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.
The new U.S. adviser on Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, has a tough assignment: fostering peace between the Afghan government and the Taliban. Crisis Group’s Borhan Osman says that recent violence has soured the public mood, but that leaders on all sides still appear committed – at least rhetorically – to peace talks.
Month saw major Taliban attacks in several provinces and political manoeuvring ahead of Oct parliamentary elections. President Ghani 19 Aug offered Taliban three-month ceasefire, conditional on Taliban reciprocating; fighting between two sides subsided during Eid al-Adha festive period and Taliban 20 Aug issued statement announcing release of hundreds of “enemy prisoners”, however no ceasefire occurred. In reaction to July efforts by govt to undermine its religious legitimacy, Taliban claimed that gathering of 4,000 Islamic scholars at unspecified location 5 Aug declared armed struggle as legitimate jihad against occupation; Taliban leader 18 Aug issued message re-emphasising righteousness of insurgency; Taliban officials in Qatar sent delegations to Uzbekistan 6-10 Aug and Indonesia 12-15 Aug, reportedly discussing peace process and withdrawal of foreign military forces. Taliban launched major attacks in several provinces. Some 1,000 Taliban fighters attacked Ghazni city 10 Aug, taking most of it during five-day siege and claiming to have captured thousands of weapons and dozens of military vehicles; military expelled last Taliban from city centre 15 Aug; casualties reportedly included hundreds of govt forces, insurgents and civilians killed. Taliban also overran govt bases in Ghormach and Baghlani Markazi districts of Faryab and Baghlan provinces mid-Aug; captured Uruzgan province’s Chinarto district 3-4 Aug, until govt recapture 8 Aug, and Faryab province’s Bilchiragh district 18 Aug. Leaders of self-declared Islamic State-Khorasan Province (IS-KP)-affiliated group in Jowzjan and about 250 followers surrendered to govt 1 Aug to evade Taliban, weeks after Taliban offensive against it; public controversy ensued over allegations of govt collusion with ISIS-KP-affiliated group. IS-KP continued launching attacks, including targeting Shiite sites in Paktia province 3 Aug killing at least 33, and in Kabul 15 Aug, killing 48. Grand National Coalition opposition group of more than 30 parties and civil society groups 10 Aug called for immediate reform of election system, threatening to oppose Oct parliamentary elections. Electoral Complaints Commission 12 Aug announced disqualification of 35 prospective parliamentary candidates, including twelve MPs, based on connections to illegal armed groups among other concerns.
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.
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.
[High-profile Taliban attacks in Kabul are] an attempt to disprove statements by U.S. and Afghan officials that the Taliban are weakened.
Originally published in The New York Times
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.
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.