John F. Sopko, the Pentagon's Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, gave a sobering assessment last week of the situation in the country 15 years after the fall of the Taliban. Corruption is endemic and security practically non-existent. More than 700 schools have been closed in recent months due to the ongoing insurgency. And despite at least $7 billion in counter-narcotics spending, opium production hit 3,300 tons in 2015—exactly the same level it was in 2001 when the US invaded. "Fifteen years into an unfinished work of funding and fighting, we must indeed ask, 'What went wrong?'" Sopko said in an address at at Harvard University on April 7, CNN reported.
The Independent on April 12 runs a piece by one Malik Jalal, a community leader from Pakistan's tribal areas, who traveled to the UK to speak out, claiming he has been placed on the US drone "Kill List" for his efforts to broker peace with the Taliban. He writes: " I don't want to end up a 'Bugsplat'—the ugly word that is used for what remains of a human being after being blown up by a Hellfire missile fired from a Predator drone. More importantly, I don't want my family to become victims, or even to live with the droning engines overhead, knowing that at any moment they could be vaporized. I am in England this week because I decided that if Westerners wanted to kill me without bothering to come to speak with me first, perhaps I should come to speak to them instead."
A suicide assault team from a faction of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP, or Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan) launched an attack on Bacha Khan University in Charsadda district, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, Jan. 20, killing more than 20 students and faculty before security forces intervened to end the siege. Four jihadists dressed in military uniforms and armed with AK-47 rifles and suicide vests opened fire indiscriminately, but were killed before they could detonate their vests. The attack came as students were gathered for a poetry recital in honor of the independence hero for whom the school is named, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan or "Bacha Khan" by his popular honorific, also known as the "Frontier Gandhi"—an advocate of non-violence and opponent of India's partition. The school was likely targeted to oppose his legacy, as well as because it is co-educational.
As the new year opened, the Taliban pushed deeper into Sangin district of Afghanistan's Helmand province, with the Afghan army struggling to retake territory newly won by the insurgents. Kabul has sent reinforcements, but as AP reported Dec. 29, police are refusing to return to the streets even of those areas the army has supposedly secured. According to Karim Atal, director of the Helmand provincial council, security forces are for now staying inside their base in Sangin district. And this isn't just another district in Afghanistan's rugged hinterlands. Sangin is a key opium-producing district in Helmand—itself both the heartland of the Taliban insurgency and Afghan poppy cultivation. It is also straegically localted on a corridor connecting Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province, to the province's northern districts. So, as the BBC News states: "Regaining full control of Sangin would increase the Taliban's mobility in the north of the province and cut a key supply line for Afghan forces with Lashkar Gah. Sangin is also a rich opium production centre—meaning potential tax revenue for the Taliban from the drugs trade."
Pakistan's Anti-Narcotic Force (ANF) on Nov. 20 announced the latest in a string of mega-scale hashish busts in recent months. A 4.2-ton haul was reported from a "desolate site" near the mountain village of Tehsil Gulistan, in Qilla Abdullah district of Balochistan province. Authorities said the mega-stash had been deposited along with a smaller quantity of heroin in a hidden spot behind bushes for traffickers to collect for export. (Pakistan Today)
The US Department of Defense (DoD) and Pentagon officials have completed their investigation into the Oct. 3 bombing of the Doctors Without Borders (MSF) hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan and announced on Nov. 25 that it was an "avoidable accident caused primarily by human error." Commander of US forces in Afghanistan, Gen. John Campbell, stated that the hospital was targeted accidentally, and US personnel believed they were attacking a separate structure containing enemy combatants several hundred meters away. The investigation found that personnel did not complete full precautionary measures to verify the building was a "legitimate military target." Systems and procedural failures compounded the human error, resulting in the hospital bombing that killed over 30 and injured dozens. Military service members who were most closely involved in the bombing have been suspended, but Campbell declined to state how many.
Tens of thousands took to the streets of Kabul on Nov. 11 with coffins carrying the bodies of seven ethnic Hazara, demanding justice after their beheadings. Afghan security forces fired warning shots into the air as the protest funeral approached the presidential palace, injuring seven. Today they kill us, tomorrow they kill you," protesters chanted. Others carried banners bearing photos of the victims and shouted "Death to the Taliban!" Some also shouted "Death to Ashraf Ghani!" and "Death to Abdullah Abdullah!"—Afghanistan's president and chief executive, respectively. The seven Hazara civilians—including two women and a nine-year-old girl—had been abducted by presumed Taliban militants a month ago in Ghazni province. The decapitated bodies were found in neighboring Zabul province. (See map.)
Opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan decreased 19% in 2015, compared to the previous year, according to the latest Afghanistan Opium Survey figures released Oct. 14 by the Afghan Ministry of Counter Narcotics and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). The area under poppy cultivation in 2015 is estimated to be 183,000 hectares, compared with 224,000 in 2014. This marks the first time the area under cultivation has decreased since 2009. Indeed, in 2014 and 2013, record-breaking highs in opium production were reported. "I hope the survey will serve to inform policies and efforts to build on these hard-won achievements," said UNODC executive director Yury Fedotov. He added that sustaining progress "depends on the resolve of the Afghan Government, and on the international community, which must devote the needed resources and make a long-term commitment to addressing a threat that imperils all our societies."