Afghanistan

Report: Afghan government control lowest yet

In its latest quarterly report to Congress, the US watchdog for Afghan reconstruction finds that the security situation is at an all-time low since monitoring began. Since the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) began tracking district control in 2015, Afghan government-controlled or "influenced" districts have declined 16% to 55.5%. In the same period, areas of insurgent control or influence rose 5.5% while "contested" districts increased 11%. As of late July, the US military assessed that the Kabul government controls or influences 226 of Afghanistan's 407 districts, while the Taliban controls/influences 49. The remaining 132 districts are identified as "contested." Since the prior quarterly report, Operation Resolute Support downgraded eight districts from "government influenced" to "contested." SIGAR said Afghan security forces "made minimal or no progress in pressuring the Taliban" in the period covered by the report. (Photo via Stars & Stripes)

Afghanistan

Afghanistan: US to groom Taliban to fight ISIS?

Taliban leaders confirmed that long-planned direct talks with the US took place in Doha, capital of Qatar. The Taliban said in a statement that their delegation met with US special adviser for Afghanistan reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad. The statement said the two sides discussed the prospects for an end to the presence of the foreign forces in Afghanistan, and the return of "true peace" to the country. These overtures come as the US is stepping up operations against ISIS in Afghanistan. In an August air-strike in Nangarhar province, the US claimed to have killed Abu Sayed Orakzai, top ISIS commander in Afghanistan. Earlier in August, more than 200 ISIS fighters and their two top commanders surrendered to Afghan government forces in Jowzjan province to avoid capture by Taliban insurgents, after a two-day battle that was a decisive victory for the Taliban. (Photo: Khaama Press)

Afghanistan

ISIS leader flees to Afghanistan: report

ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is reported to have fled to Afghanistan via Iran, to escape "Operation Roundup," a final offensive against remnant Islamic State pockets in Syria's eastern desert. The operation was launched last week by the US-backed, Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). London-based pan-Arab newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat reported that Baghdadi reached Afghanistan's Nangarhar province, on the border with Pakistan. According to Pakistani security sources, Baghdadi crossed through the Iranian border city of Zahedan. The sources claimed Baghdadi received protection from Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps as he passed through the country's territory. ISIS now holds only three towns in Syria—Hajin, a-Baghouz and al-Sussa, all close to the Iraqi border. (Photo via Syria Call)

Afghanistan

US threatens sanctions against ICC

The White House announced that the US will consider imposing sanctions against the International Criminal Court (ICC) judges and prosecutors if the ICC opens an investigation into the actions of United States service members and intelligence personnel in Afghanistan. The Chief Prosecutor of the ICC requested an investigation in November 2017 into alleged war crimes committed by the US in Afghanistan since May 2003, in addition to actions taken by the Afghan National Security Forces, the Taliban and the Haqqani network. In addition to sanctions, the US will also consider seeking to have the ICC's powers restricted by the UN Security Council. The US will also seek to strengthen agreements that would prevent other nations from surrendering US nationals to the ICC. (Photo: AiirSource Military)

Afghanistan

Afghanistan civilian deaths reach new high —again

Civilian deaths in Afghanistan have reached a new high at the mid-year point, according to the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA). Although there was a slight decrease in total casualties (deaths and injuries), there have been more fatalities than in previous years, with nearly 1,700 killed so far in 2018. Since UNAMA started documentation in 2009, almost 15,000 civilians have lost their lives to the armed conflict in Afghanistan. UNAMA also reports that deliberate attacks on civilians from anti-government elements are increasing at concerning rates. In June there was an unprecedented ceasefire for three days as Eid al-Fitr was observed, with no casualties in attacks carried out either by Taliban or government forces. ISIS, however, did not observe the ceasefire. (Photo via Pixabay)

Afghanistan

Afghans march cross-country for peace

Afghan peace activists arrived in Kabul after trekking some 700 kilometers on foot to call for an end to Afghanistan’s long internal war. The Helmand Peace Convoy reached the national capital after traveling for almost 40 days from Lashkar Gah, capital of Helmand province, a Taliban stronghold. It began with a group of nine men and picked up around 40 supporters during the journey. The arrival in Kabul followed a three-day ceasefire between the Taliban and government forces coinciding with the Eid al-Fitr holiday that ends the holy month of Ramadan. The Kabul government extended its ceasefire by 10 days, but the Taliban said that they would resume their attacks. ISIS meanwhile carried out two deadly suicide attacks in Jalalabad targeting public Eid celebrations. (Photo: RFE/RL)

Afghanistan

Afghanistan: air-strikes spike in anti-opium drive

US forces in Afghanistan have dropped more munitions in the first three months of 2018 than during the same time period in 2011—a time widely considered the height of the war. The spike in bombing comes after years of drawing down US troops across the country's remote rural areas—and therefore relies increasingly on technical rather than human intelligence. Figures released by US Air Forces Central Command indicate 1,186 "munitions expended by aircraft" in January, February and March this year. In 2011, during those same months, the military documented 1,083 weapons released from both manned and unmanned aircraft. The increase in "kinetic air operations" is part of a strategy to degrade the Taliban’s finances by targeting drug labs, which the insurgents are believed to tax. (Photo: USAF)

Afghanistan

Afghan forces charged with summary executions

Human Rights Watch has urged the Afghan government and US military to investigate alleged summary executions committed by special forces against civilians in Kandahar province. The executions reportedly took place during military operations spanning from Jan. 31 to Feb. 1. In one instance, during a coordinated attack by a Special Forces Unit of the National Directorate of Security, the NDS troops reportedly killed at least 20 civilians and arbitrarily detained at least 38 men. Among those summarily slain were civilians fleeing US air-strikes. (Photo: Afghan forces in Kandahar, via Wikimedia Commons)

Afghanistan

Uighur militants seen as new threat in Afghanistan

Recent US raids in Afghanistan have targeted presumed forces of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, the supposed Uighur militant network active in China's far-western Xinjiang region. News of the air-strikes in Badakhshan province comes amid reports that China is preparing to establish a military base in the same region of Afghanistan. Badakhshan forms a long panhandle between Tajikistan to the north and Pakistan to the south to reach a border with Chinese territory. (Photo: US troops on patrol in Zabul province; US Army via Flickr)

Afghanistan

NATO claims crackdown on Taliban hashish

With Afghanistan's opium output now breaking all previous records, hashish continues to remain an important sideline for the country's warring factions—and to hear the US tell it, it's the ultra-puritanical Taliban that are responsible for it. Recent NATO raids have claimed massive hash hauls from the hideouts of the Taliban's elite "Red Units." Operation Resolute Support commanders now say the Taliban have become a "narco-insurgency." (Photo: NATO)

Afghanistan

ISIS claims latest Kabul attack

A coordinated attack on a compound of the Afghan army in capital Kabul left at least 11 soldiers dead. Two suicide bombers blew themselves up outside the barracks of the army's 111th division in Qargha district before a small team of gunmen moved in. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack through its Amaq news agency. This was the third large attack in Kabul since Taliban insurgents launched an assault on Intercontinental Hotel that left over 20 dead. The second attack came when presumed Taliban militants denoted an ambulance packed with explosives near an Interior Ministry compound, killing over 100. Another six people were killed in an assault claimed by ISIS on the office of aid group Save the Children in the eastern city of Jalalabad. (Photo: Khaama Press)

Afghanistan

Afghanistan opium production hits new record

The latest stats from the UN's annual Afghanistan Opium Survey are in, and the news is grim. Opium production in the war-torn country jumped nearly 87% in 2017, to record levels—an estimated 9,000 metric tons. Areas under poppy cultivation rose by 63%, reaching a record 328,000 hectares and boosting the number of Afghanistan's 34 provinces now cultivating opium from 21 to 24. Since overthrowing the Taliban in 2001, the US has spent nearly $7 billion to combat opium—to spectacularly counter-productive results. (Photo: VOA)