The US dropped its most powerful non-nuclear weapon, the GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast Bomb, on an area of eastern Afghanistan said to be controlled by ISIS militants. The April 13 air-strike targeted a cave complex believed to be used by fighters affiliated with the Islamic State's self-decalred "Khorasan Province" in Achin district of Nangarhar, near the border with Pakistan. A US special forces solider was killed in the same area last week. The MOAB, nicknamed the "mother of all bombs," is a 21,600-pound, GPS-guided munition that is the largest among the Pentagon's series of so-called "bunker-busters." The strike marked the first time it has been used in combat. (The Independent, CNN, LWJ)
Pakistani authorities have driven nearly 600,000 Afghan refugees back into Afghanistan since July 2016, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a report released Feb. 13. HRW claims that among those forced out of the country were 365,000 of Pakistan's 1.5 million lawfully registered Afgahn refugees. HRW also alleges that the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is complicit in what it calls "the world's largest unlawful mass forced return of refugees in recent times." HRW charges that Pakistani police have been using extortion to deprive Afghan refugees of much the limited income available to them, while Pakistani landlords have dramatically increased the cost of rent for Afghan refugees. The UNHCR meanwhile increased its cash grant to returnees from $200 to $400 per person to coerce the refugees to return home under cover of "voluntary repatriation."
The top US military commander in Afghanistan told lawmakers Feb. 9 that he needs several thousand additional troops to break "a stalemate" in the 15-year-old war against the Taliban and other insurgents. Gen. John Nicholson told the Senate Armed Services Committee that more troops could come from the US or other NATO members, and would be tasked with training Afghanistan's security forces to provide better offensive capabilities. Under questioning by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), the general said did not need 50,000 troops in the country, but did not rule out the potential for up to 30,000. There are currently some 8,400 US troops in Afghanistan, with 38 other NATO members providing about 6,300 troops.
According to the annual report (PDF) by the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), civilian casualties in Afghanistan for 2016 were at a new record high. A total of 3,498 civilians were killed and 7,920 were wounded. Of the dead, 923 were children, as were 2,589 of the injured. Tadamichi Yamamoto, the Special Representative of the Secretary General, said, "All parties to the conflict must take immediate concrete measures to protect the ordinary Afghan men, women and children whose lives are being shattered."
The Afghan government controls less than 60% of the country's territory, a US oversight agency reports, with security forces retreating from many areas last year. The Afghan government "has lost territory to the insurgency" and "district control continues to decline," the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) said in its most recent quarterly report to the US Congress Feb. 1. According to SIGAR, the Afghan government controls or influences just 52% of the nation's 407 districts today compared to 72% in Nov. 2015. "The ANDSF [Afghan National Defense and Security Forces] has not yet been capable of securing all of Afghanistan and has lost territory to the insurgency" since the last reporting period. The Afghan government has lost control of more than six% of the country's districts since SIGAR issued its last report on Oct. 30. (LWJ, Reuters)
In a "worrying reversal" for global anti-drug efforts, the latest annual report from the United Nations Office for Drug and Crime (UNODC) finds that opium cultivation in Afghanistan increased 43% over the past year—with a total estimated yeild of 4,800 tons compared to 3,300 tons in 2015, The area under poppy cultivation increased 10% according to the report—clocking in at 201,000 hectares (496,681 acres), up from 183,000 hectares (452,200 acres). Simultaneously, there was a 91% decrease in eradication across the country—with no eradication reported at all in the top producing provinces. "It is very disturbing to see a considerable increase in poppy cultivation in the north which may be linked with a deteriorating security situation in the region," said Andrey Avetisyan, UNODC's chief in Afghanistan, at an Oct. 23 Kabul press conference.
A blast at a Sufi shrine in the Pakistani region of Balochistan killed at least 60 and injured more than 100 on Nov. 12. The Shah Noorani Shrine in the mountain town of Hub, straddling Lasbela and Khuzdar districts, was packed with worshippers when the bomb exploded. Devotees were gathered for a traditional dhamal dance ritual at the shrine to the saint Shah Bilal Noorani. The shrine's remote location has impeded rescue efforts. The shrine attracts devotees from all over Pakistan, as well as neighboring Iran. The local franchise of ISIS issued a statement taking responsibility for the attack through its Amaq News Agency, saying it was carried out by a suicide "martyr," and sought to target "Shi'ites." The shrine is venerated by Sunnis and Shi'ites alike.
Militants opened fire on Shi'ite worshipers celebrating Ashura at the Imam Ali shrine in the Karte Sakhi district of the Afghan capital Kabul Oct. 11, leaving at least 14 dead and 36 others wounded. According to eyewitnesses, at least one of the gunmen detonated a suicide vest after shooting into the crowd. Shi'ites make up about 15% of Afghanistan's population, mostly members of the Hazara ethnic group. They have been increasingly targetted for terror in recent months. Although no group has yet taken responsibility for the Karte Sakhi terror, previous attacks on the Hazara have been claimed by the Afghan franchise of ISIS.