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Pashtun Taliban Insurgency - 2018

Afghanistan control - May 2018By 2018, the Taliban in Afghanistan, despite being deeply fractured between rival factions and competing masters (Iran as much as Pakistan), continued to encroach on the even more dysfunctional Kabul government. The mild winter allowed for sustained military pressure against insurgent and terrorist forces, and built positive momentum heading into the 2018 fighting season.

The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) welcomed the Afghan governments renewed call for unconditional peace talks with the Taliban and the outlining of a framework for peace, presented at the Kabul Process II conference in the Afghan capital 28 February 2018. Together with the 25 countries and international organizations participating in the second Kabul Process conference, the UN Mission strongly supports the vision for peace through intra-Afghan dialogue and urges all parties involved to engage at the earliest time. UNAMA commends the stated preparedness of Afghan authorities to discuss all issues as part of a peace process, including such key aspects as the constitution and the lifting of sanctions against persons and entities, as well as the release of prisoners.

On April 25, 2018, the Taliban announced the commencement of Operation Al-Khandaq to start the fighting season. The operation is named for a 7th century battle in which Muslim fighters defended Medina from other tribes seeking to recapture the city. In a statement announcing the offensive, the Taliban reiterated its longstanding claim that the continued presence of U.S. and international troops in Afghanistan justifies the insurgency. The Taliban stated that it is primarily targeting the American invaders and their intelligence agents, and, secondarily, internal supporters of American forces.

USFOR-A, in an analysis prepared for the DoD OIG, said the 2018 statement had a different tone than the Talibans statement announcing the 2017 fighting season, which was more victorious in tone. USFOR-A said that the 2018 announcement implicitly acknowledged that the Taliban is under pressure from the United States and Coalition forces. USFOR-A attributed the change, in part, to increased offensive operations under the South Asia strategy, which it says has limited the Talibans ability to carry out large or complicated operations. For example, the Talibans 2018 statement did not mention highprofile suicide attacks or large-scale conventional operations, which were both announced as part of the 2017 campaign. This may indicate a plan by the Taliban to limit their use of Kabul-based high profile attacks to only hardened targets with a low risk of civilian casualties, USFOR-A said.

The Taliban strategy focused on an offensive, guerilla insurgency. The Taliban also indicated that the target of its violent attacks would center on foreign forces, particularly U.S. forces. Of note, the Taliban claims that they will take caution to minimize civilian casualties. The 2018 Operation Al-Khandaq announcement, including the identified targets of the Talibans offensive operations and the claim to minimize civilian casualties, is similar to the Talibans 2017 announcement regarding Operation Mansouri.

Early 2018 was characterized by fewer security incidents across the country, but also stalemated control of population, districts, and land area. Meanwhile, the overall level of civilian casualties remained unchanged, but the number of high-casualty events in urban areas increased. An unusually intense period of violence in Kabul over the winter months reflected a shift in the insurgents tactics to launching successive attacks on civilians in the capital due to increased pressure from the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) in the provinces.

One such attack occurred on 27 January 2018 when the Taliban detonated a massive car bomb near the Ministry of Interior headquarters in Kabul that killed at least 103 people and injured 235 others. The attack was similar to a car-bomb attack in May 2017 that killed over 150 people, the deadliest since the beginning of the Afghan war in 2001. Earlier in January, several Taliban insurgents dressed as Afghan soldiers attacked Westerners at the Intercontinental Hotel for 12 hours, killing 22 people and taking several guests hostage before the militants were killed by Afghan security personnel.

Similarly, Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K), the Islamic State affiliate in Afghanistan, conducted a spate of deadly attacks in Kabul this quarter after the ANDSF continued to confront them in their strongholds in northern and eastern Afghanistan. IS-K claimed responsibility for an attack in January on the Kabul Military Academy that killed 11 Afghan National Army (ANA) personnel. As a result of the attack, two ANA generals were dismissed and charged with negligence; in addition, President Ghani ordered the mandatory retirement of 164 generals in February as a further effort to reform the ANDSF and to improve security.

IS-K also continued their sectarian campaign targeting Afghanistans minority Shia community. On 22 April 2018, an IS-K suicide bomber attacked a voter-registration center in Dashte Barchi, an area of Kabul where many Shia Afghans live. This followed another IS-K suicide attack on crowds gathered in Kabul to celebrate the Persian New Year in late March 2018; that attack killed 31 people.

While IS-K has escalated its operations on Kabul, they suffered significant losses in early 2018. On April 5, U.S. Special Operations Forces and the Afghan Special Security Forces (ASSF) conducted a joint operation that killed IS-Ks commander in northern Afghanistan, Qari Hikmatullah. He had been the main facilitator moving IS-K fighters into the area from Central Asian states. Earlier, on March 16, an American air strike killed two IS-K platoon commanders, Omair and Abu Samaya, while they met in Sar-e Pul, and on January 28, Afghan forces captured their predecessor, Khitab Aka, in Jowzjan.

In the first six months of 2018, the armed conflict continued to destroy the lives and livelihoods of civilians at the same toxic levels as last year. The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) renews its calls on parties to the conflict to increase efforts to protect the civilian population and encourages parties to work towards reaching a peaceful settlement.

Election-related violence began with the commencement of voter registration on 14 April 2018, after which UNAMA documented attacks on tazkira (national ID) distribution centres and voter registration sites, as well as election-related personnel, including elections workers and Afghan National Police officers dedicated to providing security to election-related sites, through the use of IEDs, suicide attacks and targeted killings.

The number of civilian casualties attributed to Anti-Government Elements continued at the same high levels throughout the first half of 2018, including increased civilian casualties from attacks targeting civilians. From 1 January to 30 June 2018, AntiGovernment Elements caused 3,413 civilian casualties (1,127 deaths and 2,286 injured), approximately the same as in the first six months of 2017. UNAMA attributed 67 per cent of all civilian casualties to Anti-Government Elements, with 42 per cent attributed to Taliban, 18 per cent to Daesh/ISKP, and seven per cent to unidentified Anti-Government Elements (including less than one per cent to self-proclaimed Daesh/ISKP).

Suicide and complex attacks by Anti-Government Elements caused 1,413 civilian casualties (427 deaths and 986 injured) 257 more casualties from 12 more attacks than the same period in 2017. This marked a rise of 22 per cent in civilian casualties from suicide and complex attacks compared to the same period in 2017. UNAMA attributed 52 per cent of civilian casualties from suicide and complex attacks to Daesh/ISKP, 40 per cent to Taliban, and the remainder to unidentified Anti-Government Elements.

Civilian casualties from attacks by Anti-Government Elements deliberately targeting civilians also increased by 28 per cent compared with the first half of 2017. Anti-Government Element attacks targeting civilians accounted for 35 per cent of all civilian casualties and 53 per cent of the civilian casualties attributed to Anti-Government Elements. More than half of all civilian casualties from Anti-Government Element attacks targeting civilians came from attacks claimed by Taliban or Daesh/ISKP. Civilian casualties from attacks targeting civilians claimed by Taliban and Daesh/ISKP each increased fourfold.

As of May 2018, the US assessed that the Afghan government maintained control or influence over approximately 65 percent of the population, while insurgents had control or influence over approximately 12 percent of the population, with the remainder contested.

UNAMA attributed 1,047 civilian casualties to Pro-Government Forces between 1 January and 30 June 2018, approximately the same as during the corresponding period in 2017. Pro-Government Forces caused 20 per cent of all civilian casualties in the first half of 2018 (17 per cent by Afghan national security forces, two percent by international military forces, and one per cent by proGovernment armed groups).

In a televised address on 07 June 2018, Afghan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani, in an unprecedented move, announced the unilateral week-long cease-fire with the Taliban ahead of the holidays in June of this year, which was followed by the Talibans announcement of a three-day cease-fire. Afghan Taliban fighters roamed around cities across Afghanistan and celebrated the Eid festival with Afghan soldiers and civilians. Taliban fighters were seen taking selfies with Afghan security forces.

Taliban fighters overran an Afghan National Army operations base in northern Afghanistan while, further to the south, security forces battled Taliban militants who seized the city of Ghazni. Defense Ministry spokesman Ghafor Ahmad Jawed said Taliban fighters gained control of the base in the Ghormach district of the northern province of Faryab late on August 13. Some 100 Afghan soldiers were at the base, known as Camp Chinaya, when the Taliban began their assault against it on August 12. Faryab Provincial Council Chief Mohammad Tahir Rahmani said the base fell to the Taliban because the Afghan soldiers did not receive reinforcements and had run out of ammunition, food, and water.

The Taliban launched an assault early on August 10 and captured Ghazni, a strategic city located on the main highway linking Kabul with the southern city of Kandahar. Afghan officials said security forces, backed by air support, later pushed the militants back from most of Ghazni, which is Afghanistan's seventh largest city. The United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says between 110 and 150 civilians reportedly had been killed or injured in the fighting. On August 13, Defense Minister Tareq Shah Bahrami said about 100 police officers and soldiers were killed in the battle, along with at least 20 civilians. Bahrami said 341 Taliban fighters were killed or wounded in the battle for Ghazni.

Ghazni is a strategic province due to its geographical location. The province connects the capital city of Kabul to Kandahar, another major province in the south of the country. The province also is a historic city, and was the capital of Ghaznavids Empire several centuries ago. The Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO) named Ghazni as the capital of Islamic culture in the Asian region in 2013.

The Afghan General Staff planned multi-corps offensive operations to prevent the Taliban from achieving their 2018 campaign objectives and Taliban have failed to take any provincial centers since 2015. Raids in district and provincial centers this year failed 80% of the time. Where the TB have succeeded in taking a district center, they were retaken within hours or days.

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Page last modified: 01-04-2019 17:03:51 ZULU