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Pashtun Taliban Insurgency 2019

In January 2019, expectations of a peace agreement between the US and the Taliban were high after the two sides agreed in principle to its framework. The deal stated that the Taliban will not allow foreign armed groups and fighters to use Afghanistan as a launchpad to conduct attacks outside the country, a complete withdrawal of US and NATO forces, an intra-Afghan dialogue, and a permanent ceasefire between the US and the Taliban.

Peace would be welcome news for the people of Afghanistan as well as for the international security forces, humanitarian missions, reconstruction personnel, and nongovernmental organizations who have sought to rebuild the country, often under deadly conditions. But a peace settlement could also bring its own set of challenges to sustaining what has been achieved since 2001 in one of the worlds most isolated, impoverished, and conflict-plagued countries.

The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) published a High-Risk List in March 2019 to alert Members of the 116th Congress and the Secretaries of State and Defense to major areas of the reconstruction effort in Afghanistan at risk of waste, fraud, abuse, mismanagement, or mission failure.

With or without a peace settlement, Afghanistan will likely continue to grapple with multiple violent-extremist organizations, who threaten Afghanistan and the international community. The Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) are constrained by capability challenges and depend on donor support of $4 billion to $5 billion per year to fund their sustainment, equipment, infrastructure, and training costs. According to the NATO Resolute Support (RS) mission, control of Afghanistans districts, population, and territory has become more contested over the last two years, resulting in a stalemated battlefield environment.

Throughout the reconstruction effort, the United States has placed more emphasis on reconstructing the Afghan National Army (ANA) than on the Afghan National Police (ANP). In the event of a peace settlement, there is no comprehensive strategy for a competent civil police force backed by the rule of law. Current ANP sustainment costs are well beyond the Afghan governments ability to fund and will require continued foreign assistance well into the future.

According to the Department of Defense (DOD), corruption remains the top strategic threat to the legitimacy and success of the Afghan government. Corruption and threats to the rule of law persist despite anticorruption efforts by the Afghan government and donor nations. In its lessons learned report, Corruption in Conflict: Lessons from the U.S. Experience in Afghanistan, SIGAR concluded that failure to effectively address systemic corruption means U.S. reconstruction programs, at best, will continue to be subverted and, at worst, will fail.

Afghanistan remains the global leader in opium-poppy cultivation and the two highest years of cultivation were 2017 and 2018. The illicit drug trade funds the Taliban insurgency as well as corrupt members of the Afghan government, military, and police, and also employs nearly 600,000 Afghans. A truce or peace settlement between the Taliban and the Afghan government may not necessarily lead to a decline in the illicit narcotics trade.

The social, economic, and political reintegration of tens of thousands of former fighters into Afghan society will be critical for the country to achieve lasting peace and stability. Ex-combatants will face the challenges of a weak economy with few livelihood options, political uncertainty, ongoing insecurity, and distrust among a populace traumatized by war. Formal reintegration efforts would require many programmatic capabilities including data collection, vetting, monitoring and evaluation, and resource mobilization that would test the capacities of the Afghan government and international donors. Failure to successfully reintegrate an estimated 60,000 Taliban fighters and their families, and other illegal armed groups, could undermine the successful implementation of any peace agreement.

Nearly 4,000 civilians had been killed in Afghanistan in the first half of the year 2019, with a 27 percent increase in war-related civilian deaths in the second quarter. Many of these deaths were claimed by the Taliban, although it is of note that Afghan security forces and their American allies killed a greater number of civilians in the first quarter. But a consistent pattern of increased attacks by the Taliban has emerged in recent weeks. The so-called "peace" talks fuel more violence as the Taliban use military force to maintain their negotiating position.

In September, just as the US-Taliban talks were believed to have reached the final stage, US President Donald Trump abruptly announced the deal was "dead", citing an increase in violence in which a US soldier was killed. The Taliban said the announcement came as a "shock".

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani told an election rally Friday 13 September 2019 that more than 2,000 Taliban fighters have been killed over the past week and insisted his elected office is where the insurgent group must come to seek a decisive political settlement to the conflict. Ghanis assertions came nearly a week after U.S. President Donald Trump abruptly ended yearlong direct negotiations with the Taliban over the future of American troop presence in Afghanistan. That dialogue process had excluded the Afghan government because of insurgent opposition. Ghani did not share details of the estimated 2,000 insurgent casualties he revealed in the public meeting. It was not clear whether the figures were inclusive of the more than 1,000 Taliban deaths the United States said last week it had inflicted on the insurgents in battles over the past 10 days.

The Taliban has rejected the claims made by both Ghani and U.S. officials, though, saying their adversaries have never inflicted heavy losses of this magnitude, nor do they have the capacity to do so.

On September 28, Afghanistan went to the polls to elect a new president. The Taliban threatened to target election rallies and polling stations, while US-backed Afghan forces stepped up air and ground attacks. On December 22, Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission (IEC) announced the preliminary results of the presidential polls after a two-month delay, which the electoral body blamed on technical issues, allegations of fraud and protests from candidates. In the results, incumbent President Ashraf Ghani was seen on track for a second five-year term after preliminary results showed him winning 50.64 percent of the votes. Ghani's nearest rival, Abdullah Abdullah, was second in the race with 39.52 percent of the 1.9 million votes in an election marred by protests and allegations of fraud.

The year, which saw the biggest push for peace in Afghanistan, also witnessed a spike in violence. The United Nations said the months of July, August and September this year saw "an unprecedented number of civilian casualties". Between January and September, there were more than 8,200 civilian casualties - 2,563 people killed and 5,676 injured - according to the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA). In October, a UNAMA report said the September election campaign saw nearly 460 civilian casualties, including 85 deaths. The report blamed more than 80 percent of those casualties on the Taliban's campaign to disrupt polling.

On Thanksgiving Day this year, Trump made a surprise visit to the US troops in Afghanistan and declared that the peace talks with the Taliban had been resumed. The November 28 announcement came a week after two Western hostages were swapped for three Taliban commanders, an exchange partially brokered by the US. On December 4, US special envoy for peace, Zalmay Khalilzad, arrived in Kabul, three days before he met a Taliban delegation in Doha for a fresh round of talks. The renewed Doha talks focused on steps that could lead to a ceasefire that would end the 18-year conflict. The Taliban had so far refused to engage with the Afghan government, calling it a "US puppet".



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