Amidst an intensifying Taliban insurgency and emerging Islamic State threat, Afghanistan's path to peace and stability looks ever more perilous. Taliban militants now control more territory than at any time since its ouster by a U.S.-led coalition in 2001. Crisis Group is one of the few analytical organisations with a presence in Afghanistan. We help local and international stakeholders to comprehend the context and drivers of conflict, militant extremism, political-economic fragility, and its implications for the world and the region. Crisis Group helps local authorities and the international community formulate effective policies to improve governance and security in the country and stop violent extremism.
International Crisis Group welcomes pledges by the Afghan government and the Taliban insurgency that both sides will respect a ceasefire over the Eid al Fitr holiday. If implemented, such a truce would be unprecedented and could represent a concrete step toward peace talks.
Month saw intensified fighting, particularly by Taliban targeting rural centres and provincial capitals, accompanied by increase in Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) casualties. Taliban took parts of Farah provincial capital 15 May, withdrawing next day under heavy bombing by U.S./Afghan militaries forces. Defence Ministry said six other provincial centres threatened, and serious fighting ongoing in fifteen out of 34 provinces. Other Taliban gains included Kohistan district in Badakshan province 2 May, and several districts in Ghazni, Faryab, Takhar and Baghlan provinces. ANSF retook some district centres but suffered significant casualties and loss of weapons and equipment to Taliban; scores killed as Taliban attacked five ANSF bases during month. Taliban also erected checkpoints on Ghazni-Paktika highway from 6 May. Officials 14 May reported Taliban had carried out 2,700 attacks since late-April start of its spring offensive. Amid reports of troop desertions, U.S. govt report 30 April noted drop in ANSF troop strength, particularly affecting Helmand province, and increase in Taliban-held territory from 11% to 14.5% of country from Jan 2017-Jan 2018. UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) 8 May report on early April Afghan air force strike in Kunduz province concluded 30 of at least 36 killed were children, prompting apology from President Ghani 16 May. Islamic State-Khorasan Province (IS-KP) continued attacks on urban centres, including attack on police station in Kabul 9 May, 13 May attack on govt office in Jalalabad city and 30 May attack on interior ministry in Kabul killing ten. Ahead of Oct parliamentary elections, UNAMA 11 May reported 23 attacks on voter registration centres had killed 86, including 6 May attack in Khost province killing seventeen. Ghani 3 May inaugurated delayed distribution of electronic ID cards amid criticism from National Unity Govt partner Abdullah Abdullah and others over controversial inclusion of nationality and ethnicity on cards; comes amid allegations Ghani attempted to interfere in work of electoral commission. Top U.S. commander in Afghanistan Gen John Nicholson 30 May said there were some “off the stage” channels of dialogue in peace process, including with mid- and senior-level Taliban; some observers greeted remark with scepticism.
The power dispute between President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah is imperilling Afghanistan’s fragile security and recent economic progress. To avoid the collapse of the U.S.-brokered National Unity Government, both actors must end political partisanship and prioritise the public interest.
This report examines President Trump’s emerging counter-terrorism policies, the dilemmas his administration faces in battling ISIS and al-Qaeda across the Middle East and South Asia, and how to avoid deepening the disorder both groups exploit.
Too often, the Afghan Local Police (ALP) has preyed on those it is meant to guard. Some members are outright bandits, exacerbating conflict. Rogue units should be disbanded, and better ones integrated into the armed forces. This must be done carefully and slowly, or else insurgents will win a new military edge.
As Pakistan seeks to consolidate its fragile democracy, it should seize the moment to improve relations with its Afghan neighbour. Its biggest challenge comes from within. The civilian government has to regain control over national security and foreign policy from the military.
Afghanistan’s new president, Ashraf Ghani, inherits a government that is running out of money and losing ground to the insurgency. As foreign troops withdraw, the new government must stay united and move quickly on reforms.
To contain a growing, increasingly confident insurgency as NATO troops withdraw, Afghanistan needs continued international support, including military, and the new government in Kabul will need to reinvigorate the state’s commitment to the rule of law.
This mutual [Afghan] ceasefire, if successful, can possibly inspire or encourage future, more substantial steps towards peacemaking. Fighting has been the integral feature that has characterized the Taliban since the movement was born. A break from it, although very brief, represents an important departure from its modus operandi.
The U.S. and Afghan governments are unleashing more violence based on the same rationale that it would tilt this stalemate to favor their conditions at the table.
U.S. allies in Afghanistan should push for a greater diplomatic political component to the U.S. strategy. As it stands, [it] sets the stage for more violence while closing avenues for de-escalation.
Increasing pressure on [Kabul's] battlefield may lead [the Taliban and IS] to hit back in an area where they can publicly disprove the rhetoric of the U.S. military or Afghan government.
[High-profile Taliban attacks in Kabul are] an attempt to disprove statements by U.S. and Afghan officials that the Taliban are weakened.
U.S. strategy [in Afghanistan] is so military-centric. Even 100,000 troops couldn’t finish the Taliban, and ever since those days, they have been zealously confident.
Originally published in The New York Times
In recent years, a confrontation between the U.S. government and the International Criminal Court (ICC) has been looming over the alleged actions of U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Crisis Group's U.S. Program Director Stephen Pomper unpicks the unique U.S.-ICC relationship and outlines the choices left open to Washington.
Originally published in Just Security
Political fractures continue to weaken the Afghan National Unity Government as the Taliban insurgency expands and an Islamic State affiliate strengthens its foothold. In this excerpt from the Watch List 2017 – First Update early-warning report for European policy makers, Crisis Group urges the European Union and its member states to continue to provide technical support to the negotiating process and take measures to alleviate the humanitarian crisis.