Afghan government and international forces, including NATO, killed more civilians in the first three months of this year than the Taliban and other insurgent groups, according to the latest UN report on casualties in the conflict. The findings from the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), released April 24, indicate that at least 305 civilians were killed by pro-government forces between January and March, constituting 52.5% of total civilian deaths in this period. There was a 23% decrease in overall civilian casualties as compared to the same period last year, with the total standing at 1,773 civilian casualties (581 deaths and 1,192 injured), including 582 child casualties (150 deaths and 432 injured).
Judges at the International Criminal Court (ICC) on April 12 rejected a request to open an investigation into allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Afghanistan. The request by ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda was turned down by Pre-Trial Chamber II, which decided that pursuing this investigation would not be an efficient use of the court's resources. The statement from the Pre-Trial Chamber noted that the prosecutor has not obtained cooperation from sources in Afghanistan, which bodes poorly for any further investigation. The decision also came four days after the US State Department revoked the entry visa for Fatou Bensouda. In March, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that the US would deny visas to ICC personnel investigating any allegations against the US or its allies. Bensouda had been making inquiries into allegations of war crimes against all participants in the Afghanistan conflict since the fall of 2017.
In Quetta, capital of Pakistan’s restive Baluchistan province, at least 16 people were killed and over two dozen injured in a blast that targeted members of the Shi'ite Hazara community April 12. Eight of those killed in the blast at a crowded vegetable market were Hazara. "Members of the Hazara community go to the market every day to shop, and we provide them with a security escort," Quetta police chief Abdul Razzaq Cheema told Al Jazeera. This was the latest in a relentless wave of terror against the Hazara people in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. On March 7, three were killed and some 20 injured when a mortar attack struck a gathering in Kabul commemorating the 24th anniversary of the death of Abdul Ali Mazari, leader of the Hazaras' Hizb-e-Wahdat Party and a key figure in the Mujahedeen resistance movement of the 1980s. Assassinated in 1995 by the Taliban, he was recently awarded the title of "Martyr of National Unity." The Kabul ceremony was attended by high officials and billed as a step toward national reconciliation. ISIS took credit for the attack, but the ongoing terror campaign leaves many Afghan Hazaras concerned about the current peace talks with the Taliban. (Dawn, Pakistan, TOLO, Afghanistan, The National, UAE)
Direct talks between US officials and the Taliban are advancing in Qatar, aimed at ending the decades-long conflict in Afghanistan. Taliban co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar for the first time met the US special representative, Zalmay Khalilzad, on March 4. (Al Jazeera) In a parallel process being brokered by Russia, Taliban representatives and Afghan politicians opposed to President Ashraf Ghani met in Moscow last month. The Taliban refuse to recognize Ghani's government, calling it a "puppet" of the US. (Al Jazeera) But advocates for Afghan women view both these sets of talks with increasing skepticism, voicing their concern that hard-won rights could be bargained away.
In its latest quarterly report to Congress (PDF), the official 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 that Afghanistan's security forces "made minimal or no progress in pressuring the Taliban" from July 1 to Sept. 30 , the period covered in the report. (Long War Journal, Stars & Stripes, Nov. 1)
Taliban leaders confirmed that long-planned direct talks with the US took place in Doha, capital of Qatar, Oct. 12. The Taliban said in a statement (PDF) 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. (Khaama Press, Long War Journal, Oct. 13) These overtures come as the US is stepping up operations against ISIS in Afghanistan. In an Aug. 25 air-strike in Nangarhar province, the US claimed to have killed Abu Sayed Orakzai, top ISIS commander in Afghanistan. (CNN, Sept. 3) 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. (NYT, Aug. 1)
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 is believed to have 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.
The White House announced Sept. 10 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 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.