The war in Afghanistan is the world’s most lethal conflict. Taliban militants now control more territory than at any time since the U.S.-led coalition drove the group out of Kabul in 2001. At the same time, an unprecedented ceasefire in 2018 and subsequent negotiation efforts have illuminated the possibility of peace. Crisis Group is one of the few organisations conducting research on the ground in Afghanistan. We seek to help the conflict parties comprehend their adversaries’ motives and political constraints, while encouraging them to pursue talks. We also help Afghan and international leaders formulate policies to improve governance and security.
Washington’s decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan by 11 September spells an end to the U.S. military deployment but not peace. Crisis Group expert Andrew Watkins anticipates that negotiations will likely stall and Afghans will fear an intensified civil war as the U.S. role evolves.
Originally published in Foreign Policy
Taliban intensified coordinated assaults on Afghan military positions, with govt forces losing more district centres; terror attacks killed over 100 civilians. Deadly Taliban attacks escalated in nature and intensity throughout month as part of annual Spring offensive, especially from 1 May – start of symbolic U.S./NATO troop withdrawal. Notably, Taliban 2 May attacked security post, killing 12 security forces in Badakhshan province (north east); 3 May seized positions around Helmand’s capital (south) with 18 security forces killed or wounded; 4 May killed nine security forces in Baghlan province (north), followed by the surrender of 100 more on 6 May; 4 May killed 20 soldiers in Farah province (south west); and 7-8 May killed 23 soldiers in Ghazni and Wardak provinces (centre). Taliban offensive led to militants gaining control of district centres in Laghman, Wardak and Baghlan by end of month. Month also saw heavy toll on civilians: triple bombing 8 May targeted school in Hazara neighbourhood in capital Kabul, killing at least 90 civilians, mostly women and girls, and wounding 240 more; govt blamed Taliban for attack but group denied responsibility. IEDs on bus 10 May killed 11 civilians in Zabul province (South); bomb 14 May exploded in mosque, killing 12 civilians in capital Kabul, Islamic State later claimed responsibility for attack. Roadside bomb 16 May also killed three civilians in Ghanzi province (East). Large Uzbek ethnic community in Faryab province (north) demonstrated angrily against govt’s attempt to appoint new governor with no ties to province or Uzbek community. U.S. and UK continued high-level diplomatic efforts to support peace process by engaging with senior Pakistani officials and Taliban representatives; moves resulted in resumption of Taliban-govt peace discussions in Qatar’s capital Doha 13 and 24 May and statement of willingness from Taliban to attend high-level peace conference in Turkey in future, with conditions. Australia withdrew embassy from Kabul amid increasing international concerns about security environment.
Peace talks in Afghanistan have only inched forward even as the pace of conflict has picked up. As the Afghan government and Taliban await clearer policy signals from the incoming U.S. administration, their primary goal should be to keep the vital negotiations going.
For Afghanistan's peace talks to work, the Taliban will need to shift focus to what they want, not what they oppose. They should develop clear negotiating positions on key issues and work to convince their members that peace requires compromise.
Eighteen years after the U.S. war with Afghanistan’s Taliban began, all sides are taking the first formal steps toward a political settlement. From designating a neutral mediator to agreeing on “rules of the road”, Crisis Group lays out twelve prerequisites for keeping the talks going.
Talks between the U.S. and the Taliban insurgency are suspended, though an agreement is reportedly ready for signature. The U.S. should resume negotiations and seal the deal, so that a broader peace process in Afghanistan can go forward.
The UN General Assembly kicks off on 17 September amid general scepticism about the world body’s effectiveness in an era of rising great-power competition. But the UN is far from paralysed. Here are seven crisis spots where it can make a positive difference for peace.
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 counterterrorism mission in Afghanistan had for years now become one of prevention, not one of identifying an imminent threat that must be countered.
It's a tragedy that the U.S. didn't get serious about trying to stitch together a peace process in Afghanistan much earlier, before the thread ran out.
[The legitimacy the Taliban want is] never going to come without engaging with the outside world and the international community.
The [Afghan] peace process is the best option for a decent outcome, even though it’s the least likely to succeed. You need a six-month extension to have any possibility of getting it back on track.
If the Taliban want to become a legitimate power in an Afghan state, then they’re going to need to show the world that they take global counterterrorism concerns seriously.
Posturing from the Taliban... suggests they perceive their current position to be one of great strength.
In testimony to the European Parliament about efforts to end the war in Afghanistan, Crisis Group expert Andrew Watkins describes the current scale of fighting, Taliban policies and how outside actors can support the peace process.
Afghanistan’s fate hinges in large part on how the Biden team decides to approach the country’s conflict and its tenuous, still-nascent peace process.
Originally published in World Politics Review
This week on Hold Your Fire!, Rob Malley and guest host Richard Atwood talk with Crisis Group’s Asia Program Director Laurel Miller about the U.S. plans to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan and reflect on the expulsion of Crisis Group Senior Analyst Will Davison from Ethiopia.
Speech by Laurel Miller, Program Director for Asia, at the United Nations Security Council Arria Formula Meeting on the Peace Process in Afghanistan.