President Trump was widely expected to announce a troop surge for Afghanistan n his Aug. 21 address from the Fort Myer military base in Arlington, Va. Gen. John Nicholson, the top US military commander in Afghanistan, had been requesting another 4,000 troops, on top of the current 8,500. Instead, Trump's comments were heavy on get-tough rhetoric and light on actual specifics. "Our troops will fight to win," he said. "From now on, victory will have a clear definition: attacking our enemies, obliterating ISIS, crushing al-Qaeda, preventing the Taliban from taking over the country, and stopping mass terror attacks against Americans before they emerge." In an admission that a surge might be in the works, despite his campaign-trial isolationism, he added: "My original instinct was to pull out, and historically I like following my instincts. But all my life, I've heard that decisions are much different when you sit behind the desk in the Oval Office." (BBC News, WP, Aug. 21)
The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) released a report (PDF) July 17 condemning an increase in civilian deaths in Afghanistan during the first half of 2017. Although there was an overall decrease in civilian casualties in the first six months of 2017, there was an increase in injuries and deaths from improvised explosive devices (IED). IEDs from anti-government forces, the majority of which are suicide bombs, account for 40% of all civilian casualties in the period. "Anti-government forces" were held responsobe for 67% of civilian casualties, compared to 18% attributed to "pro-gvoernment forces," and the remainder to cross-fire and other actors. The report notes that an increase in aerial operations by pro-government forces led to a jump in women and child casualties as well. Additionally, the report enumerates they ways ground engagements extend human suffering beyond death and injury such as the displacement of communities, families and individuals; property damage; loss of livelihood; and diminished access to education, medical care and humanitarian aid. UNAMA praised pro-government forces for an overall decrease in casualties from their operations, and encouraged a further reduction throughout the remainder of 2017.
The "Kabul Process" peace talks opened in Afghanistan's capital this week, drawing representatives from 20 countries and international organizations—but none from the Taliban or other insurgent groups. President Ashraf Ghani's own foreign minister apparently even boycotted the gathering as a farce. Meanwhile, anti-government protesters continued to defy orders to leave camps they had set up in the city, demanding that top security officials step down for failing to stop relentless attacks. Despite extreme security measures, at least one rocket was fired into the Green Zone near where the meeting was being held. As the meeting opened, Ghani admitted that over 150 people were killed and more than 300 were wounded in the truck bombing outside the German Embassy last week, making it possibly the deadliest such attack since the US-led invasion in 2001. And heavy fighting was reported in the countryside, clashes between the army and Taliban leaving high numbers dead in Kunduz province. (Khaama Press, Khaama Press, June 11; NYT, June 6)
At least 90 were killed and some 400 others injured in a huge car-bomb explosion in Kabul May 31, targeting the city's diplomatic district of Wazir Akbar Khan, near the presidential palace. Most of the victims were civilians on their way to work during the morning rush hour. There has been no claim of responsibility for the blast, but the Afghan intelligence service NDS said in a statement that the Haqqani Network is suspected. Afghanistan has charged that the Taliban-aligned Haqqani Network receives support from Pakistan's intelligence agency. Taliban mouthpiece Zabihullah Mujahid released a statement denying responsibility in the attack, but days earlier he had issued a statement as Ramadan opened, calling jihad "obligatory worship" and pledging no let-up in attacks.
US Marines this month returned to Helmand province, now the epicenter both of Afghanistan's Taliban insurgency and opium production. Ostensibly, the mission is to train Afghan forces struggling to stem the insurgency, but the Marines certainly have the power to fire if fired upon. Many of the 300 Marines coming to Helmand under NATO's Resolute Support training mission are veterans of previous tours in the province—where almost 1,000 coalition troops (mostly US and British) were killed fighting the Taliban before they pulled out in 2014. When they left, as part of that year's supposed US "withdrawal" from Afghanistan, they handed over the sprawling desert base they dubbed Camp Leatherneck to the Afghan army, hoping not to return. Now they have.
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.