Civilian deaths in Afghanistan have reached a new high at the mid-year point, according to a report (PDF) from the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) issued July 16. Although there was a slight decrease in casualties (deaths and injuries) overall, 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.
Afghan peace activists arrived in Kabul June 18 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. (RFE/RL, TOLO News)
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.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Feb. 21 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. HRW writes:
Recent US raids in Afghanistan have targeted presumed forces of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), the supposed Uighur militant network active in China's far-western Xinjiang region. This news comes amid reports that China is preparing to establish a military base in the same region of Afghanistan. On Feb. 6, NATO's Resolute Support said in a press release that US forces in Afghanistan had carried out a series of air-strikes on "Taliban training facilities in Badakhshan province, preventing the planning and rehearsal of terrorist acts near the border with China and Tajikistan by such organizations as the East Turkistan [sic] Islamic Movement and others." Badakhshan province forms a long panhandle between Tajikistan to the north and Pakistan to the south to reach a border with Chinese territory.
With Afghanistan's opium output now breaking all previous records, it seems that 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. A Dec. 18 press release from NATO Special Operations Command boasts of the& seizure of 34 tons of "raw hashish" (presumably meaning herbaceous cannabis) and 300 kilograms of "processed hashish" in a raid carried out jointly with the National Interdiction Unit of the Afghan police force.
A coordinated attack on a compound of the Afghan army in capital Kabul left at least 11 soldiers dead Jan. 29, authorities report. 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 Jan. 20, when Taliban insurgents launched an assault on the Intercontinental Hotel that left over 20 dead. The second attack came Jan. 27, when presumed Taliban militants detonated 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. (Khaama Press, NPR, Reuters)
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 (9,921 US tons). Areas under poppy cultivation rose by 63%, reaching a record 328,000 hectares (810,488 acres), according to the joint survey by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the Afghan Counter-Narcotics Ministry. The survey also found that the number of poppy-free provinces in the country decreased from 13 to 10, with Ghazni, Samangan and Nuristan provinces joining the list of poppy-growing regions. This boosts the number of Afghanistan's 34 provinces now cultivating opium from 21 to 24.