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Pashtun Taliban Insurgency - 2015

Traditionally, fighting subsides in Afghanistan during winter because heavy snow blocks the movement of insurgents through mountain passes. But Afghan officials and military commanders said because of a mild winter there was no let up in fighting in 2015.

On June 25, 2015, the General Staff delivered the Zafar Campaign Plan which established the commanders intent, desired end-states, and the concept of operations for the remainder of fighting season 2015 an important operational planning achievement. However, delays in the GS planning process and the timing of the operation to coincide with Ramadan postponed the planning and development of subsequent operations. Counter-offensive operations in northern Helmand in August and September 2015 added further delays to the execution of the Zafar Campaign Plan.

In order to re-energize the planning process ahead of 2016, RS advisors mentored the GS staff as they extended the 2015-2016 winter campaign planning timeline out to March 2016 to reflect more clearly recent winter security conditions. The ANA also held a Corps Commanders Conference on November 4 and 5, 2015 the first since October 2014 to develop the winter campaign plan and improve readiness and training ahead of the 2016 fighting season.

Secret peace talks reportedly were underway between the Taliban and Afghan government. The first round of face-to-face talks took place in Murree, Pakistan on the outskirts of Islamabad on 07 July 2015 under the auspices of US and Chinese officials. In his last purported message, made on 15 July 2015, Mullah Omar recognized the peace talks as "legitimate," saying that the goal of the process was an "end to occupation" by foreign forces.

Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar [who had died several years earlier] said that he would not attempt to monopolize power in Afghanistan after US and international military forces withdraw, but that the Taliban seeks an inclusive government based on Islamic principles. Under the current legal system, Afghans lack protection if they dissent from state-imposed orthodoxy, debate the role and content of religion in law and society, advocate for the human rights of women and members of religious minority communities, or question interpretations of Islamic precepts. Apparently, Mullah Omar wanted more.

The Afghan government said that Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar was dead, in an official statement sent to media 29 July 2015. The statement added that the ground for the Afghan peace talks was now paved and called on all armed opposition groups to seize the opportunity and join the peace process. Mullah Omar had been replaced by Taliban deputy leader Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansur.

The confirmation of Mullah Omar's death by authorities in Kabul came at a critical time, with a second round of peace talks between Taliban representatives and Afghan government negotiators scheduled in Pakistan on July 31.

Civilian casualties of the armed conflict in Afghanistan in 2015 year were projected to equal or exceed the country's deadliest year on record, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) announced 05 August 2015 in Kabul. According to UNAMA's 2015 Midyear Report on Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict, 4,921 civilian casualties were documented in the first half of 2015. The 1,592 deaths and 3,329 injuries represent a 1 percent increase in total civilian casualties compared to the same period in 2014, the deadliest year for Afghan civilians on record.

The real progress in launching a viable peace process was suggested by formal talks between the Taliban and a government delegation in Murree in July 2015. However, peace talks were soon on hold, firstly as a result of an internal succession dispute within the Taliban following the unexpected announcement of Mullah Omars death. Secondly, as a result of a hiatus in Pakistan and Afghanistans collaboration to create an inclusive Afghan-led peace process. A series of bombing in Kabul in early August precipitated a spike in anti-Pakistan sentiment and a hardening of rhetoric from the Afghan Government, including the President.

One of the ANDSFs primary offensive operations in late 2015 was Operation Iron Triangle. Conducted in August 2015, this multi-corps operation included elements of the ANA 201st and 203rd Corps, the 111th Capital Division, the AUP, ALP, AAF, SMW, and ANA Special Operations Kandaks (SOKs) with the goal of clearing the Khogyani, Sherzad, and Hisarak districts in Nangarhar Province; Sarobi district in Kabul Province; and Azarah district in Logar Province. These areas had been central hubs for Taliban and other insurgent facilitation networks that supported operations in Kabul.

Before the main offensive, the Special Operations Kandaks conducted successful initial offensive operations, and several ANDSF units effectively incorporated ISR and coordinated well among air and ground units that relied on MD-530 helicopters for close air attack support.

However, the operation was marked by inefficient employment of the force and limited communication and coordination between various ANDSF units and the corps involved a recurring theme. Furthermore, security gains made by disrupting facilitation routes into Kabul would not be lasting without a permanent presence of security forces to maintain these gains and prevent insurgents from returning.

It took only a few hours on September 29, 2015 for the Taliban to seize much of the northern city of Kunduz in a lightening offensive that left the city in a state of stunned disbelief. many residents say they blame the governor of Kunduz Province, Mohammad Omer Safi, for failing to protect the city despite the clear threats to it.

Afghanistans national security forces, backed by US airstrikes, launched a counteroffensive 29 September 2015 against the Taliban to retake control of the northern city of Kunduz, the first major city the insurgents had captured since being ousted from power in 2001. Both sides made conflicting claims about the fighting and death toll. The battlefield setback was another blow against Ghani's government, which has already come under fire for failing to improve governance and security around the country, and counter widespread corruption in state institutions. The Taliban had come close to capturing Kunduz in April, but Afghan security forces turned back the assault.

The fall of Kunduz, one of the largest and wealthiest cities in Afghanistan, was seen a major setback for government forces. The surrounding province, also called Kunduz, was one of the country's chief breadbaskets and has rich mining assets.

Coalition special forces encountered a threat from Taliban fighters during an intense battle in northern Afghanistan to recapture the key city of Kunduz, which the militant group seized. US warplanes carried out an airstrike to eliminate the threat, after conducting two separate strikes in support of Afghan troops. Afghanistan's intelligence agency said one of the coalition airstrikes killed the Taliban's shadow governor for Kunduz province along with 15 other people. But the Taliban reported that the governor, Mullah Abdul Salam Akhund, was not killed in the strike. The militant group posted an audio interview apparently with the governor in which he dismissed reports about his death, according to the Taliban Voice of Jihad Online.

A Western security advisor working in northern Afghanistan, Ted Callahan, said 30 September 2015 "It appears on the face of it that it has been a very sudden collapse although the seeds of this collapse had been sown over the past few months beginning especially in April when the Taliban launched their initial spring offensive in Kunduz, which essentially had the effect of collapsing a lot of the Afghan security structures in the province,'.

'And as a result, the government was so much forced to rely on militia forces as a temporary expedient, but it also never really forced them to try to coherently reconstitute the official security forces. So, you just kind of staggered from crisis to crisis with these temporary bandage solutions, but there was no significant reform that could have addressed the underlying weaknesses of security in Kunduz.'

Afghan officials admitted that competition for power within the provincial administration played a role in facilitating the Taliban assault on Kunduz. The political conflict began from the day President Ghani appointed an ethnic Pashtun as governor of the province and allowed Chief Executive Abdullah to appoint the top police chief. The so-called balancing act contributed to the security crisis in Kunduz.

The ethnic tensions that were present in Kunduz for a long time and are in some ways very much part of the current situation were never really addressed. And so typically what you had was a governor of one ethnicity and a chief of police of another often from outside of Kunduz and that was seen as a way of maintaining an ethnic balance. So, by not allowing one ethnic group to get their own people in it was seen as a way to just maintaining balance of power among the different groups.

But in the longer term, over the past 10 years or so, it really was the recipe for continued dysfunction, maneuvering internally amongst different ethnic and political groups with the overall detriment of security in Kunduz.

Afghan investigators blamed poor leadership, misuse of resources, and lack of coordination between Afghan security forces for the Talibans capture of Kunduz city in September. "On the day of the crisis, nobody knew who was in charge," said Amrullah Saleh, a former chief of the national intelligence agency, at a news conference in Kabul on 21 November 2015.

The Taliban said they were pulling back in the northern city of Kunduz on 13 October 2015 in order to protect civilians, Reuters said. Insurgents seized Kunduz in an offensive at the end of September 2015 and controlled the city for three days. However, fighting between the militants and Afghan security forces continued for two weeks, driving tens of thousands of residents to seek safety in neighboring provinces. Government forces slowly regained control in Kunduz, but fighting flared in Ghazni, a provincial city that lies south of Kabul on Highway One, the main link between the capital and the major southern city of Kandahar.

Afghan officials expressed concerned over what they described as "the rapid advance of the Taliban" in Helmand Province and warned several areas in the southern province may fall to the militant group. In an open letter to President Ashraf Ghani, Helmand Deputy Governor Mohammad Jan Rasoolyar pleaded for urgent reinforcement and assistance from Kabul. Rasoolyar wrote on 19 December 2015 that heavy fighting were going on in several areas, including the Sangin district that was on the verge of falling to the Taliban.

In the second half of 2015, the overall security situation in Afghanistan deteriorated with an increase in effective insurgent attacks and higher ANDSF and Taliban casualties. Though the insurgency remains resilient, the Afghan government remains in control of all major population centers and continues to deny the Taliban strategic ground throughout the country. The Taliban have remained active in their traditional strongholds, namely in Helmand in the south and Logar and Wardak in the east, and also created a sense of instability for brief periods of time in other parts of the country, such as in Kunduz in northern Afghanistan.

Nonetheless, the Taliban were unable to hold territory they had wrested away from ANDSF control. The ANDSF consistently retook ground they had temporarily lost to the Taliban. Although the ANDSF maintain a significant capability advantage over the insurgency, insurgents are improving in their ability to find and exploit ANDSF vulnerabilities, making the security situation still fragile in key areas and at risk of deterioration in other places.

In the wake of the July 2015 announcement of long-time Taliban leader Mullah Omars death in 2013 and Mullah Mansours attempt to consolidate the movement behind his leadership, Afghan, Pakistani, and other interlocutors continued to emphasize the importance of political reconciliation. However, the Talibans resilience throughout the second half of the year demonstrated their resolve to continue fighting. The elevation of Haqqani Network leader Siraj Haqqani as Taliban leader Mullah Mansours deputy signals that the Haqqani Network remained a critical and lethal component of the overall Taliban-led insurgency.

The presence of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) Khorasan Province (IS-KP) primarily in the eastern province of Nangarhar remained a concern for the Taliban, the Afghan government, and the international community. Through attacks against a United Nations (UN) vehicle and the ANDSF in September 2015, IS-KP demonstrated that it is operationally emergent.

Despite increased bilateral dialogue with Pakistan early in 2015, a number of events over the last six months of 2015, including several high-profile attacks in Kabul in August and a Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) attack on a Pakistani Air Force Base in Peshawar in September 2015, challenged Afghanistan-Pakistan cooperation. Nevertheless, Afghanistan and Pakistan relations remain essential to progress against terrorist and militant groups on both sides of their shared border.

A return to more frequent high-level political and military-to-military engagements such as those that occurred earlier in 2015 would be an important signal of the direction of bilateral cooperation. Events during the reporting period such as Corps commander-level meetings between ANDSF and Pakistani military officials to discuss border coordination are positive signs that both countries recognized the need to work together.

During the 2015 fighting season, the ANDSF demonstrated that they were capable of preventing the Taliban from achieving their long-term strategic goal of overthrowing the government by force. Upon losing key terrain to the Taliban, the ANDSF proved themselves capable of mounting effective counterattacks, frequently re-taking lost terrain in only hours or days, and effectively employing organic aerial fires assets in support of combined armed operations a further sign they are a learning and growing fighting force on a positive trajectory. The ANDSF also continued to use their special operations forces to prosecute terrorist threats effectively and, with coalition support, deny safe haven to networks across the country.

The MoD Afghan Special Security Forces components the ANASOC, the Ktah Khas, and the SMW continue to demonstrate that they are the most capable force within the ANDSF and as a result have the highest operational tempo. Afghan special operations forces were widely considered to be some of the best in the region and are increasingly maturing with further coalition assistance. NSOCC-A and SOJTF-A train, advise, and assist efforts with Afghan special operations forces resulted in an increase in the number of Afghan independent and enabled operations. As the ASSF increased their organic operational capacity, ASSF operations were expected to outpace coalition advised and unilateral operations.

A major focus of MoD ASSF operations the 2015 fighting season was disrupting high-profile attack threats in or near Kabul and other major population centers. The ASSF were frequently utilized for shaping operations ahead of planned ANDSF offensives and played a critical role in multi-corps operations early in 2015 and in counter-offensive operations later in the year. The ASSFs enhanced capability when compared to other ANDSF fores is also seen in its use of intelligence the ASSF were at the forefront in their use of intelligence to drive operations. All elements of the ASSF, particularly the ANASOC and SMW, were increasingly employing intelligence provided by the National Directorate of Security, MoD, MoI, and coalition forces to inform and enable precise and proactive responses to emerging threats.

By the end of 2015, NSOCC-A advisors were working closely with the ASSF on the 2015-2016 winter campaign plan and helping to ensure sufficient ASSF are ready, willing, and able to fight after an aggressive fighting season 2015 operational tempo.

The number of civilian casualties in Afghanistan during 2015 are the highest recorded, the UN said 14 February 2016 on the release of its 2015 Annual Report on Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict. The annual report, produced by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) in coordination with the UN Human Rights Office, showed that increased ground fighting in and around populated areas, along with suicide and other attacks in major cities, were the main causes of conflict-related civilian deaths and injuries in 2015.

UNAMA documented 11,002 civilian casualties (3,545 deaths and 7,457 injured) in 2015, exceeding the previous record levels of civilian casualties that occurred in 2014. The latest figures show an overall increase of four per cent during 2015 in total civilian casualties from the previous year. UNAMA began its systematic documentation of civilian casualties in 2009.

Anti-Government Elements continued to cause the most harm 62 per cent of all civilian casualties despite a 10 per cent reduction from 2014 in the total civilian casualties resulting from their attacks. Notwithstanding the overall decrease, the report documents Anti-Government Elements increasing use of some tactics that deliberately or indiscriminately cause civilian harm, including targeted killings of civilians, complex and suicide attacks, as well as indiscriminate and illegal pressure-plate IEDs.

A leading rights group in Pakistan reported 01 April 2016 that deaths due to violence-related incidents, including bombings and other militant attacks in the country, fell 40 percent in 2015. In its annual report, the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) documented 4,612 deaths compared to 7,622 fatalities in the previous year. The findings supported official claims of a reduction in casualties because of successes in the army's counter-militancy operations against bases of the anti-state Pakistani Taliban near the Afghan border.



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Page last modified: 27-02-2017 19:48:51 ZULU