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.
As U.S. leadership of the international order fades, more countries are seeking to bolster their influence by meddling in foreign conflicts. In this new era of limit testing, Crisis Group’s President Robert Malley lists the Ten Conflicts to Watch in 2019.
As momentum grew in U.S. negotiations with Taliban, intense hostilities on all sides continued despite winter conditions. U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad 2 Dec started third trip to region, including meetings in Abu Dhabi 17-18 Dec with delegations from United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Afghanistan and separately with Taliban. Taliban reiterated refusal to meet Afghan govt delegation and demand for withdrawal of U.S. forces; U.S. requested a ceasefire. Khalilzad said discussions were “productive”, UAE announced another round of talks to “complete the Afghanistan reconciliation process”. Reports 20 Dec that U.S. President Trump ordered military to start withdrawing roughly 7,000 troops from Afghanistan in coming months in abrupt policy shift were contradicted by White House 28 Dec, saying no drawdown planned. Iranian security official visiting Kabul 26 Dec said Iran has been holding talks with Taliban on security issues in Afghanistan, with further talks taking place 30 Dec. Major Taliban attacks and govt offensives continued including in Farah province where Taliban overran police outpost outside provincial capital and seized Shib-e Kuh district; Ghazni; and Helmand, where powerful Taliban commander and Helmand province shadow governor Abdul Manan was killed in airstrike in Nawzad district 1 Dec. Taliban claimed responsibility for 11 Dec suicide bomb hitting govt convoy outside Kabul, killing at least four govt personnel and eight civilians; also continued to increase pressure on major highways. Militants stormed govt offices in Kabul 24 Dec, killing at least 43; Taliban denied responsibility. Month saw increase in U.S.-led airstrikes and night raids, contributing to high level of civilian fatalities. Afghan army reported it had killed Islamic State-Khorasan Province (IS-KP) spokesman Sultan Aziz Azam in drone strike in Nangarhar 26 Dec. Political factions continued to contest preliminary results of Oct parliamentary elections; Independent Election Commission (IEC)’s ongoing announcement of results prompted demonstrations and complaints to Independent Electoral Complaints Commission, which 5 Dec decided to invalidate all Kabul votes due to technical problems and fraud allegations. IEC 30 Dec announced presidential election to be delayed three months until 20 July “to better prepare for the vote”.
The end-of-Ramadan truce in Afghanistan was brief but encouraging, demonstrating that both Afghan government soldiers and the Taliban rank and file will respect ceasefire orders from above. Both sides, alongside the U.S., should now seize the opportunity to edge closer to meaningful talks about peace.
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.
While the news of a potential U.S. drawdown may be a reason for cautious optimism in the region, [Afghanistan's neighbours] don’t want an abrupt withdrawal.
Attacking lightly defended targets has been part of [the Islamic State's] modus operandi from the outset.
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.
Originally published in The New York Times
Taliban attacks in Kabul in late January 2018 are part of an escalation in violence in Afghanistan, where the civilian population is bearing the brunt of a particularly intense winter of fighting.
The Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan is likely to continue unabated in 2018, despite the U.S. effort to step up its military campaign. In this excerpt from our Watch List 2018, Crisis Group urges the EU and its member states to utilise its influence with Afghan political actors to help rebuild trust and increase prospects for mediation.
U.S. aerial bombing of drug laboratories in Afghanistan will solve neither the country’s Taliban insurgency nor its drugs problem.