increasingly well-armed and disciplined Taliban militants. An Afghan special forces commander said "The Taliban have heavily armed, uniformed units that are equipped with night vision and modern weapons."[174] On August 22, 2016, the US announced that 100 U.S. troops were sent to Lashkar Gah to help prevent the Taliban from overrunning it, in what Brigadier General Charles Cleveland called a “temporary effort” to advise the Afghan police.[175] The deployment brought the number of US troops deployed in and around Lashkar Gah to about 700; according to a spokesman for the provincial governor of Helmand, U.S. forces have been carrying out operations with Afghan forces in the Chah Anjir area of Nad-e-Ali district and around the Babaji area.[176]

On October 1, 2016, it was reported that Taliban fighters advanced closer to Lashkar Gah by pushing into a farming district on the other side of the river from the town. Despite pushing back the Taliban with the support of US airstrikes in August, the Afghan government is struggling to reverse the tide of fighting. Local officials said that security forces were engaging insurgents and were expected to begin offensive operations soon.[177] On October 10, it was reported that the Taliban launched a large-scale attack on Lashkar Gah, pushing into the town, and were said to have taken Bolan and Nawa.[178][179]

On December 31, 2016, the Taliban continued their assault on the province with attacks on Sangin and Marjah districts.[180] In January 2017, the Marine Corps Times reported that in spring 2017, the U.S. Marine Corps will deploy a task force of 300 personnel (known as Task Force Southwest) for nine months to southwestern Afghanistan to advise-and-assist local security forces in countering Taliban gains in the Helmand province. Officials said the Marines will work alongside "key leaders" from the Afghan National Army's 215th Corps and the 505th Zone National Police "to further optimize their capabilities in that region." Task Force Southwest will comprise mostly more-senior military personnel selected from units across II Marine Expeditionary Force, including the 6th Marine Regiment; the Task Force will be replacing the US Army's Task Force Forge, which has conducted a similar advisory role for much of 2016. Some estimates suggest the Taliban has retaken more than 80% of Helmand province. According to Defense Department statistics 9 U.S. service members were killed in action and another 70 were wounded there by hostile activity throughout 2016.[181] The Washington Post reported that the Afghan government control 2 districts whilst 6 districts are contested and the 6 others are largely controlled by the Taliban.[182]

On February 12, 2017, the Huffington Post reported that, according to a UN report, that US aircraft conducted around 30 air strikes in Helmand Province in the preceding week; according to a U.N. statement, air strikes in Sangin district on February 9 and 10 killed as many as 18 civilians.[183] Military.com reported that the Helmand governor's office said 60 Taliban fighters, including 8 commanders, were killed in the recent fighting but denied any civilian deaths.[184]

During the early hours of March 23, 2017 Sangin district was captured by the Taliban as they have overrun the district center, the town of Sangin. During earlier phase of the war almost a quarter of British casualties were caused by fighting for the town, while more recently hundreds of Afghan troops lost their lives defending it.[185][186] On 29 April 2017, the Donald Trump administration deployed an additional 5,000 US Marines to the Southern Helmand Province, this marks the return of US marines to the province since 2014.[187]

2016

In January 2016, the US government sent a directive to the Pentagon which granted new legal authority for the U.S. military to go on the offensive against Militants affiliated with the ISIS-K (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant – Khorasan Province), after the State Department announced the designation of ISIS in Afghanistan and Pakistan as a foreign terrorists organisation. ISIS-K formed in January 2015 after it pledged its allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi,[188] the number of militants started with around 60 or 70, with most of them coming over the border with Pakistan but now they range between 1,000 and 3,000 militants,[189] mainly defectors from the Afghan and the Pakistani Taliban, and is generally confined to Nangarhar Province but also has/had a presence in Kunar province.[190][189]

A USAF F-16 Fighting Falcon takes off at Bagram Airfield for a combat sortie, 14 March 2016

For 3 weeks in that month, the U.S. military carried out at least a dozen operations, including commando raids and airstrikes, many of these raids and strikes taking place in the Tora Bora region of Nangarhar Province. American commanders in Afghanistan said they believed that between 90 and 100 Islamic State militants had been killed in these recent operations.[191] On 1 February 2016, U.S. airstrikes in Nangarhar province killed 29 ISIS fighters and struck the terrorist group's FM radio station.[192] By 11 February, ABC news reported the U.S. military had carried out 20 airstrikes on ISIS in eastern Afghanistan in the previous 3 weeks.[193]

On 21 February, the Wall Street Journal reported that, just over a week before, Afghan forces supported by U.S. airstrikes launched an operation dubbed “Eagle 18,” against ISIL forces in Nangarhar province. Ground forces led by the Afghan army and backed by police and paramilitary groups pushed into Achin district, the group’s main base and Dislodged Islamic State From their Stronghold, U.S. airstrikes had hit the area almost daily for weeks, killing militants affiliated with Islamic State and weakening their grip on the district. Two Afghan soldiers were wounded in the operation but ISIL militants are now retreating from Achin and other districts, the operation is currently ongoing.[194] Since 22 February, Afghan security forces killed 18 Islamic State militants, whilst a further 25 ISIS militants were killed in a drone strike in the Pekha Khwar area of Achin district, Nangarhar province, they were gathering to attack Afghan security posts. Additionally, a large quantity of weapons and ammunition belonging to the terrorist group was destroyed.[195][196] On 6 March 2016, Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani announced in the Afghan parliament that the Islamic State has been defeated in the eastern parts of the country, Afghan forces claimed victory following the 21-day operation in Achin and Shinwar districts of Nangarhar province, claiming at least 200 militants killed. The operation was aided by local civilians who set up checkpoints to help maintain security in their villages and later supplemented the Afghan forces.[197] On March 15, 2016, an official confirmed that Islamic State militants had moved into Chahar Dara district of Kunduz province and into Kunar province.[198][199] In early April 2016, it was reported that US and Afghan forces had killed 1,979 suspected militants, 736 others wounded and 965 detained between April 2015 and March 2016, ISIS militants have also been trying to flee into Ghazni and Nuristan province, whilst there has been a rise in defections from the group to the government and the Taliban.[200][146]

U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter speaks to troops at Bagram Airfield, 12 July 2016

In late June 2016, IS militants attacked police checkpoints in the Kot area of Nangarhar province, heavy fighting between Islamic State militants and government security forces has claimed dozens of lives in eastern Afghanistan, as many as 36 IS militants are reported to have been killed in the assaults, at least a dozen Afghan security forces and civilians have been killed, with another 18 wounded. The latest attacks indicate the group remains a potent threat to a government already battling an insurgency dominated by the rival Taliban.[201][202]

On July 23, 2016, Afghan and U.S. forces began an offensive to clear Nangarhar province of Islamic State militants hours after the Kabul bombing, the operation was dubbed "Wrath of the Storm" involving both Afghan regular army and special forces and is the Afghan army's first major strategic offensive of the summer. The operation was backed by U.S. special forces troops and airstrikes; 5 US special forces troops were wounded by small arms fire or shrapnel over July 24 and 25 whilst clearing areas of southern Nangarhar with Afghan special operations troops, it appeared to be the first reported instance of U.S. troops being wounded in fighting IS in Afghanistan. On July 26, in overnight raid in Kot district during the operation, supported by foreign air support, one of the most important leaders of IS in the region, Saad Emarati, one of the founders of the ISIS-K, was killed along with 120 other suspected militants killed; by July 30 killed hundreds of IS militants in eastern Afghanistan. Afghan troops pushed into Kot district after a heavy air and artillery bombardment that forced Daesh to flee into nearby mountain areas, Afghan forces met little resistance, finding an already destroyed training camp, by July 30, the provincial governor said that 78 Daesh fighters had been killed in the operation. The operation reclaimed large and significant parts of eastern Afghanistan, forcing Daesh militants back into the mountains of southern Nangarhar. The estimated size of the ISIS-K in January 2016 was around 3,000, but by July 2016 the number has been reduced to closely 1,000 to 1,500, with 70% of its fighters come from the TTP.[170][203][204][205][206]

Green Berets of the 10th SFG memorialize two comrades who were killed in action during the Battle of Boz Qandahari on November 2–3, 2016

On October 4, 2016, A US soldier from B Company, 2nd Battalion, 10th SFG was killed by a roadside bomb blast in Achin, Nangarhar province, he was on a patrol with Afghan forces during an operation against ISIL-K militants.[207] This marked the first time a U.S. serviceman was killed in combat against IS militants in the country.[208]

In December 2016, CNN reported that The Afghan air force was just beginning to conduct its first independent airstrikes; whilst the Afghan government had become increasingly reliant on Afghan Special Forces to carry out the fight against ISIS and the Taliban – the 17,000-strong force is responsible for 70% of offensive military operations, an operational tempo that the commander of the international coalition, General John Nicholson acknowledged is difficult to sustain. As of December 2016, there are 9,800 US service members in Afghanistan, Nicholson told reporters at the Pentagon that the number of US forces would be reduced to 8,450 by 2017; the US and its 39 coalition partners in Afghanistan are committed to providing support to Afghanistan for through 2020, in particular, Nicholson added that the international community had pledged millions of dollars and advisory support to Afghanistan – these commitments would help grow the size of the Afghan Special Forces. Even with the US providing advisers and airstrikes to the Afghan forces, the US military believes that the government only controls about 64% of the country, with the Taliban controlling about 10% and the remainder being contested by the army and the insurgency; Nicholson also said that US-led operations in 2016 had killed or captured 50 leaders from al Qaeda and AQIS.[209] On 24 December 2016, Military.com reported that Brigadier General Charles Cleveland said that ISIL-K's presence in the country has been pushed back from nearly a dozen districts to just two or three, the number of its members in Afghanistan had been reduced to about 1,000 from an estimated strength of between 1,500 and 3,000 members the previous year. Overall, U.S. troops in Afghanistan conducted more than 350 operations against the IS and al-Qaeda this year, more than 200 al-Qaeda members were killed or captured. In early December, General John Nicholson said U.S.-led counter-terrorism operations and Afghan government forces had killed 12 of the organization's top leaders in the country; U.S. officials have said IS fighters are primarily located in Nangarhar and Kunar Province's and Al-Qaida fighters operate in at least 6 provinces also along the country's eastern border.[210] In January 2017, the Marine Corps Times reported that according to an inspector general, the Afghan army comprises about 169,000 soldiers, but in 2016 they suffered a 33 percent attrition rate — a 7 percent increase from 2015.[181]

Spring and Summer offensives

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Kabul, 9 April 2016

On 12 April 2016, the Taliban announced that they would launch an offensive called Operation Omari.[211][212] Afghan forces have been battling the Taliban in northeastern Kunduz as part of the Afghan forces' own spring offensive.[146] On 14 April, hundreds of Taliban and other insurgents attempted to retake Kunduz, however Afghan forces repelled the assault, according to Kunduz provincial police chief, allegedly killing 40 and injuring between 8 and 60 Taliban, whilst Afghan forces suffered 4 killed and 6 wounded. U.S. surveillance aircraft are supporting Afghan forces as they try to push the Taliban back, there has also been fighting in at least 6 other districts, where a further 28 Taliban fighters were killed with another 28 wounded.[213][214][215] On 18 July 2016, at least 100 Taliban fighters attacked Qalai Zal district, Kunduz Province, in an attempt to take the district, but Afghan forces pushed them back, 8 Taliban – including a commander – were killed, while 1 Afghan security force member was killed and three others wounded.[216]

The Taliban executed at least 10 people, some of whom were reportedly off-duty soldiers from the Afghan army on 31 May 2016 after kidnapping up to 220 people from buses and cars at a checkpoint on the Kunduz-Takhar highway. The majority of the passengers were released after they were interrogated by the Taliban insurgents, however at least 18 individuals have still remained hostage.[217][218][219] On 7 June 2016, in Ghazni province 12 members of Afghan security forces were killed, they include seven policemen, three soldiers, and two officials from the National Directorate of Security, the next day in the northern province of Kunduz Taliban fighters stopped a bus on a highway near the provincial capital and abducted 40 passengers—the second such abduction in the province in less than two weeks.[220]

On 1 June 2016, Taliban insurgents stormed a court in the Afghan city of Ghazni, clashing with police for at least an hour in an attack in which 10 people, including all five of the militants, were killed, police said. The attack came days after the Taliban, vowed to seek revenge for the execution last month of six Taliban prisoners by the Afghan government.[221] Another retaliatory attack for the execution of prisoners by the Afghan government came on 5 June 2016, leaving at least 5 people killed and at least 19 others injured at an appeals court in Pul-e Alam in Logar province, among the five killed in the attack was the newly named head of the appeals court.[222] Later same day an Afghan member of parliament, Shir Wali Wardak, was killed by a bomb planted near his residence in the capital Kabul, another 11 people were injured by the blast, no group has claimed responsibility.[223]

In June 2016, President Obama approved a policy to give the U.S. military greater ability to accompany and enable Afghan forces fighting the Taliban; the decision also allows greater use of US air power, particularly in CAS missions. The US commander in Afghanistan, General John Nicholson, will now be able to decide when it is appropriate for American troops to accompany conventional Afghan forces into the field; something they have so far only been allowed to do with Afghan special forces. A senior US defence official said that the expanded powers are only meant to be employed "in those select instances in which their engagement can enable strategic effects on the battlefield". Previous US rules of engagement in Afghanistan impose limits on US forces ability to strike at insurgents; being allowed to take action against the Taliban in moments when their assistance was needed to prevent a significant Afghan military setback.[224] The Taliban are refocusing their attention mostly on Helmand, Kandahar and Uruzgan province, according to U.S. and Afghan military officials, although the insurgents also have struck elsewhere. The Taliban still have a large presence in the region with as many as 25,000 fighters with more than 30,000 Afghan security forces fighting to quell the group’s resurgence.[225] On June 24, it was reported that in the previous week, the U.S. military had launched its first airstrikes against the Taliban since the change in US policy; carrying out a "couple" of airstrikes on targets in southern Afghanistan.[226] In July 2016, President Obama announced that he plans to leave 8,400 US troops in Afghanistan when he finishes his term – instead of reducing the number of personnel to 5,500 troops by the end of this year, reflecting the difficulty of drawing down the US presence in the country.[216][227] Whilst the UK is to send up to 50 additional military personnel to Afghanistan:, 21 will join the counter-terrorism mission, 15 will be involved in a leadership development at the Afghan army's officer training academy, and 13 will join the Resolute Support Mission, joining the 450 British troops already in the country. UK troops had been due to leave Afghanistan this year but will now have their mission extended into 2017.[227]

On 30 June 2016, two suicide bombers attacked an Afghan police convoy carrying recently graduated cadets on the western outskirts of the capital Kabul, killing up to 40 cadets, while injuring 40 more. The incident comes 10 days after an attack on a bus carrying Nepali security guards working for the Canadian embassy in Kabul that killed 14 people.[228][229]

As of July 2016, at least 20% of Afghanistan is under Taliban control;[230] however, despite Afghan casualties rising up to about 20%, Afghan security forces have significantly increased their capabilities and made important gains by going on the offensive.[231][170]

2016 peace deal

On 22 September 2016, the Afghan government signed a draft peace deal with Hezb-i-Islami. According to the draft agreement, Hezb-i-Islami agreed to cease hostilities, cut ties to extremist groups and respect the Afghan Constitution, in exchange for government recognition of the group and support for the removal of United Nations and American sanctions against Hekmatyar, who was also promised an honorary post in the government.[232][233] The agreement was formalized on 29 September by both Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Hekmatyar who appeared via a video link in the presidential palace, signing the agreement.[24]

2017

In early January 2017, the Marine Corps Times reported that Afghan forces seek to rebuild, following an exhausting 2016 fighting season; 33 districts, which are spread across 16 Afghan provinces are under insurgent control whilst 258 are under government control and nearly 120 districts remain "contested".[181]

On 9 February 2017, General John W. Nicholson Jr. told Congress that NATO and allied forces in Afghanistan are facing a “stalemate” and that he needed a few thousand additional troops to more effectively train and advise Afghan soldiers. Additionally, he also asserted that Russia was trying to “legitimize” the Taliban by creating the “false narrative” that the militant organization has been fighting the Islamic State and that Afghan forces have not, he asserted Russia’s goal, was “to undermine the United States and NATO” in Afghanistan. However he said that the area in which Islamic State fighters operate in Afghanistan had been greatly reduced.[234] A U.S. Special Forces soldier was severely wounded that day when the base he was at was attacked in Helmand province, raising the number of U.S. troops injured in combat nationwide so far this year to at least 6, Nicholson indicated the soldier was wounded in Sangin.[235]

The Military Times reported that on 26 February 2017, a USAF airstrike that killed the Taliban leadership commander Mullah Abdul Salam in Kunduz province in a joint operation with Afghan security forces. The airstrike marked a renewed strategy by U.S. forces under the Trump administration to remove the Taliban leadership/commanders from the battlefield. The Obama administration strategy had focused much of its efforts in pushing reconciliation between the Taliban and the central government of Afghanistan; although in June 2016, to turn back the tide of Taliban gains, President Obama changed the rules of engagement to give U.S. commanders more flexibility to provide airstrikes and ground support to struggling Afghan forces, if those efforts were perceived to provide “strategic effects.” It made a concerted effort to kill high-profile al-Qaeda and Haqqani terrorists-groups officially designated as terrorist organizations by the U.S. State Department-while attempting to draw down U.S. and NATO forces in the region, having a tangible successes.[236]

The Army Times reported that in early March 2017, American and Afghan forces launched Operation Hamza to "flush" ISIS-K from its stronghold in eastern Afghanistan, engaging in regular ground battles.[237] Stars and Stripes reported that General Dawlat Waziri, spokesman for Afghanistan’s Defense Ministry, said that for four weeks before the 13 April Nangarhar airstrike (which was part of the operation), Afghan special forces unsuccessfully attempted to penetrate the area because of the difficult terrain and improvised explosive device (IEDs) planted by ISIS-KP militants.[238] The governor of Achin province Ismail Shinwary, confirmed to the BBC that two weeks preceding the strike that Afghan special forces, with the US air support, had begun anti-IS operations in the area two weeks ago.[239]

In April 2017, the Washington Post reported that Captain Bill Salvin, a spokesman for NATOs' mission to Afghanistan, said that Afghan and international forces had reduced ISIS-K controlled territory in Afghanistan by two-thirds and had killed around half the their fighters in the previous 2 years. Since the beginning of 2017, 460 airstrikes against terrorists (with drone strikes alone killing more than 200 IS militants); he added that the affiliate has an estimated 600-800 fighters in two eastern Afghan provinces.[240]

On 13 April 2017, the United States dropped[241] the largest non-nuclear bomb, known as the GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB) Mother of All Bombs, at 34.073336, 70.631215 (latitude and longitude coordinates) near Momand village[242] upon a Nangahar’s Achin District village in eastern Afghanistan to destroy tunnel complexes used by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant – Khorasan Province (ISIL-KP or ISIS-K).[243][244][245] The Guardian reported that following the strike, US and Afghan forces conducted clearing operations and airstrikes in the area and assessed the damage.[246]

On 21 April 2017, Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan fighters along with Afghan security forces allied to them stormed 209th Corps military base near Mazar-e-Sharif, killing over 140 Afghan soldiers.[247][248][249]

On 28 April 2017, the Washington Post reported that the Taliban announced the beginning of their spring offensive dubbed “Operation Mansouri.”[250] On 20 May, Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan fully secured Waghaz District in the province of Ghazni, while at the same time stormed Dih Yak district center and blew up Governor of Ghazni compound in Ghazni city.[251] Another major assault took place on 22 May in Shah Wali Kot district, Northern Kandahar province, during which Taliban managed to capture large military base, while inflicting heavy casualties to the Afghan army, reportedly killing 35 and capturing 4 soldiers as well as 3 Armoured Personnel Carriers . During the same day they have overran a border outpost in southern Shorabak district ending the lives of 15 soldiers and another outpost in district of Khakrez, killing 8 more. The next day rebels assaulted another military base in Shah Wali Kot and an outpost, killing 4 soldiers and injuring 4 more, while pro-government forces abandoned a village in northern district of Maruf. On 24 May Taliban assaulted a base in Maiwand district killing 13 soldiers.[252] Taliban launched another attack in province of Kandahar on 26 May, killing at least 18 soldiers, injuring 16 more and capturing 4 according to security officials, while the group itself claimed to have killed 35 soldiers and capturing 7 more, while also seizing 7 Armoured Personnel Carriers and an array of weapons[253] On 27 May, 13 members of Khost Provincial Force, a CIA funded and equipped paramilitary group, known for torture and extrajudicial killings, were killed after a Taliban car bomb blew up in Khost city.[254]

On 31 May 2017, the German embassy in Kabul was attacked by a suicide truck, located in the heavily fortified area of Kabul, killing over 90 and injuring over 350.[255][256][257] No one has claimed responsibility for the attack yet. The bomb went off at about 08:25 local time (03:55 GMT) during rush hour.[256] The fortified area is considered the safest area of Kabul, with 3m (10ft) tall blast walls.[256] India's foreign minister Sushma Swaraj said its embassy staff were safe.

Impact

Civilian casualties

In 2015, according to the United Nations (UN) annual report there were 3,545 civilian deaths and 7,457 people wounded.[258] The anti-government elements were responsible for 62 percent of the civilians killed or wounded. The pro-government forces caused 17 percent of civilian deaths and injuries – including United States and NATO troops, which were responsible for about 2 percent of the casualties.[259]

In 2016, a total of 3,498 civilians deaths and 7,920 injuries were recorded by the United Nations. The UN attributed 61% of casualties to anti-government forces.[260] Afghan security forces caused about 20 percent of the overall casualties, while pro-government militias and Resolute Support Mission caused 2 percent each. Air strikes by US and NATO warplanes resulted in at least 127 civilian deaths and 108 injuries. While, the Afghan air force accounted for at least 85 deaths and 167 injuries. The UN was not able to attribute responsibility for the remaining 38 deaths and 65 injuries resulting from air strikes.[261]

ANSF and Coalition casualties

In 2015, 7,000 members of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) were killed and 12,000 wounded in the conflict.[53] The following year, 6,785 were killed and 11,777 wounded between January 1 and November 12, 2016.[54] Throughout 2015 and 2016, 34 U.S. and seven other NATO servicemembers died (including non-combat deaths), while 154 U.S. soldiers were wounded in action.[56][60]

Afghan Security Forces and allied militias

Afghan National Army

Afghan National Army troops in July 2015

U.S. policy called for boosting the Afghan National Army to 134,000 soldiers by October 2010. By May 2010 the Afghan Army had accomplished this interim goal and was on track to reach its ultimate number of 171,000 by 2011.[262] This increase in Afghan troops allowed the U.S. to begin withdrawing its forces in July 2011.[263][264]

In 2010, the Afghan National Army had limited fighting capacity.[265] Even the best Afghan units lacked training, discipline and adequate reinforcements. In one new unit in Baghlan Province, soldiers had been found cowering in ditches rather than fighting.[266] Some were suspected of collaborating with the Taliban.[265] "They don't have the basics, so they lay down," said Capt. Michael Bell, who was one of a team of U.S. and Hungarian mentors tasked with training Afghan soldiers. "I ran around for an hour trying to get them to shoot, getting fired on. I couldn't get them to shoot their weapons."[265] In addition, 9 out of 10 soldiers in the Afghan National Army were illiterate.[267]

In early 2015, Philip Munch of the Afghanistan Analysts' Network wrote that '..the available evidence suggests that many senior ANSF members, in particular, use their positions to enrich themselves. Within the ANSF there are also strong external loyalties to factions who themselves compete for influence and access to resources. All this means that the ANSF may not work as they officially should. Rather it appears that the political economy of the ANSF prevents them from working like modern organisations – the very prerequisite' of the Resolute Support Mission.[268] Formal and informal income, Munch said, which can be generated through state positions, is rent-seeking – income without a corresponding investment of labour or capital. 'Reportedly, ANA appointees also often maintain clients, so that patron-client networks, structured into competing factions, can be traced within the ANA down to the lowest levels... There is evidence that Afghan officers and officials, especially in the higher echelons, appropriate large parts of the vast resource flows which are directed by international donors into the ANA.[269]

Afghan Air Force

In January 2017, the Marine Corps Times reported that General John Nicholson told Pentagon reporters in December 2016 that in March 2016 the Afghan Air Force had no ground-attack aircraft but since then they've added 8 aircraft for this and about 120 Afghan tactical air controllers.[181]

Afghan National Police

Women from Afghan Border Police and TAAC-S advisors attend shura at Kandahar Airfield, 9 August 2015

The Afghan National Police provides support to the Afghan army. Police officers in Afghanistan are also largely illiterate. Approximately 17 percent of them tested positive for illegal drugs in 2010. They were widely accused of demanding bribes.[270] Attempts to build a credible Afghan police force were faltering badly, according to NATO officials.[271] A quarter of the officers quit every year, making the Afghan government's goals of substantially building up the police force even harder to achieve.[271]

A report from the Pentagon said Afghan national defence and security forces had 27 percent more casualties from the beginning of 2015 up to mid-November compared with the same period in 2014.[272] In January 2016 a police officer in Uruzgan province shot dead 10 colleagues.[273] On 11 February 2016 an Afghan policeman shot dead 4 of his colleagues and injured 7 more in the province of Kandahar, the latest in a string of insider attacks.[274] On Tuesday, 8 March 2016 a video went viral showing armed men in police uniforms torturing an alleged suicide bomber in Panjwayi District of Kandahar Province. Despite some progress, torture and ill-treatment of detainees remains rife in Afghan prisons. According to a U.N. report one-third of all prisoners were found to have been tortured.[275] On 21 May 2016 three police officers shot dead 6 of their colleagues at a checkpoint in the volatile Uruzgan province. The incident followed another in the capital Kabul, where an Afghan security guard at a U.N. compound shot two Nepalese guards, killing one and wounding the other. In southern Zabul province, eight policemen were shot dead by another officer.[276]

Allied anti-Taliban militias

The two largest anti-Taliban militias are the mainly Tajik-led Jamiat-e Islami and the Uzbek-led Junbish-i-Milli. Jamiat-e Islami was active during the Soviet war in Afghanistan and the following civil war in Afghanistan.[277] Junbish-i-Milli was also involved in the civil war in Afghanistan. Both groups were members of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance.

Junbish-i-Milli is led by former General and current Vice President, Abdul Rashid Dostum. Atta Muhammad Nur, the Governor of Balkh province in Afghanistan serves as a prominent leader within Jamiat-e Islami, and has been responsible for mobilizing Jamiat forces against the Taliban in northern Afghanistan. He has been joined by Dostum to form a coalition to fight the Taliban in the north.[278][1] However rivalry between the two groups has repeatedly erupted in clashes, also local commanders of Jamiat-e Islami and Junbish-i-Milli have been accused of killings, armed robberies, land grabbing, extortion and collection of illegal levies among other activities for the advantage of their respective political parties.[279] On November 2016 Abdul Rashid Dostum was seen lashing out upon a political rival, Ahmad Ishchi, brutally beating him with support of his bodyguards and finally kidnapping him during buzkashi match in which he also paid tribute to fallen comrades after Taliban ambush.[280]

Taliban and allied forces

As of mid-2015, the Taliban are "directly or indirectly" supported in Afghanistan by "about a dozen" militant groups, having "different goals and agendas" according to the BBC.[281] The groups include some headquartered in Pakistan like Lashkar-e-Taiba. Among the groups are:

Iran

“The strongest Taliban here are Iranian Taliban,” according to a senior intelligence official quoted by the New York Times. Despite a tradition of being enemies, according to Afghan and Western officials, Iran has been providing Taliban with "weapons, money and training"; fuel for their trucks; new recruits from Afghan Sunni refugees living in Iran; and giving their "commanders sanctuary in Iran. Iranian assistance to the Taliban in a October 2016 three-week siege of Farah, (which was coordinated with attacks on other Afghan cities) is part of an "accelerating" campaign by Iran to fill "a vacuum left by departing American forces".[283] According to what "village elders told Afghan provincial officials", the insurgents in the attack were "recruited and trained" in Iran.[283] In addition to aiding the Taliban directly, Afghan officials say Iran "has sent squads of assassins" and "infiltrated police ranks and government departments" with spies.[283]

Before his assassination by a US drone, Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour toured Iran "meeting with Iranian security officials and, through Iran, with Russian officials".[283]

Joshua Levkowitz of the Middle East Institute believes this policy began in 2014. He notes what a striking reversal it is of Iran's previous hostility towards the Taliban—in 1998 Iran mobilized a force of 70,000 along the Iran-Afghanistan border to threaten the Taliban after the ruling Taliban rounded up and killed nine Iranian diplomats in Mazari Sharif as part of its massacre of Shia in Afghanistan.[284] He speculates that giving the Taliban "limited" aid is part of an attempt to make common cause against mutual enemies and "hit two birds with one stone": weaken ISIS — the transnational anti-Shia Islamist insurgents and rival to the Taliban; and weaken the United States, whose goal in Afghanistan is to crush the Taliban but may also include using Afghanistan as a base against Iran.[284]

Iran's ambassador to Afghanistan denies that Iran is helping the Taliban.[283]

Other forces

Opposing the Taliban and the Afghan government are

See also

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