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.
Germany's Federal Court of Justice on Oct. 6 ruled that relatives of the victims of a 2009 air-strike in Afghanistan are not entitled to compensation. The court held that international law does not award damages or compensation for violations of international humanitarian law. Additionally, there is no legal basis for damages under German law because the scope of public liability does not extend to military missions abroad. The lawsuit concerned an air-strike ordered by Brig. Gen. Georg Klein near Kunduz, on Sept. 4, 2009. The air-strike killed 91, including many civilians. Germany has paid $5,000 to relatives of each civilian that died in the attack, but the victims' relatives were seeking additional compensation.
The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) on Sept. 29 condemned an air-strike launched by an unmanned aerial vehicle that struck a civilian home, killing 15 and injuring 13, including one child. The strike, apparently targeting Islamic State (ISIS) militants, was conducted during the early morning hours of that day in the eastern district of Achin where civilians had gathered in a village to celebrate the return of a tribal leader from the pilgrimage to Mecca. The US has admitted conducting the strike, and said it is under investigation. Expressing condolences to the families of those killed, UNAMA reiterated the need for all parties involved in the conflict to comply with international humanitarian law. UNAMA called on the government and international military forces to launch "a prompt, independent, impartial, transparent, and effective investigation into this incident."
Afghanistan's government signed a peace agreement Sept. 22 with Hezb-e-Islami, the militant group of Islamist warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Representatives of the movement and Afghan officials signed the accord in a ceremony broadcast on live TV. The deal of course grants impunity to Hekmatyar, who is accused of countless atrocities. Hekmatyar was not present at the signing, which is intended to pave the way for him to return from hiding to Kabul. He must still personally sign the accord with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani for it to come into force. Mohammad Amin Karim, head of the insurgent delegation, was present at the ceremony. He said: "This is not just a peace deal between Hezb-e-Islami and the government of Afghanistan, it is a beginning of a new era of peace all around the country." Another Hezb-e-Islami leader, Qarib-ur-Rehman Syed, assured the US State Department's Voice of America Afghanistan service: "Hezb-e-Islami considers itself a...party of the people... we apologize from those who were hurt." (Khaama Press, BBC News, Sept. 22)
Hardline Pakistani Taliban faction Jamaat-ul-Ahrar claimed responsibility for an Aug. 8 suicide bombing that killed at least 70 at a hospital in Quetta, capital of restive Balochistan province. The attacker targeted a crowd that had gathered as the body was brought in of Bilal Kasi, a prominent lawyer who had just been assassinated. Several lawyers and journalists were among the dead. (BBC News) Lawyers across the country will boycott court proceedings for three days to protest the attack, the Pakistan Bar Council announced. (Pakistan Express-Tribune) Journalists have also staged demonstrations in various cities, chanting slogans against terrorism and the Balochistan government over a lack of security measures taken despite imminent threat. (Dunya News)