As the new year opened, the Taliban pushed deeper into Sangin district of Afghanistan's Helmand province, with the Afghan army struggling to retake territory newly won by the insurgents. Kabul has sent reinforcements, but as AP reported Dec. 29, police are refusing to return to the streets even of those areas the army has supposedly secured. According to Karim Atal, director of the Helmand provincial council, security forces are for now staying inside their base in Sangin district. And this isn't just another district in Afghanistan's rugged hinterlands. Sangin is a key opium-producing district in Helmand—itself both the heartland of the Taliban insurgency and Afghan poppy cultivation. It is also straegically localted on a corridor connecting Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province, to the province's northern districts. So, as the BBC News states: "Regaining full control of Sangin would increase the Taliban's mobility in the north of the province and cut a key supply line for Afghan forces with Lashkar Gah. Sangin is also a rich opium production centre—meaning potential tax revenue for the Taliban from the drugs trade."
Pakistan's Anti-Narcotic Force (ANF) on Nov. 20 announced the latest in a string of mega-scale hashish busts in recent months. A 4.2-ton haul was reported from a "desolate site" near the mountain village of Tehsil Gulistan, in Qilla Abdullah district of Balochistan province. Authorities said the mega-stash had been deposited along with a smaller quantity of heroin in a hidden spot behind bushes for traffickers to collect for export. (Pakistan Today)
The US Department of Defense (DoD) and Pentagon officials have completed their investigation into the Oct. 3 bombing of the Doctors Without Borders (MSF) hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan and announced on Nov. 25 that it was an "avoidable accident caused primarily by human error." Commander of US forces in Afghanistan, Gen. John Campbell, stated that the hospital was targeted accidentally, and US personnel believed they were attacking a separate structure containing enemy combatants several hundred meters away. The investigation found that personnel did not complete full precautionary measures to verify the building was a "legitimate military target." Systems and procedural failures compounded the human error, resulting in the hospital bombing that killed over 30 and injured dozens. Military service members who were most closely involved in the bombing have been suspended, but Campbell declined to state how many.
Tens of thousands took to the streets of Kabul on Nov. 11 with coffins carrying the bodies of seven ethnic Hazara, demanding justice after their beheadings. Afghan security forces fired warning shots into the air as the protest funeral approached the presidential palace, injuring seven. Today they kill us, tomorrow they kill you," protesters chanted. Others carried banners bearing photos of the victims and shouted "Death to the Taliban!" Some also shouted "Death to Ashraf Ghani!" and "Death to Abdullah Abdullah!"—Afghanistan's president and chief executive, respectively. The seven Hazara civilians—including two women and a nine-year-old girl—had been abducted by presumed Taliban militants a month ago in Ghazni province. The decapitated bodies were found in neighboring Zabul province. (See map.)
Opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan decreased 19% in 2015, compared to the previous year, according to the latest Afghanistan Opium Survey figures released Oct. 14 by the Afghan Ministry of Counter Narcotics and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). The area under poppy cultivation in 2015 is estimated to be 183,000 hectares, compared with 224,000 in 2014. This marks the first time the area under cultivation has decreased since 2009. Indeed, in 2014 and 2013, record-breaking highs in opium production were reported. "I hope the survey will serve to inform policies and efforts to build on these hard-won achievements," said UNODC executive director Yury Fedotov. He added that sustaining progress "depends on the resolve of the Afghan Government, and on the international community, which must devote the needed resources and make a long-term commitment to addressing a threat that imperils all our societies."
The discrepancies between the US and Afghan accounts of the US-led bombing that struck a hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, last week call for an independent investigation by a never-before-used international body, said Joanne Liu, president of Doctors Without Borders (MSF), in a speech on Oct. 7. Twenty-two people were killed in the MSF-operated hospital that was hit by the US bomb, and dozens more were injured. MSF seeks an investigation by the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission, a permanent body created by the Additional Protocols to the Geneva Conventions and officially constituted in 1991, but has not yet been used because it requires a signatory state to sponsor an inquiry.
The fall of Afghanistan's northern city of Kunduz to the Taliban is making headlines—the first major city to be taken by the insurgents since the US invasion of 2001, and well outside their traditional stronghold in the country's south. A pitched battle to retake the city is now raging, and the US has launched air-strikes, causing God knows what carnage among the civilian inhabitants. But while the world media have been paying little attention, this didn't come out of nowhere. Kunduz city had been under siege for a month, and the Taliban have taken control of nearly all of Kunduz province, as well as much of the neighboring province of Takhar. This resurgence comes as the Taliban have broken off talks with the government under the new more hardline leadership of Mullah Akhtar Mansour. On the same day as the fall of Kunduiz, a suicide blast amid spectators at a volleyball match in Paktika province left nine dead and many more wounded. And hundreds of fighters claiming loyalty to ISIS attacked military checkpoints in Nangarhar province, in a coordinated assault that has left at least two soliders dead (probably many more).
The UN on Aug. 5 said that a new report (PDF) shows a significant increase in the number of women and children being hurt or killed in Afghanistan's war with the Taliban and other insurgents. The number of total casualties in the conflict rose by approximately one percent in the first half of this year, but the number of women casualties has risen by 23% and the number of child casualties has risen by 13%. The director of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), Danielle Bell, stated that she believes the increase in casualties is due to ground fighting, and attributed 70% of the deaths to insurgents. Out of the over 4,900 civilian casualties in the first half of 2015, there have been 559 women casualties (164 deaths and 395 injuries) and 1,270 child casualties (320 deaths and 950 injuries).