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Author: Subject: Afghanistan, and all of its ramifications

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[*] posted on 28-12-2017 at 10:27 PM

December 28 2017 - 10:15PM

Islamic State claims responsibility after blasts at news agency in Kabul kill dozens

More mindless debauchery............. :no:

Kabul: Islamic State claimed responsibility for a suicide attack on a Shiite cultural centre and news agency on Thursday in the Afghan capital that killed dozens of people attending a conference.

Ismail Kawosi, a spokesman for the ministry of public health, said 41 people had been killed and 48 wounded in the latest in a series of attacks on media organizations in Kabul.

A distraught man is carried after a suicide attack in Kabul, Afghanistan. Photo: AP

The attack, which involved at least three explosions, occurred during a morning panel discussion on the anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Sunni-majority Afghanistan at the Tabian Social and Cultural Centre, with many of those attending students, witnesses said.

It was also the latest in a series of attacks on Shiite targets by Islamic State, which claimed responsibility in an online statement.

Security personnel arrive outside the site of the suicide attack. Photo: AP

The floors of the centre, at the basement level, were covered in blood as wailing survivors and relatives picked through the debris, while windows of the news agency, on the second floor, were all shattered.

People running outside into the compound following an initial blast inside were caught by two further explosions which caused heavy casualties, witnesses said.

Photographs sent by witnesses showed serious damage at the building, in a heavily Shiite area in the west of the capital, and a number of dead and wounded on the ground.

Deputy Health Minister Feda Mohammad Paikan said 35 bodies had been brought into the nearby Istiqlal hospital. Television pictures showed many of the injured suffered serious burns.

People carry an injured man into the hospital after the suicide attack. Photo: AP

President Ashraf Ghani's spokesman issued a statement calling the attack an "unpardonable" crime against humanity and pledging to destroy terrorist groups.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid issued a statement on Twitter denying involvement.

People assist an injured woman following the attack. Photo: AP

The bloodshed follows an attack on a private television station in Kabul last month, which was also claimed by Islamic State.

Backed by the heaviest US air strikes since the height of the international combat mission in Afghanistan, Afghan forces have forced the Taliban back in many areas and prevented any major urban centre from falling into the hands of insurgents.

But high-profile attacks in the big cities have continued as militants have looked for other ways to make an impact and undermine confidence in security. Islamic State, which is opposed to both the Taliban and the Western-backed government, has claimed a growing share of such attacks.

"This gruesome attack underscores the dangers faced by Afghan civilians," rights group Amnesty International said in a statement from its South Asia Director, Biraj Patnaik.

"In one of the deadliest years on record, journalists and other civilians continue to be ruthlessly targeted by armed groups."

According to a report this month by media freedom group Reporters without Borders, Afghanistan is among the world's most dangerous countries for media workers with two journalists and five media assistants killed doing their jobs in 2017, before Thursday's attack.

According to Sayed Abbas Hussaini, a journalist at Afghan Voice, one reporter at the agency was killed in Thursday's attack and two were wounded.
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[*] posted on 29-12-2017 at 01:12 PM

ISIS in Afghanistan Is Like a Balloon That Won’t Pop

By Krishnadev Calamur
The Atlantic

2:54 PM ET

Thursday’s fatal attack in Kabul highlights the group’s resilience.
ISIS should have been eliminated in Afghanistan. That’s what Americans will tell you, anyway.

In April, the U.S. military said that only about 700 ISIS fighters remained in the country and then proceeded to drop the “mother of all bombs,” one of the largest non-nuclear devices, against an ISIS facility in Afghanistan. Three months later, the U.S. military said it had killed Abu Sayed, the head of ISIS-Khorasan, as the group is known in the country, during an airstrike in June. At the time, a Pentagon spokeswoman said the U.S. actions “will significantly disrupt the terror group’s plans to expand its presence in Afghanistan.”

Less that six months later, ISIS has not only survived, but it has also showcased its ability to strike at the heart of the Afghan state. On Thursday, the group claimed responsibility for a suicide-bomb attack on a Shia cultural center in Kabul, the Afghan capital. At least 41 people were killed and more than 80 more were wounded. Those killed included students who had gathered for a discussion to mark the 38th anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan (Christmas Day, 1979).

Journalists from Afghan Voice, a Shia-affiliated news agency, were also among the dead. ISIS regards the Shia as apostates, and has frequently targeted Shias around the world.

There have been similar attacks in recent weeks and throughout the year. On Christmas Day, ISIS struck near an office belonging to the Afghan intelligence service, killing six people. On December 18, gunmen from the group stormed another intelligence center in Kabul, but that attempt ended with all three attackers being killed.

All this comes even as the Taliban, which governed Afghanistan before it was toppled in 2001 following the U.S.-led invasion, is still the primary militant group operating in the country. The Taliban still has control—and support—in large parts of Afghanistan.

So while the Islamic State’s attacks in Afghanistan are shocking, none of them should be the least bit surprising. After all, the type of geopolitical stability that the West takes for granted is rare in the vast majority of the world. The U.S. has taken upon itself to bring stability to many of these places—with mixed results. It has toppled dictators in Iraq and elsewhere, but has yet been unable to bring about the kind of political stability needed for a functioning state and civil society. Afghanistan, in particular, has shown the limits of U.S. involvement in a country. President Donald Trump, after advocating for a withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan, did what his predecessor, Barack Obama, did: doubled downinstead. About 15,000 U.S. troops are now in the country, more than 16 years after the United States first entered Afghanistan.

“A hasty withdrawal would create a vacuum that terrorists, including ISIS and al-Qaeda, would instantly fill, just as happened before September 11th,” Trump said in August as he unveiled his Afghan strategy. He added that the U.S. would move away from the Bush-era policy of the U.S. as a force that spreads democracy overseas. “We are not nation-building again,” he said at the time. “We are killing terrorists.”

The U.S. and its Afghan military partners have succeeded in that endeavor. In October, U.S. aircraft dropped 653 bombs, missiles, and other munitions on Taliban and ISIS targets, according to U.S. Air Forces Central Command. The number for October 2016 was 203. Still, it’s not clear if the rate at which the U.S. is “killing terrorists” in Afghanistan exceeds the rate at which ISIS-K is growing.

Michael Kugelman, the deputy director of the Asia Program at the Wilson Center, tweetedafter Thursday attack that ISIS’s resilience in Afghanistan, despite “relentless” airstrikes, is “quite worrying.” He attributed the group’s strength to the Afghan terrain, which allows fighters to evade strikes; a “steady supply of recruits from disaffected” members of the Pakistani Taliban; as well as “homegrown radicalization.”

Last month, General John Nicholson, the top American and NATO commander in Afghanistan, said U.S. operations had removed more than 1,600 ISIS fighters from the battlefield since March—more than twice the previous estimate of 700 fighters total. The general acknowledged the difficulty of fighting the group, which has gone from being confined to its strongholds in the eastern part of the country to carrying out attacks in places like Kabul.

“It’s like a balloon,” Nicholson said. “We squeeze them in this area and they’ll try to move out elsewhere.”
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[*] posted on 15-1-2018 at 12:29 PM

January 15 2018 - 10:30AM

Peace talks underway with Taliban; or are they?

Jawad Sukhanyar and Rod Norland

Kabul: Senior Afghan officials have said meetings were underway in Turkey between their government and representatives of the Taliban, although the insurgents denied that any talks were taking place.

Video footage of the meeting was posted online on Sunday by Tolo Television, one of Afghanistan's leading private networks.

An Afghan policeman stands guard near to the site of a suicide bomber, who struck at a NATO convoy in Kandahar southern of Kabul last year. Photo: STR

No formal talks with the Taliban have ever been held, and various indirect efforts have repeatedly failed, most recently in June, in the wake of a truck bombing in Kabul that killed hundreds at the entrance to the Green Zone, the diplomatic and government quarter.

In 2011, the Taliban assassinated the head of the Afghan High Peace Council, Barhanuddin Rabbani, by sending a supposed peace envoy who had a bomb hidden in his turban.

Pictured in the Sunday meeting was Abbas Basir of the Wahdat Party, a major faction representing Afghanistan's Shiite minority, the Hazaras. The head of that party, Karim Khalili, also leads the Afghan High Peace Council.

Significantly, the three-day talks also included Hamayoon Jarir, an adviser to President Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan and a major figure in Hezb-i-Islami, an insurgent faction that made peace with the government in late 2016.

Azadi Radio described Hezb-i-Islami as playing a mediating role with the Taliban insurgents, which would be a major development if true.

A senior Afghan official in Kabul confirmed that talks in Istanbul had begun on Saturday and were to continue until Monday. He said representatives of the Taliban were present, but described them as "unofficial".

The video identified four men as Taliban negotiators, but reports said that a fifth was also present. Two of the negotiators were identified as known Taliban operatives in the past, according to Sayed Akbar Agha, a former member of the Taliban now living in Kabul.

However, Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban spokesman, denied in a Twitter post that any talks involving representatives of the group were taking place.

Mohammad Akram Khpalwak, secretary-general of the High Peace Council, said that the talks in Istanbul were not official, and that any involvement by Khalili, the council's chief, would have been personal, not official.

"This could be an informal channel trying to talk with the Taliban to convince them to participate in the peace process," he said. "It is not an HPC initiative. It is not representing the HPC formally."

But that does not mean the efforts may not be useful, Khpalwak said. "We welcome any such move by anyone provided the engagements give positive outcomes," he added.

A spokesman for the office of the Afghan president declined to comment, but said he was unaware of any talks taking place.

If confirmed, the role of Hezb-i-Islami as a mediator with the Taliban would be a significant development in the troubled efforts to initiate meaningful peace talks with the Taliban.

Although the faction fought against both the Taliban and the government previously, it was the first Afghan insurgent group to enter peace talks with Kabul, and it shares many ideological similarities with the Taliban.

New York Times
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[*] posted on 17-1-2018 at 02:33 PM

Afghan forces to intensify operations against militant groups

Gabriel Dominguez, London - Jane's Defence Weekly

16 January 2018

The NATO-led ‘Resolute Support’ mission in Afghanistan announced on 14 January that the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) will intensify military operations in 2018 in a bid to break the stalemate in the 16-year-old conflict.

The ANDSF “will be on the offensive in 2018, building on the successes of 2017 and the renewed resolve of [the] ‘Resolute Support’ mission and the US Operation Freedom’s Sentinel”, General John Nicholson, the commander of the NATO-led mission and of US Forces-Afghanistan, said in a statement.

The US general pointed out that while the winter season is traditionally a time when both Afghan and insurgent forces regroup and prepare for the traditional fighting season in the spring and summer, the situation is different this year because Afghan and US forces have continued to attack Taliban strongholds and support networks.

(161 of 646 words)
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[*] posted on 17-1-2018 at 07:06 PM

Kabul under siege while America's longest war rages on

In 16 years, the Afghan War has cost 2,400 American lives and $1 trillion. But with the country's capital under siege, the end still seems far away

2018 Jan 14

Correspondent: Lara Logan

The war in Afghanistan is the longest in U.S. history. It's lasted over 16 years and in that time, America's goals and strategies have changed. Now there's another new plan. President Trump has sent 3,000 more troops to train and assist the Afghan army.

But in the Afghan capital you don't have to go far to see the problems. Kabul is so dangerous, American diplomats and soldiers are not allowed to use the roads. They can't just drive two miles from the airport to U.S. headquarters. They have to fly. After all these years, a trillion dollars, and 2,400 American lives -- Kabul is under siege.

This is rush hour at Kabul International Airport -- a swarm of helicopters that's earned the nickname 'Embassy Air.' It's how Americans and their allies working at the U.S. Embassy and military headquarters travel back and forth from the airport. It's just a five-minute flight. The chopper we boarded was making its tenth trip of the day.

A few years ago American convoys regularly drove on the airport road below. Now the view from the helicopter window is all most on board will see of Kabul. They'll stay behind blast walls for the rest of their time in Afghanistan. We wanted to know what it says about where we are in this war if American troops can't drive two miles down a road in Kabul.

John Nicholson: It's a country at war. And it's a capital that is under attack by a determined enemy.

"The war is changing from a war against armies to a war against people."

No U.S. General has spent more time here than John Nicholson -- the commander of American forces in Afghanistan.

John Nicholson: We do everything possible to protect our forces. So…

Lara Logan: You're not using the roads.

John Nicholson: Protecting the lives of our troops is our number-one priority. If we can fly instead of drive and that offers them a greater degree of safety, then it's the prudent and the right thing to do.

Lara Logan: In military terms, that's called surrendering the terrain.

John Nicholson: I disagree. I think it's answering our moral imperative to protect the lives of our soldiers and civilians. So that's what we do.

But this isn't some remote outpost -- it's the capital. When the U.S. first came here, the population was 500,000. Now it's more than 5 million. Refugees, people desperate for work, and terrorists have flooded Kabul. General Nicholson showed us how vulnerable the city has become.

John Nicholson: A suicide bomber is gonna go in here, he's gonna kill himself. He doesn't care about his future. Vastly easier than what the Afghan security forces have to do.

Lara Logan: Because he doesn't have to have an exit strategy.

John Nicholson: Exactly.

Lara Logan: How easy is it to infiltrate the city, especially one this big?

John Nicholson: Yeah, right now it's easier than we would like.
General Nicholson took command in 2016 shortly after the U.S. cut troop levels to fewer than 10,000. The enemy filled the vacuum. Suicide bombers have terrorized Kabul ever since, shattering police stations, mosques, and foreign embassies. This truck bomb in may killed 150 people. It was the deadliest attack in the capital since the start of the war.

Ashraf Ghani: The level of brutality, the level of heartlessness is unbelievable, and we have to muster all of our resources to be able to deal with this.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani rules from the presidential palace that's occupied the city center for more than a century. We noticed the walls around him and the rest of the city have expanded and grown taller since our last visit three years ago. Some of the streets we traveled turned into tight corridors of 20-foot high concrete barriers. It made it hard to tell where we were.

Lara Logan: Parts of this city now are unrecognizable. What happened here?

Ashraf Ghani: The war is changing from a war against armies to a war against people.

Lara Logan: More civilians are dying in Kabul every year. And your response is more walls.

Ashraf Ghani: 21 international terrorist groups are operating in this country. Dozens of suicide bombers are being sent. There are factories producing suicide bombers. We are under siege.

By terrorizing the people the Taliban have sown deep doubts about the government. The result: angry protestors in the capital chanting "death to Ashraf Ghani."

Lara Logan: If you can't secure the capital, how are you going to secure the rest of the country?

Ashraf Ghani: You tell me. Can you prevent the attack on New York? Can you prevent the attack on London?

Lara Logan: We're not talking about one attack. A series of attacks right here on your doorstep, a bomb that blew out the windows in your palace that has turned this city into something of a concrete prison.

Ashraf Ghani: What do you want? What's your alternative, ma'am?

Lara Logan: What is the alternative?

Ashraf Ghani: The alternative is resolve.

Resolve has come at a heavy cost. In just four months last year, more than 4,000 Afghan soldiers and police were wounded, another 2,500 killed. Since then, Ghani has refused to reveal casualty figures. As you will see, it is a sensitive subject.

Lara Logan: Your soldiers and your policemen are dying in unprecedented numbers.

Ashraf Ghani: Indeed.

Lara Logan: How long can that be sustained?

Ashraf Ghani: Until we secure Afghanistan.

Lara Logan: How long is that? How long until you secure it?

Ashraf Ghani: As long as it takes. Generations if need be!

Lara Logan: The U.S. isn't going to be here for generations.

Ashraf Ghani: We will be here for generations. We do not need others to fight our fights.

Lara Logan: People in this country say that if the U.S. pulled out, your government would collapse in three days.
Ashraf Ghani: From the resource perspective they are absolutely right. We will not be able to support our army for six months without U.S. support, and U.S. capabilities.

Lara Logan: Did you just say that without the US support your army couldn't last six months?

Ashraf Ghani: Yes. Because we don't have the money.
American taxpayers bankroll 90 percent of Afghanistan's defense budget. That's more than $4 billion a year. Another $30 billion has been spent rebuilding this country. A bustling city has risen from the ruins. But in all the years we have been coming here, it's never been this dangerous. Checkpoints choke the traffic all over Kabul. It was as difficult to film as it was to move. Terrorists can strike at any time. Nobody knows that better than the men of this elite counter-terrorism unit. They rush to the scene of every attack – such as this one at a Kabul mosque – where a suicide bomber blew himself up just steps away. They took us beyond the barbed wire to the main military hospital -- the site of a chilling attack last March by the Islamic State, one of the many terror groups with a foothold in Kabul.

Lara Logan: The terrorists, they wore the white coats, like a doctor. Right?

We were told by commanders who were here that five terrorists disguised as doctors got past the hospital's heavy security. They were armed with assault rifles and a weapon that allowed them to quietly move from room to room.

(Former Lieutenant): They had knives. They killed a lot of people with that knife.

Lara Logan: So they were stabbing people in their beds? Stabbing patients?

(Former Lieutenant): Stabbing patient in their beds. Yeah. And opening their stomachs.

This former lieutenant led the assault force that stormed the building. We agreed to conceal his identity to protect him from reprisals.

(Former Lieutenant): They are very clever. And they can do anything inside. They get into the buildings and they start shooting around and show the weakness of the government.

Reinforcements landed on the roof. On the ledges below you can see hospital workers hiding. When cornered, the terrorists detonated grenades strapped to their chests. They murdered more than 50 people that day. Afghans normally bury their dead in a simple cloth shroud. That's not possible when bodies are obliterated by suicide bombers. It happens so often now, Kabul's carpenters have turned to something new -- making coffins. There's also greater demand for prosthetic limbs. This orthopedic clinic is run by the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Lara Logan: You said the security situation is not getting any better.

Dr. Alberto Cairo: Definitely not. I don't see any improvement.

Dr. Alberto Cairo has worked at the clinic for 27 years. He told us he's treating more and more victims of terror attacks.

Lara Logan: So, you know, many people far away from here think this war is over.

Dr. Alberto Cairo: What? The war is over. Please. How can they think of anything like this? No. The war is going on. People are very desperate. People are, they have lost hope.

Lara Logan: Why do you say people have lost hope?

Dr. Alberto Cairo: If you consider that the lifespan of the people in Afghanistan is around 60 years, it means that at least two thirds of them have seen only war. War, war, war.

Dr. Alberto Cairo, who works at a clinic in Kabul CBS News

With America's new strategy, more troops are in, time limits are out, and Pakistan is under pressure for being a safe haven for terrorists. General John Nicholson believes this will end the war, something we've heard from previous commanders.

Lara Logan: Do you have everything you need?

John Nicholson: Yeah, with the new policy I do.

Lara Logan: This is it, right? I mean, there's no more? This is the end game?

John Nicholson: Yes, this is the end game. This is a policy that can deliver a win.

Nicholson is targeting Taliban leaders. This car carried one of their high-ranking commanders. And striking their largest source of revenue, the drug labs that turn Afghanistan's most common crop -- opium --- into heroin. The goal is to do what his predecessors have repeatedly tried and failed -- force the Taliban to cut a deal.

Lara Logan: In 16 years, not a single Taliban fighter has renounced al-Qaeda or embraced, publicly embraced the Afghan constitution. Not a single one.

John Nicholson: In private they do.

Lara Logan: They don't do it publicly.

John Nicholson: But they do it in private.

Lara Logan: It says it all that they won't do it publicly.

John Nicholson: I agree with you.

Lara Logan: Right. So, why all these years people have been trying to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table, they've never come?

John Nicholson: I believe it's because they thought they could win. Because they believed we had lost our will to win. Because since 2009 when we announced the surge, we also announced our exit date. And, so, why, if your enemy has announced when he's leaving, then why would you negotiate?

Lara Logan: All of these people assisted Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda and we're now saying to the American people, "We can't defeat them, so we're gonna negotiate and put them in the government."

John Nicholson: No, we're killing them in large numbers. They can either lay down their weapons and rejoin society and be a part of the future of Afghanistan, have a better life for their children and themselves, or they can die.

Lara Logan: You know, many Americans look at this and they say, "You know, we've been there 16 years. It's enough now. We should just come home."

John Nicholson: Our country hasn't been attacked in those 16 years. They haven't been attacked from Afghanistan.

Lara Logan: A lotta people at home just don't buy that terrorists are coming from Afghanistan to attack them at home. They're worrying about the guy going to rent a truck from Home Depot and drive into a crowd of civilians.

John Nicholson: Well this raises the point. We need to defeat the ideology. If we were to lose here or if we were to leave here, the cost would be unacceptable. Why? It would embolden jihadists globally, those living in our own countries. It would convince them of the ultimate success of their cause. In my view the cost of failure here is unacceptable.

General John Nicholson told us he's giving himself two years to deliver major changes. But it's hard not to be skeptical in a city where the enemy has driven American forces from the roads -- into the sky.

Produced by Guy Campanile, Richard Butler, Andrew Bast, and Ahmad Mukhtar.

© 2018 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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[*] posted on 19-1-2018 at 11:37 PM

By Jawed Ziaratjayee YESTERDAY - 8:15 PM

Farah City ‘On Verge Of Collapse’, Locals Call for Action

Officials state at least 100 security force members have been killed in fighting in Farah in the past week.

Members of Farah provincial council on Thursday reported that the Taliban are pushing to capture Farah City after a week of clashes with security forces.

They said over a hundred security force members so far have been killed by the Taliban in the past week in the province.

In reaction to the report, lawmakers in Afghanistan’s Wolesi Jirga sharply criticized the Afghan security leaders over what they described as the turbulence in the security sector due to poor war management in volatile regions.

“We expect government to take action soon to tackle the current situation in Farah, otherwise the Taliban will take over Farah province, but keeping in mind that the Taliban has already taken over some areas of Farah,” said one MP Humaira Ayoubi.

MPs argue that local security leaders in Farah are not capable of leading the war against the insurgents. Farah has been facing deadly battles since the start of winter.

Reports from the war fronts in the province indicate that the Taliban has killed and wounded dozens of security force members after taking over their security check points in the area and that the group’s fighters are still advancing towards the provincial capital.

“Currently the security situation in Farah is much worse than any other region in the country. Fighting rages only two kilometers from Farah city, every night five to ten security force members are killed and Taliban seize their equipment. But the government so far has not done anything to tackle the issue,” said Khair Mohammad Noorzai, member of Farah provincial council.

Farah residents and local officials have urged government to improve the management of the war.

“Taliban have infiltrated some key regions of Farah city, the government has control only on key government compounds while the Taliban have taken over all other areas around Farah,” said one civil society activist in Farah Humayoun Shaheedzada.

Defense Ministry Talks Operation

Amid speculation over the possible collapse of Farah City to the Taliban, Afghan defense ministry officials have said that the army is planning a large-scale operation aimed at repressing the Taliban insurgents in the region.

“I want to say with confidence that the Taliban will take the dream of taking over Farah to their grave. The Taliban do not have the capacity to takeover Farah city,” a deputy defense ministry spokesman Mohammad Radmanish said Thursday.

Last year the Taliban managed to reach the entrance points into the city.

But the group this year, by changing its war tactics, has successfully inflicted a massive casualty toll on the embattled Afghan security forces in the province .
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[*] posted on 31-1-2018 at 09:57 AM

America’s Longest War—and the Ally That Fuels It

By Mark Mazzetti
The Atlantic

6:21 AM ET

Tyler Comrie / The Atlantic

How Pakistan has perpetuated the Afghan conflict.

Two months after the 2008 U.S. presidential election, Vice President–elect Joe Biden sat with Afghanistan’s president, Hamid Karzai, in the Arg Palace, an 83-acre compound in Kabul that had become a gilded cage for the mercurial and isolated leader. The discussion was already tense as Karzai urged Washington to help root out Taliban sanctuaries in Pakistan, implying that more pressure needed to be exerted on Pakistani leaders. Biden’s answer stunned Karzai into silence. Biden let Karzai know how Barack Obama’s incoming administration saw its priorities. “Mr. President,” Biden said, “Pakistan is fifty times more important than Afghanistan for the United States.”

It was an undiplomatic moment for sure, but also a frank expression of the devastating paradox at the heart of the longest war in American history. In 16 years, the United States has spent billions of dollars fighting a war that has killed thousands of soldiers and an untold number of civilians in a country that Washington considers insignificant to its strategic interests in the region. Meanwhile, the country it has viewed as a linchpin, Pakistan—a nuclear-armed cauldron of volatile politics and long America’s closest military ally in South Asia—has pursued a covert campaign in Afghanistan designed to ensure that the money and the lives have been spent in vain.

The stakes in Pakistan have been considered too high to break ties with Islamabad or take other steps that would risk destabilizing the country. The stakes in Afghanistan have been deemed low enough that careening from one failed strategy to another has been acceptable.

Even so, the post-9/11 years have seen the slow dissolution of the shotgun marriage arranged between the U.S. and Pakistan in the quest to rout al-Qaeda. As Steve Coll recounts in Directorate S—which picks up the narrative where his Pulitzer Prize–winning 2004 volume, Ghost Wars, left off—the seeds of mistrust were planted early, and mutual recriminations steadily accumulated. Weeks after the 2011 raid that killed Osama bin Laden, a demoralized Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the head of Pakistan’s army, likened his “helpless” country to a mortgaged house, with the United States playing the role of banker. For American officials who dealt with Pakistan, another domestic analogy might have seemed more apt: Pakistan was the spouse who had drained the family bank account and then slept with the sketchy neighbor.

The anger on the American side was fueled by the gradual realization that Washington had, since the very beginning of the war, allowed Pakistan to wield too much influence over U.S. strategy. As the Taliban retreated from Kabul and Kandahar in late 2001, the CIA station chief in Islamabad wrote cables channeling the Pakistani military’s perspective. A Northern Alliance takeover of the country, the message went, could lead to a bloodbath for Afghanistan’s Pashtuns (Pakistan’s traditional allies) and undermine Pakistan’s readiness to broker a political settlement there. What Pakistan wanted most of all, of course, was its own favored groups, and not its rival India’s, in power.
George W. Bush’s war cabinet was already jittery about the “nightmare scenario” of the new conflict: violence spilling over into Pakistan, President Pervez Musharraf’s government collapsing, and the country’s nuclear arsenal falling into the hands of Pakistani generals with Taliban sympathies. Musharraf himself spent years masterfully stoking these fears. He often warned American officials that the more he acceded to Washington’s demands, the more his support inside the military would erode and the better the chances would become of the nightmare scenario playing out.

The conundrum might have been resolved, Coll suggests, had the American military’s tactical failures during the first year not helped Musharraf’s argument that Pakistan was too dangerous to ignore. Intelligence failures and insufficient troops at the battles in Tora Bora and the Shah-i-Kot Valley allowed al-Qaeda fighters to slip over Afghanistan’s eastern border and resettle in Pakistan’s tribal areas and cities. With the arrival of the militants in his country, Musharraf ordered his military intelligence service, the ISI, to work with the CIA to hunt down al-Qaeda’s leaders in Pakistani cities. He also made the case to U.S. officials that, partly thanks to American misadventures, Pakistan now deserved a huge influx of military aid. The arrests in 2002 and 2003 of Abu Zubaydah, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and others reinforced Bush’s view that Pakistan was “with us,” an ally to be trusted.

Coll convincingly shows that those few al-Qaeda scalps, delivered by the ISI at a time when the Bush administration had already begun to ignore Afghanistan and focus on the looming war in Iraq, bought years of American inattention to the ISI’s more secretive activities: arming and financing the Taliban and other Afghan militant groups sympathetic to Pakistan rather than India. The United States had stumbled into an informal, unspoken bargain, accepting help from Pakistan in the fight against al-Qaeda in exchange for tacitly enabling, while feebly contesting, Pakistan’s efforts to sabotage the American-led campaign in Afghanistan. Intermittent U.S. demands that the covert efforts stop went unheeded.

The deal was stunningly lucrative for Islamabad. Each year, the Pentagon transferred hundreds of millions of dollars in cash to Pakistan, ostensibly to reimburse its military for counterterrorism operations. In fact, Coalition Support Funds were a “kind of legal bribery to Pakistan’s generals,” Coll argues. The Pentagon would receive bills for air-defense expenses, even though al-Qaeda had no air force. One Special Forces colonel, Barry Shapiro, recalls invoices from Pakistan’s navy listing per diem pay for sailors “on duty fighting the Global War on Terrorism.” Shapiro tried to question some of the expenses: Was there any proof that the Pakistani army had indeed shot off the missiles it was asking to be reimbursed for?

But he was told by his superiors to be quiet and pay up.
The arrangement was effectively on autopilot as the Iraq War consumed the Bush administration’s attention. Congress approved the funding with few reservations, and years passed before lawmakers seemed to comprehend their role in the farce.

During one congressional hearing in 2012, a top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Gary Ackerman, lamented that Pakistan had become “a black hole for American aid.” “Our tax dollars go in. Our diplomats go in, sometimes. Our aid professionals go in, sometimes. Our hopes go in. Our prayers go in,” he said. “Nothing good ever comes out.”

Members of Congress began calling for a strategy to put pressure on Pakistan by cutting annual aid to the country, but policy makers faced another quandary: As the goals the United States set in Afghanistan grew more ambitious, Washington’s need of Pakistan’s help to achieve them grew too. The swiftness with which the initial military campaign fulfilled its comparatively modest aims—to avenge the September 11 attacks by destroying al-Qaeda’s base in Afghanistan, expel the Taliban from cities, and install a more competent government in Kabul—led to hubris about what was possible in a hopelessly poor country wracked by decades of war.

The enterprise of nation building meant, in no particularly consistent order, quixotic attempts to root out corruption, lean on Karzai to sack unsavory warlords, and reengineer Afghanistan’s opium economy by getting farmers to plant crops far less lucrative than poppies. In 2004, I traveled with a team of Green Berets through gorgeous, flowering poppy fields to meet with the elders of various villages in Kunar province. “The government in Kabul wants you to plant wheat” was high on the list of the soldiers’ talking points. During the meeting, one of the elders duly declared, “Next year we will plant wheat!” Many of the others sniggered.

The more the United States invested in the Afghan War, the more it seemed as if Washington was holding on to a steering wheel detached from the rest of the car. The main supply lines that kept the war machine humming—bringing fuel, food, and equipment to the rising numbers of troops in Afghanistan—ran through Pakistan. The government in Islamabad could (and did, for as long as seven months at one point) cut off the supplies, leaving convoys of trucks sitting idle between the port of Karachi and various border crossings.

Many CIA officials were skeptical that the United States should try to root out corruption, and advocated that the agency focus on trying to decimate al‑Qaeda and its sympathizers with drone strikes. During the Obama years, they clashed repeatedly with generals and policy makers beguiled by a counterinsurgency doctrine that put a premium on anti-corruption efforts. Despite ample evidence of America’s inconsistent approach, the notion that the U.S. might have no grand policy whatsoever in Afghanistan was difficult to accept for some of the key players, notably Kayani and Karzai.

They chose to fill the void with conspiracy theories. Kayani and other top Pakistani military officials believed that the United States was secretly working with Karzai’s government to bolster India’s influence in Afghanistan as a counterweight to Pakistan.

Karzai subscribed to a more elaborate conspiracy: Washington was sending ever more troops to his country to gain a permanent foothold in Central Asia, from which the United States could compete against Russia and China for supremacy in the region—the Great Game redux.

But this was fevered thinking, which was partly what prompted Biden to deliver his blunt message to Karzai in the Arg Palace in 2009. That meeting came at an inflection point: A new administration was taking over, and Biden was skeptical that the Afghanistan project was worth the candle. The American economy was in crisis, and the generals were about to present the inexperienced president-elect with a costly new plan to send in thousands of additional troops.

Biden began openly proposing that Obama chart a different course. If the real problems lay in Pakistan, he asked, then why not instead use the money to keep Pakistan from imploding? At the same time, shouldn’t the U.S. think about working directly with Saudi Arabia and China—traditional allies of Pakistan—to pressure the ISI to finally end its support of the Taliban and other radical groups? Coll suggests that this thinking never gained much traction. Obama went along with the generals’ troop increase, and approved an even larger one at the end of 2009. The question of what to do about Pakistan, the phantom enemy in a failing war, went largely unanswered.

Coll’s majestic Ghost Wars tracked the CIA’s adventures in Afghanistan from the Soviet invasion, in 1979, through the eve of the September 11 attacks. Reading it was a gut-wrenching experience, with momentum building toward a climactic, dreadful outcome. Reading Directorate S is more like watching a slow-motion video of a truck going off a cliff, frame by agonizing frame. And no semblance of closure ever comes. Coll may have embarked on a full accounting of the war to its end, but history didn’t cooperate. Obama announced a plan in 2014 to conclude America’s combat operations in Afghanistan. By the time his tenure in the White House wound down, the generals had persuaded him to leave thousands of troops in the country indefinitely.

Within months of taking office, his successor—who had campaigned on scaling back America’s overseas adventures—accepted a Pentagon plan to add thousands more U.S. troops. In a speech announcing his strategy, Donald Trump ran through a familiar litany of complaints about Pakistan, capped by the demand that the country end its support for the very groups America is fighting in Afghanistan. He also called on India, Pakistan’s archenemy, to take a greater role in Afghanistan’s internal affairs—a threat evidently intended to scare Pakistani officials into backing off. Frustration mounted as the year turned, and an outraged presidential tweet denouncing years of “nothing but lies & deceit” was followed by a suspension of security assistance to Pakistan. What the repercussions might be was anybody’s guess.

Coll sums up the war as a “humbling case study in the limits of American power.” But a decade and a half after the first shots were fired, the U.S. president wasn’t exactly projecting humility, much less a newly coherent American policy.

This article appears in the March 2018 print edition of The Atlantic with the headline “The Pakistan Trap.”
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[*] posted on 31-1-2018 at 08:22 PM

Fighting in Afghanistan increases, but government’s territorial control does not

Daniel Wasserbly, Washington, DC - Jane's Defence Weekly

30 January 2018

Fighting in Afghanistan appears to be ramping up and the Afghan government appears to control slightly less territory, as the US commitment to the 16-year long conflict deepens.

The US Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction's (SIGAR's) latest quarterly report, published 30 January, shows a significant uptick in US air strikes and special operations missions – “a record high since 2012 and a more than three-fold increase from October 2016”, the report noted. The Trump administration has added several thousand troops there in recent months.

“These actions have yet to increase the Afghan government’s control over its population,” SIGAR added.

Two US Army soldiers rest during patrol in Afghanistan at the height of 'surge' operations. The US combat mission there ostensibly ended in 2014, but US troops are heading back to Afghanistan - although in lower numbers than the surge period. (US Army)

The report said the US Department of Defense (DoD) and NATO’s 'Resolute Support' Mission is barring it from publishing the sort of metrics it has used for years, including how much territory the Afghan government controls and how the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) perform.

In a statement, 'Resolute Support' spokesperson Captain Thomas Gresback told Jane’s the coalition had not intended to bar the release of unclassified district, population, and land-area control data that had been provided previously.

“It was not the intent of 'Resolute Support' to withhold or classify information, which was available in prior reports. A human error in labelling occurred,” Capt Gresback said.

He told Jane’s that as of October 2017 “approximately 56% of the country’s 407 districts are under Afghan government control or influence, 30% remain contested, and approximately 14% are now under insurgent control or influence.”

SIGAR’s last quarterly report from October 2017 found that approximately 56.8% of the country’s 407 districts were under Afghan government control or influence (which at the time was a one-point decline over the prior six months and a more than six-point decline from the same period last year). About 13.3% of the country’s total districts were under insurgent control or influence at that time.

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[*] posted on 2-2-2018 at 10:13 PM

Islamic State attack underlines growing threat to NGOs in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar, Zabul, Kunar, Jowzjan, and Badakhshan provinces

Asad Ali - IHS Jane's Country Risk Daily Report

01 February 2018


On 24 January, six people were killed and 27 were wounded in an attack against non-governmental organisation (NGO) Save the Children’s offices in Jalalabad, Nangarhar.

A suicide vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) was detonated outside the office and the building was also targeted using rocket-propelled grenades. The Islamic State’s news agency Amaq claimed responsibility, pointing to the involvement of the group’s Afghanistan-based faction Wilayat Khorasan and also promising to continue targeting UK and Swedish foreign aid groups in eastern Afghanistan.

Wilayat Khorasan divided its operations in mid-2017 following internal differences over leadership succession; two factions have formed, in Afghanistan’s eastern (Nangarhar, Zabul, and Kunar) and northern (Jowzjan and Badakhshan) provinces.

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[*] posted on 6-2-2018 at 12:12 PM

Doubts rise over effectiveness of bombing Afghan drug labs

By: Kyle Rempfer   3 hours ago

Afghan farmers harvest raw opium at a poppy field in southern Kandahar province, Afghanistan. The Defense Department claims the Taliban's grip on the narcotics trade is driving its Afghan policy shift. (Allauddin Khan/ Associated Press)

The Defense Department’s drug lab bombing campaign against the Taliban financial network this winter has come under scrutiny from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction.

According to a Pentagon briefing, the airstrikes, which began in November, were crippling the Taliban’s drug funding. The illicit money lost from drug kingpins’ pockets totaled $80 million, defense officials said, and that resulted in a $16 million loss for the Taliban, who are known to tax the enterprise.

However, the DoD has not clarified “whether future revenue per barrel is calculated using price data on the export of opium and heroin, or using higher values in consumer markets outside Afghanistan,” according to SIGAR’s quarterly report.

That’s an important distinction for Vanda Felbab-Brown, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, who spoke with Military Times.

“What number is used is fundamental and, of course, because the labs are being destroyed in Afghanistan itself, it has to be much lower than if interdiction took place, for example, in Britain or Pakistan,” Felbab-Brown said.

In a statement to Military Times, Navy Capt. Tom Gresback, public affairs director for NATO’s Resolute Support mission, would only say the price it uses is “the total value to the drug trafficking enterprise.”

“The Taliban’s cut is the revenue the organization is able to make from production to its movement out of Afghanistan,” he said. “It is important to remember that the Taliban do not just make money at the point of production and have a hand in the system outside of Afghanistan as well.”

However, SIGAR’s law enforcement sources suggest that the Taliban only profit from the drug trade until the product is sold to drug traffickers outside Afghanistan.

Afghan forces prepare to destroy lab materials and narcotics after seizing about $19 million worth of drugs, equipment, vehicles, weapons and communication gear in Nad Ali district, Helmand province, Afghanistan, in July 2017. (DoD)

In arriving at the value of labs, Gresback said they count the number of barrels [used to cook heroin] and multiply that by $205,000, which he explained was the average revenue potential from a barrel of heroin.

However, using airstrikes, rather than ground operations, forces officials to estimate what was actually in the lab.

Gresback acknowledged that fact, and added that they mostly use the lowest value. But even conservative estimates generate other questions, Felbab-Brown said.

“Was it 10 pounds of raw opium, or was it a 100 kilograms (220 pounds) of heroin?” she asked. “How about if there was no opium? How about if it’s a lab that can process, but at the time that it was hit, there was nothing in there?”

Dr. David Mansfield, a senior fellow at the London School of Economics, has researched opium production in Afghanistan for the past 20 growing seasons. In a January paper for the LSE’s International Drug Policy Unit, titled “Bombing Heroin Labs in Afghanistan,” he asserts there is no evidence to justify the claim by U.S. Forces-Afghanistan that they inflicted $80 million in losses on drug traffickers by destroying 25 labs in the Musa Qala district of Helmand province, nor that this resulted in a $16 million loss for the Talban.

“At current prices for heroin, the losses USFOR-A refer to would amount to almost 73 metric tons of heroin, that’s nearly 3 metric tons of heroin in each lab destroyed,” he wrote.

“With a conversion rate of between 9 and 13.5 kilograms of fresh opium per kilogram of heroin, this would require between 27,000 and 40,500 kilograms of fresh opium per lab. It would mean that the 25 labs destroyed were responsible for converting between 8 to 11 percent of the entire 2017 crop of 9,000 metric tons. There is little evidence from the nine buildings destroyed in [Musa Qala] to support such a claim.

“Going on the tax rates levied on the [Musa Qala] labs, were the aerial campaign to have actually destroyed 73 metric tons of heroin, the loss in revenue to the Taliban would have been around $1.2 million, considerably less than the amount reported by USFOR-A,” he continued.

“Were the air attacks to have destroyed a series of houses rented out to cook opium in much smaller batches, as the case would appear to be in [Musa Qala], the loss in revenue to the Taliban would have been negligible. In fact, the 50 barrels of opium cooking at the time of the strike that [USFOR-A commander] General [John] Nicholson referred to as being worth ‘millions of dollars’ would have been worth at most $190,750 if converted to heroin and no more than $2,863 to the Taliban.”

The aerial campaign against the drug labs also marked the first time that an F-22 Raptor has dropped bombs in a conflict. But at a cost of $70,000 an hour, there are serious questions about whether this is a cost-effective use of the world's most advanced aircraft.

Adding to the pricing issue is the question over how large an effect blowing up a drug lab ultimately yields against the narcotics network.

“A lab can be set up in three to four days,” a U.S. official familiar with the counter-narcotics effort in Afghanistan told Military Times on background. “They can be quickly moved from rural areas to urban areas [and] the labs are cheap to put up."

Not only are they cheap, often amounting to nothing but a stove, kettles and precursor chemicals, but labs tend to be small.

"Long gone are the days of Pablo Escobar, where you have massive labs that process a tremendous amount of cocaine or heroin,” Felbab-Brown said. “The tendency across all drug markets is to have as many [small] labs as possible."

On this point, Gresback said the destruction of the building is less important than the destruction of opium, precursor chemicals and other materials.

“Labs are only cheap and easy to replace when there is not an active threat against them,” he added.

Felbab-Brown says there are still vast fluctuations in estimates of how much the Taliban actually earn from the drug trade.

Although taxing drug producers is a large part of their revenue, it’s still just one part of a larger financing scheme.

"The Taliban simply tax anything and everything,” she said. “The taxation has several purposes. One is to have a very diversified portfolio of income, but taxation is also a means of imposing authority.”

Regardless, the push under the Trump administration to step up airstrikes on drug labs has been billed as a new, innovative approach.

“Keep in mind that this is the first time we have persistently used our airpower in this interdiction role,” Brig. Gen. Lance Bunch, future operations director for Resolute Support, said in December. “The Taliban have never had to face a sustained targeting campaign focused on disrupting their illicit revenue activities.”

Afghan commandos and U.S. special operations forces gather up bags of black tar opium from buildings in Helmand province, Afghanistan. (DoD)

But interdiction has actually spiked in the past, with a high of 669 interdiction operations conducted in 2012, compared to 156 operations in 2017, according to SIGAR figures.

Other attempts at interdiction included specialized Afghan counter-narcotics forces, such as a unit called Task Force 333.
"These bodies became quite capable," the counter-narcotics official said. "In 2006, also with DEA teams in Afghanistan, 248 labs were destroyed."

But as evident today, "for a whole lot of reasons, that did not likely have an effect on the drug trade," the official said.

One reason why there was likely no effect: drug producers offset the costs of interdiction by simply growing more opium during the next harvest.

“You can hit a farmer very badly in the middle of the season and financially ruin him,” Felbab-Brown said. “However, it’s harder to bankrupt the criminal because they make money on a much vaster area and include many more sources. And they can organize planting better next growing season.”

The distinction between farmer and criminal is important, too. For many rural Afghan households, if they have the ability to save money, they will do so in the form of opium bricks.

“There is no secure banking and you don’t want to necessarily hold money in cash,” Felbab-Brown said. “Everyone sells their opium immediately after harvest, so holding the product longer will appreciate the value.“

Because the opium trade is so deeply ingrained in the Afghan economy, there is also some fear that taking out some labs will simply help others.

"Any time you take out someone's lab, you empower their economic rival,” Felbab-Brown said.

"There are local warlords. They provide us with intelligence.

They also beat up and kill a lot of Taliban, and they are also associated with the government,” she said. “So, when we go after the Taliban segment of the trade, we make their segment of the trade extremely valuable, and they love it."
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[*] posted on 9-2-2018 at 06:34 PM

U.S. Forces Strike Taliban, East Turkestan Islamic Movement Training Sites

(Source: US Department of Defense; issued Feb 07, 2018)

WASHINGTON --- During the past weekend, U.S. forces conducted air operations to strike Taliban and the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, or ETIM, training facilities in Afghanistan’s Badakhshan province, the commander of NATO air operations in Afghanistan said today.

U.S. and British coalition partners and Afghan security forces train together in an aerial reaction force exercise utilizing British helicopter assets at Camp Qargha in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Speaking with Pentagon reporters via satellite, Air Force Maj. Gen. James B. Hecker, commander of NATO Air Command Afghanistan, updated Pentagon reporters via satellite from Afghanistan on the alliance’s Resolute Support mission there.

“The destruction of these training facilities prevents terrorists from planning any acts near the border with China and Tajikistan,” the general said. “The strikes also destroyed stolen Afghan National Army vehicles in the process of being converted to vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices.”

ETIM is a terrorist organization that operates in China and the border regions of Afghanistan, Hecker noted. “ETIM enjoys support from the Taliban in the mountains of Badakhshan, so hitting these Taliban training facilities and squeezing the Taliban's support networks degrades ETIM capabilities,” he said.

From videos of the airstrikes he showed, Hecker said, it can be seen how a single B-52 bomber demonstrates its reach and lethality by setting a record employment of 24 precision-guided munitions against Taliban narcotics and training facilities.

“What allowed this impressive air power to be unleashed was a critical modification that we made to the B-52 in late November, installing a conventional rotary launcher that allows B-52s to carry more precision-guided munitions,” he said.

Centcom’s Main Effort

“Afghanistan has become [U.S. Central Command’s] main effort, thanks to the recent successes in Iraq and Syria, Hecker said. “This has allowed Centcom to shift more assets our way, which will significantly improve our ability to assist the Afghans.”

The general provided three examples of air assets now available to the mission in Afghanistan. “We have increased our close air support capabilities significantly by adding an A-10 squadron in Kandahar Air Force Base. We now have 50 percent more MQ-9 intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft. And we're adding an additional combat search and rescue squadron,” he said.

Hecker added that those are just the tangible air platforms in Afghanistan, and the platforms would have limited value if those were the only changes there. But another change is one you don't physically see, he told reporters.

Intelligence Community

“It is the change of the weight of effort of the intelligence community,” he said. “The intelligence community is the backbone that develops our targets, provides data analysis, and eventually produces the targets we strike in Afghanistan.”

This is the intelligence community that's spread throughout the security enterprise beyond Afghanistan, Heckler noted. “They analyze surveillance and reconnaissance data to develop the networks that produce targets for our air power to strike. This behind-the-scenes legwork allows us to hit the Taliban where it hurts most, whether it's command-and-control or their pocketbooks.”

Cripple the Taliban’s revenue-generation enterprise is part of that effort, he said. “We will take away their ability to wage war on the battlefield and brutally murder innocent civilians, like the recent cowardly acts that we witnessed in Kabul and Jalalabad,” the general said.

“With the current uplift in resources, we can decimate Taliban command-and-control nodes,” said he added. “That means we can strike at the heart of training camps where they brainwash young men to strap on a suicide vest, to kill themselves and their fellow Afghans, who are working to rebuild the country.”

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[*] posted on 9-2-2018 at 07:02 PM

U.S. Shifts More Air Assets to Afghanistan, Calls it 'Main Effort'

(Source: Radio Free Europe; issued Feb 08, 2018)

This Pentagon map shows the projected development of the Afghan Air Force. (DoD image)

The United States has started shifting combat and intelligence-gathering air assets to Afghanistan as the battle against the Islamic State (IS) extremist group is winding down in Iraq and Syria, a top commander in Afghanistan says.

U.S. Air Force Major General James Hecker, speaking to reporters in a video teleconference from Kabul, said on February 7 that U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) at the start of this month officially designated Afghanistan and the fight against the Taliban as its "main effort."

Afghanistan "has become CENTCOM's main effort thanks to the recent successes in Iraq and Syria," Hecker said. "This has allowed CENTCOM to shift more assets our way."

He said one main benefit to coalition forces in Afghanistan was the increased support from U.S. intelligence agencies, which will allow the military to better identify targets to strike in the country.

"This behind-the-scenes legwork allows us to hit the Taliban where it hurts most, whether it's command-and-control...or their pocketbooks," Hecker said.

The general said that, compared with a year ago, the United States had 50 percent more MQ-9 Reaper drones providing intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance in Afghanistan.

In addition, he said, U.S. forces had added A-10 attack planes and will soon be adding more search-and-rescue aircraft.

Hecker said Afghan air forces are now also more capable of carrying out sorties against the Taliban and are conducting more missions than U.S. forces.

He said the goal for the NATO Air Command, which he leads, was to almost triple the size of the Afghan Air Force over the next few years.

"Right now, the Afghan Air Force has 12 A-29s, but that's going up to 25," Hecker said. "Three A-29 pilots are now trained to drop laser-guided munitions."

"We are putting unrelenting pressure on the enemy these days," Hecker said, adding that the goal was to compel the Taliban to come to the negotiating table with the Kabul government.

He said, though, that air power alone was unlikely to accomplish the task. "You're not just going to bomb them into submission," he said. "But it is another pressure point that we can put on them."

"While U.S. air power is destroying Taliban support elements in the deep fight, Afghan A-29 [Super Tucanos] and MD-530 helicopters provide quick, lethal support to Afghan ground forces in the close fight," Hecker said. "This growth has already started but is going to continue."

The United States has been in Afghanistan since 2001, when it led an invasion to drive the Taliban from power after it said the group's leaders were sheltering Al-Qaeda militants responsible for the September 11, 2001, terror attacks in the United States.

U.S. forces have remained as part of a NATO-led coalition ever since, although active combat operations were turned over to Afghan forces in 2014, and international troop levels have fallen from a peak of more than 100,000 to about 16,000.

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[*] posted on 9-2-2018 at 07:18 PM

The Expanding Secrecy of the Afghanistan War

(Source: Secrecy News; issued Feb 07, 2018)

Last year, dozens of categories of previously unclassified information about Afghan military forces were designated as classified, making it more difficult to publicly track the progress of the war in Afghanistan.

The categories of now-classified information were tabulated in a memo dated October 31, 2017 that was prepared by the staff of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), John Sopko.

In the judgment of the memo authors, “None of the material now classified or otherwise restricted discloses information that could threaten the U.S. or Afghan missions (such as detailed strategy, plans, timelines, or tactics).”

But “All of the [newly withheld] data include key metrics and assessments that are essential to understanding mission success for the reconstruction of Afghanistan’s security institutions and armed forces.”

So, what used to be available that is now being withheld?

“It is basically casualty, force strength, equipment, operational readiness, attrition figures, as well as performance assessments,” said Mr. Sopko, the SIGAR.

“Using the new [classification criteria], I would not be able to tell you in a public setting or the American people how their money is being spent,” Mr. Sopko told Congress at a hearing last November.

The SIGAR staff memo tabulating the new classification categories was included as an attachment for the hearing record, which was published last month. See Overview of 16 Years of Involvement in Afghanistan, hearing before the House Government Oversight and Reform Committee, November 1, 2017.

In many cases, the information was classified by NATO or the Pentagon at the request of the Government of Afghanistan.

“Do you think that it is an appropriate justification for DOD to classify previously unclassified information based on a request from the Afghan Government?,” asked Rep. Val Demings (D-FL). “Why or why not?”

“I do not because I believe in transparency,” replied Mr. Sopko, “and I think the loss of transparency is bad not only for us, but it is also bad for the Afghan people.”

“All of this [now classified] material is historical in nature (usually between one and three months old) because of delays incurred by reporting time frames, and thus only provides ‘snapshot’ data points for particular periods of time in the past,” according to the SIGAR staff memo.

“All of the data points [that were] classified or restricted are ‘top-line’ (not unit-level) data. SIGAR currently does not publicly report potentially sensitive, unit-specific data.”

Yesterday at a hearing of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC) asked Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis about the growing restrictions on information about the war in Afghanistan.

“We are now increasing the number of our troops in Afghanistan, and after 16 years, the American people have a right to know of their successes. Some of that, I’m sure it is classified information, which I can understand. But I also know that we’re not getting the kind of information that we need to get to know what successes we’re having. And after 16 years, I do not think we’re having any successes,” Rep. Jones said.

Secretary Mattis said that the latest restriction of unclassified information about the extent of Taliban or government control over Afghanistan that was withheld from the January 2018 SIGAR quarterly report had been “a mistake.” He added, “That information is now available.” But Secretary Mattis did not address the larger pattern of classifying previously unclassified information about Afghan forces that was discussed at the November 2017 hearing.

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[*] posted on 10-4-2018 at 09:13 AM

US, Afghan forces target Taliban narcotics-production facilities in western Afghanistan

Gabriel Dominguez, London - IHS Jane's Defence Weekly

09 April 2018

A Taliban-linked, drug-production facility in Afghanistan’s western Farah Province is shown here shortly after being struck by precision-guided munition dropped from a USAF A-10 aircraft on 3 April. Source: Via ‘Resolute Support’ mission

US and Afghan forces have targeted 11 Taliban-linked, drug-production facilities in Afghanistan’s western provinces of Farah and Nimruz, the NATO-led ‘Resolute Support’ mission announced in a 7 April statement.

The precision air strikes, which were carried out between 3 and 5 April using US F-16 fighters, A-10 ground attack aircraft, and MQ-9 Reaper medium-altitude, long-endurance (MALE) unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), were the first to be conducted in western Afghanistan in support of a new campaign aimed at destroying the revenue streams, training facilities, and support networks of the insurgent group.

“The Taliban will have no safe havens. We will continue to exploit their networks and decimate their ability to develop narcotics,” said US Air Force (USAF) Major General James Hecker, commander of the 9th Air and Space Expeditionary Task Force-Afghanistan.

“They have become a criminal organisation that profits from selling drugs and using those funds to conduct operations that maim and kill Afghans. By cutting off the Taliban’s economic lifelines, we also reduce their ability to continue these terrorist activities,” he added.

The recent air strikes took place as advisors from the Train, Advise, Assist Command-West (TAAC-W) under ‘Resolute Support’ were conducting an ‘Expeditionary Advisory Package’ with the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) in Farah Province. The TAAC-W is in charge of advising teams to ensure better co-ordination of operations against the Taliban in Farah.

According to the statement, about 75 strikes against Taliban-linked narcotics-production facilities in Afghanistan have been carried out since the ‘counter-revenue campaign’ began in November 2017.

This new campaign became possible after Washington granted new authorities to US military personnel in Afghanistan as part of US President Donald Trump’s new ‘South Asia strategy’, allowing them to collaborate with Afghan forces to actively pursue and attack “terrorist elements”.

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[*] posted on 23-4-2018 at 06:06 PM

Dozens dead in bombing at Kabul voter registration centre

Islamic State claims responsibility for suicide attack on ID cards queue that killed at least 57 people

Haroon Janjua in Islamabad and agencies in Kabul

Sun 22 Apr 2018 20.01 AEST
First published on Sun 22 Apr 2018 19.52 AEST

A suicide bomber has killed at least 57 people and wounded dozens outside a voter registration centre in Kabul, in an attack claimed by Islamic State.

The public health ministry spokesman Wahid Majro said another 54 people were wounded in Sunday’s attack. Gen Daud Amin, the Kabul police chief, said the suicide bomber targeted hundreds of civilians who were queuing to receive national identification cards to vote in legislative elections scheduled for 20 October.

“It happened at the entrance gate of the centre. It was a suicide attack,” Amin told AFP.

The large explosion echoed across the city, shattering windows miles away from the site of the attack in the Dasht-e-Barchi neighbourhood, where many of the country’s Shia Hazara minority live. Majro said there were five children among the dead.

“I was lined up with my family members to process the voting registration and suddenly saw a chaos after a huge blast,” Bilal Amiri told Guardian. “People were crying, some of the injured breath their last in front of me and I was helpless.”

Police blocked all roads to the blast site, with only ambulances allowed in. Local TV stations broadcast live footage of hundreds of distraught people gathered at nearby hospitals seeking word about loved ones.

Isis claimed responsibility in a statement carried by its Aamaq news agency, saying it had targeted Shia “apostates”. Isis is opposed to the country holding democratic elections.

“We’re fed up with this government to whom we ask for help,” Farooq Hussain said. “Our young generation and children are dying too early.”

Another witness to the attack, named Akbar, told Tolo TV: “Now we know the government cannot provide us security. We have to get armed and protect ourselves.”

Afghan security forces have struggled to prevent attacks by Isis as well as the more firmly established Taliban since the US and Nato concluded their combat mission at the end of 2014.

Both groups regularly launch attacks, with the Taliban usually targeting the government and security forces and Isis targeting the country’s Shia minority. They also want to establish a harsh form of Islamic rule in Afghanistan, and are opposed to democratic elections.

Recent attacks have underscored concerns about security in the run-up to legislative elections scheduled for 20 October, which are seen as a test run for next year’s presidential poll.

Over the next two months, authorities hope to register up to 14 million adults at more than 7,000 polling centres for the parliamentary and district council elections.

Officials have been pushing people to register amid fears a low turnout would undermine the credibility of the polls.

Last week, militants killed three police officers responsible for guarding voter registration centres in two Afghan provinces, according to authorities.

Meanwhile, at least five people were killed when their vehicle struck a roadside bomb in the northern Baghlan province on Sunday. Zabihullah Shuja, spokesman for the provincial police chief, said four other people were wounded in the blast in Pul-e Khomri, the capital of the province.

The Taliban routinely target security forces and government officials with roadside bombs, which often end up killing civilians.

In the northern Balkh province, a district police chief died of his wounds after being shot on Saturday during a gun battle with insurgents, according to Sher Jan Durrani, spokesman for the provincial police chief. He said about a dozen insurgents were also killed in the battle, which is still going on.

Durrani identified the killed commander as Halim Khanjar, police chief for the Char Bolak district. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the killing.

The Afghan capital is also braced for the Taliban’s launch of its customary spring offensive.

The Taliban are under pressure to take up President Ashraf Ghani’s peace offer made in February, but so far the group has given only a muted response.

Some western and Afghan officials expect 2018 to be a particularly bloody year.

Gen John Nicholson, the top US and Nato commander in Afghanistan, told Tolo TV last month that he expected the Taliban to carry out more suicide attacks this fighting season.
Associated Press and Agence France-Press contributed to this report
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[*] posted on 10-5-2018 at 03:04 PM

Mattis, Dunford Defend Strategy: Afghan Force Smaller But Better

By Sydney J. Freedberg Jr.

on May 09, 2018 at 3:11 PM

US Air Force troops train Afghan soldiers on the M240 machinegun in Kandahar.

WASHINGTON: Yes, Afghan forces are shrinking even as violence grows, but that smaller force is better trained, better advised, and better at taking the offensive against the Taliban, the Secretary of Defense and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs told the Senate. The ongoing increase in US and other NATO advisors is crucial to this turnaround, Sec. Jim Mattis and Gen. Joseph Dunford argued to skeptical Democratic senators this morning.

You can’t just count the number of violent incidents, Mattis told Sen. Richard Durbin, ranking member of the defense appropriations subcommittee: “Who’s initiating the attack is as important as the number.” A clash in which Afghan troops are scrambling to react to a Taliban attack has very different strategic implications from one in which the government forces take the offensive on their own terms — and they’re taking the offensive more and more. What’s more, he said, when the Taliban do attack, they increasingly go after soft targets like election registration stations rather than the increasingly formidable Afghan forces. (The Taliban has also shifted its efforts from the major cities to rural areas).

Overall, “this fighting season that’s underway, the number of enemy-initiated attacks — where they had the initiative — is down by 17 percent over last year,” Mattis said. “Where we’re ambushing them, where we’re starting the fight, that means we have the initiative.”

But staging a successful attack is much more demanding than hunkering down on the defensive, requiring more training, skill, and esprit de corps. As a result, a relative small number of elite Afghan troops with US advisors have played an outsized role.

Regular infantry battalions — which had US advisors once but lost them during the drawdown — have proved much less effective. The new US strategy recognizes this difference and will emphasize increasing the elites while reducing the overall force, even at the price of decreasing overall numbers.

“We are (paying) more attention to the quality of those Afghan forces,” Mattis said. “We’re going to expand the size of the elite forces, and there will be a reduction overall in the number of forces.” The focus is on “quality not quantity,” he went on.
Western advisors have been crucial to the success of those elite units, Mattis argued.

“The American-advised units — commandos and special forces — over the last several years have not been defeated in combat with the Taliban. Those that were not mentored by our units were being defeated,” Mattis said. “As we…start having more NATO advisors working with them — mostly American but other NATO countries as well — then we will end up with more capable units in the field.”

US soldiers train Afghans to use a satellite communications antenna.

That’s why the US has changed its strategy to emphasize advisors to an unprecedented degree, Gen. Dunford said. “If I could address the idea that we’ve ben doing the same thing over and over again for 17 years,” the Joint Chiefs chairman said, “there’s really three phases in Afghanistan,” each with a markedly different approach:

- “From 2001 to 2013 we did the fighting in Afghanistan, and we somewhat pejoratively talked about an Afghan face on coalition capability,” Dunford said. US forces peaked at about 100,000, with allies bringing that number up to 140,000.
- “From 2013 to 2017 we drew down to the 8,000-plus (advisors and counterterrorism task forces),” Dunford continued.
- Executing the drawdown itself became “our primary mission,” he said. “You can’t come from a high of 140,000 down to 8,000 without singularly focusing on logistics.” (Which implies combat was secondary, although Dunford didn’t say this aloud).

“This year….this is the first time we are providing the Afghans with the capabilities they need and the advisory effort they need to actually fight the counterinsurgency themselves,” Dunford argued.

Just because more advisors are in Afghanistan, however, that doesn’t mean more advisors have actually reached frontline units. The US Army’s first dedicated advisor unit, the thousand-strong 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade, reached Afghanistan in March, but it is reportedly still stuck at central bases, advising high-level headquarters, while it waits on a laborious process of screening every single Afghan in the tactical units it might work with.

Taliban infiltrators and sympathizers in the Afghan ranks have repeatedly killed both their comrades and Western advisors, and Mattis today reemphasized the importance of screening. “We’re going to vet the troops that we are working with,” he pledged. “We’re not just going to send our troops to work with people who’ve not been vetted.” But he didn’t address whether the emphasis on “force protection” was interfering with the advisor brigade’s ability to do its mission.

Instead, both men struck a consistent note of cautious optimism. The US is helping Afghan units purge their rolls of “ghost soldiers,” Mattis said, fictional recruits who exist only so corrupt commanders can pocket their pay. And while Afghan casualties are high, Dunford said, “one of the things we expect to see because of the strategy we’ve implemented is a reduction in Afghan casualties and a commensurate increase in the number of Afghans that might be willing to serve. It is a volunteer service.”

Iraqi air force AC-208 launches a Hellfire missile. The US is now buying these planes and weapons for Afghanistan.

While it didn’t come up at today’s Senate appropriations hearing, the Pentagon’s also been making a point of how the Afghan military is becoming better equipped. The Afghans took delivery last month of two more A-29 Super Tucanos — a propeller-drive ground attack plane the US Air Force itself may buy for counterinsurgency warfare. This week, Afghan pilots flew their first mission in UH-60 Black Hawks, which are replacing aging Russian-made Mi-17 helicopters. And the US will provide AC-208 turboprops with precision weapons.

But the fledgling Afghan air force remains dependent on contractors for maintenance and still flies only a small number of missions. Afghanistan will be dependent on US airpower and advisors for a long time to come.
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[*] posted on 16-5-2018 at 04:56 PM

Afghan commandos add firepower with Cobra Strike battalions

Posted On Tuesday, 15 May 2018 12:36

The Afghan National Army Special Operations Corps introduced Afghanistan and the world to its newest formation, the Cobra Strike Kandak, at the inaugural classes live fire exercise at Pol-e Charki, Afghanistan, April 30, 2018. The graduating class of 650 Commando-qualified soldiers are now the 6th Cobra Strike Kandak, soon to be taking part in offensive operations against the Taliban.

Commandos training to become Afghanistan's newest Special Operations unit, the 6th Cobra Strike Kandak, prepare for their final test, a live fire exercise near Kabul, Afghanistan, April 29, 2018. The 6th CSK is the first of 7 CSKs and provides a new level of mobility and firepower for the Commandos (Picture source: Martha Schaeffer, NATO Special Operations Command - Afghanistan)

Part of the Afghan 2020 Roadmap, ANASOC will establish six additional Cobra Strike Kandaks. The additional mobile capability allows ANASOC to use the CSKs nation-wide, in concert with existing Commando forces, and provides an unprecedented level of mobility and firepower for the Commando force. The CSKs will operate in Mobile Strike Force Vehicles. Heavily armored and mine-resistant, the MSFVs provide additional protection and lethality for Commandos, and were used to eliminate five IS-K fighters in the Jan. 2018 failed attack on the Marshall Fahim Academy in Kabul.

To become part of the 6th CSK, soldiers were selected from a conventional Afghan National Army Mobile Strike Kandak and had to pass the 14-week Commando Qualification Course to earn a slot at the Cobra Strike Maneuver Course. The three-month long CSMC tested the Commandos’ mettle and mastery of combat maneuver skills. The live fire exercise was a visible culmination of the training and tasks required to become Afghanistan’s newest lethal weapon.

Beside this, the Commando Qualification Course (CDOQC) Class 24 graduated 980 new Commandos at the Afghan National Army Special Operations Command’s School of Excellence, Kabul, Afghanistan, May 9, 2018. This graduation marked the achievement of a significant force growth milestone as established in President Ashraf Ghani’s Afghan 2020 Roadmap.

Introduced in Aug. 2017, the Afghan 2020 Roadmap called for a doubling of the Commando force, an increase of nearly 12,000 special operators over four years. The addition of 4,000 Commandos in nine months illustrates the commitment of the Afghan National Army to support the long-term development of its elite ground force. NASOC Corps Commander Lt. Gen. Bismillah Waziri charged the graduating class with safeguarding Afghans and Afghanistan against anti-government factions. "This is a huge responsibility. You are the best Afghanistan has to offer against dark forces like the Taliban and IS-K,” Waziri stated. “Because of you, many sleep well at night knowing you are now their defenders."

Commando Qualification Course is a 14-week course designed to assess and train Afghan soldiers for assignment in one of the 10 Special Operations Kandaks. Approximately 20 percent of the graduating class attends job-specific specialty skill training before departing for their next assignment. The remainder of the class report directly to their new Kandaks.

Commandos provide the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces unparalleled success on the battlefield, and are the cornerstone of Afghan Special Security Forces growth over the next four years.
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[*] posted on 16-5-2018 at 06:03 PM

Heavy fighting as Taliban attack western Afghan city

15th May 2018 - 18:45 GMT | by ​Agence France-Presse in Herat

Afghan aircraft on 15 May bombed Taliban positions in the western city of Farah after the insurgents launched a major attempt to capture the provincial capital, with fearful residents seeking shelter from explosions and gunfire.

The attack – the first major assault targeting a city since the Taliban launched their annual spring offensive – began around midnight, with the militants capturing one urban district and parts of another, said local provincial council member Jamila Amini.

Amini told AFP on 15 May from inside Farah: ‘Heavy fighting continues inside the city and aircraft have just started bombarding Taliban positions.’

Afghan officials said police special forces from Kandahar and commandos from Herat had also been deployed.

Najib Danish, Afghanistan’s interior ministry spokesman, vowed: ‘(The Taliban) will fail.’ He said both Afghan and foreign air forces were taking part in the fighting.

There was no immediate confirmation from NATO's mission in Kabul.

Mohammad Radmanish, Afghanistan’s defence ministry spokesman, said at least 10 insurgents and two Afghan security force members had been killed so far.

Radmanish said: ‘The situation is under control and will change by the end of the day.’

But inside the city residents reported clashes were continuing.

Satar Hissaini, a tribal elder in Farah, told AFP: ‘The situation is very bad.’

Hissaini added: ‘Heavy fighting is going on and Taliban are in the city but the police headquarters and NDS (the Afghan intelligence agency) have not fallen to them. NDS forces in their HQ are engaged in heavy clashes with the Taliban.’

Another provincial council member, Dadullah Qani, confirmed Hissaini's comments, the sound of gunfire and explosions audible as he spoke to an AFP reporter by telephone.

The noise has ‘filled the city’, said one resident who gave his name as Bilal, adding that he could see smoke rising from the direction of a building housing the NDS.

At least some militants have been hiding in residential houses, making it difficult for Afghan forces to use heavy weapons, Farah Governor Abdul Basir Salangi told Ariana News, adding: ‘But still we are taking back positions one by one.’

The insurgents released a statement warning residents to stay inside their homes and ‘stay calm’. They have also been posting images on social media they claim shows them inside the city.

Many radio and television channels in the province have stopped broadcasting, fearing for their employees' lives, according to media watchdog Nai.
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[*] posted on 16-5-2018 at 10:29 PM

USAF resumes C-17 airdrops into Afghanistan as security deteriorates

Gareth Jennings, London - IHS Jane's Defence Weekly

16 May 2018

A US Air Force loadmaster prepares a C-17’s cargo for airdrop into southern Afghanistan. The security situation in the country has necessitated the resumption of strategic airdrops after a break of 18 months. Source: US Air Force

The United States has resumed strategic airdrops into southern Afghanistan, reflecting the deteriorating security conditions in the country.

A US Air Force (USAF) Boeing C-17 Globemaster III strategic airlifter assigned to the 816th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron (EAS), 379th Air Expeditionary Wing (AEW), at Al Udeid Airbase in Qatar conducted the type’s first airdrop into Afghanistan in 18 months.

As noted by the 379th AEW on 15 May, the aircraft flew from its base at Al Udeid to Bagram Airbase near Kabul. At Bagram, it was loaded with an unspecified cargo that on 10 May was dropped at night into an undisclosed location in southern Afghanistan.

The resumption of strategic airdrops into Afghanistan a year-and-a-half since the last one comes three weeks after the Taliban announced the official launch of its annual spring offensive. Since that announcement on 26 April, Afghan government forces have, with US support, been involved in heavy fighting throughout the country, most notably around the western city of Farah. This heightened military activity comes at a time when the USAF is releasing more weapons over Afghanistan than at any time since the official end of combat operations in December 2014.

Such has been the downturn in the security situation in Afghanistan that the US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) has reported that the Taliban now controls about 14.5% of the country’s districts – the highest recorded since the US-led invasion in 2001.

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[*] posted on 17-5-2018 at 09:14 AM

Decline in Afghan forces less sharp than thought: SIGAR

16th May 2018 - 14:18 GMT | by ​Agence France-Presse in Kabul

The strength of Afghanistan's security forces has declined less sharply than previously reported, a US watchdog said, citing incorrect figures given by the US military in April 2018.

The quarterly report from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), released in April 2018, had stated that Afghan security forces had been depleted by about 10% over the course of a year.

Based on that figure, there were estimated to be 296,409 active military, police and intelligence personnel as of 31 January 2018.

But on 15 May SIGAR said corrected figures from United States Forces-Afghanistan ‘indicate a total ANDSF (Afghan National Defence and Security Forces) strength of 313,728 as of 31 January.’

The watchdog said: ‘The new numbers still show that overall ANDSF strength declined sharply from January 2017 to January 2018 (by 17,980 personnel), though not as sharply as reported.’

The confusion was ‘the latest in a series of problems SIGAR’ has faced regarding information about Afghan forces, it said.

The updated figures come on the heels of another deadly day in Afghanistan as the Taliban launched an assault on the western city of Farah. Commandos from Herat and Kandahar were rushed to the provincial capital as US and Afghan air forces carried out airstrikes.

This helped to push the insurgents to the outskirts of Farah by early 16 May, though a clearing operation was still going on.
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[*] posted on 17-5-2018 at 06:44 PM

Update: Taliban launch attack on Farah City

Gabriel Dominguez, London - IHS Jane's Defence Weekly

16 May 2018

ANA Humvees in a convoy near Farah City on 15 May. The ANDSF brought in “their full capabilities” to repel the Taliban attack on the city that day, according to a statement from the ‘Resolute Support’ mission. Source: Afghan National Army Special Operations Command

Afghan and US forces have conducted air strikes against insurgent positions around the capital of Afghanistan's western Farah Province to help ground troops repel an attack launched on the city by the Taliban militant group on 15 May.

“The Afghan National Defense and Security Forces [ANDSF], supported by US Forces-Afghanistan [USFOR-A] airpower, are on the offensive against the Taliban,” said the NATO-led ‘Resolute Support’ mission in a statement issued that same day.

US Army Lieutenant Colonel Martin L O’Donnell told Jane’s that Afghan Air Force A-29 Super Tucano light attack aircraft and Mil Mi-17 ‘Hip’ assault/utility helicopters launched multiple strikes near Farah City.

Around the same time the US Air Force (USAF) despatched A-10 ground-attack aircraft and MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicles, with the latter conducting multiple day- and night-time strikes, said the lieutenant colonel, who emphasised that the Afghan security forces brought in “their full capabilities” – consisting of army, police, commando and air force personnel, and equipment – to bear on the situation.

The attack – the first major one conducted by the Taliban against a provincial capital since the group announced the launch of its annual spring offensive in late April – began in the early morning hours, with the militants overrunning several security checkpoints, torching vehicles, and engaging in intense gun battles with the security forces.

The Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF), however, managed to push back the insurgents, with the Afghan National Army’s (ANA’s) 207th Corps commander leading operations on the ground as of 16 May to keep Farah City under government control.

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[*] posted on 22-5-2018 at 06:29 PM

Interesting, but long, article on the Resurgence of the Taliban................follow link for the whole article................

MENA Insurgencies

May 08, 2018

Theo Farrell

Unbeatable: Social Resources, Military Adaptation, and the Afghan Taliban

How have the Taliban come back so successfully after virtual defeat following the 9/11 attacks? Its resiliency stems from two factors: its social resources and its ability to adapt militarily.

Insurgencies are famously difficult to defeat, yet the Afghan Taliban have proven especially so. Accounts of Taliban resilience have focused on both the deficiencies of Western efforts and the Afghan state and on Pakistani support for the Taliban. These accounts fail, however, to reveal the full picture of how the Taliban have been able to survive. Drawing on original field research, this article explores how the Taliban’s success has been shaped by factors internal to the insurgency, namely, the social resources that sustain it and the group’s ability to adapt militarily...........EDITED

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[*] posted on 29-5-2018 at 09:58 AM

The Great Afghan Paradox

By most metrics the war in Afghanistan is going badly.

By James Kitfield

on May 28, 2018 at 4:01 AM

James Mattis at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan on March 14.

By most metrics the war in Afghanistan is going badly. According to the most recent quarterly report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), the troop strength of Afghan Security Forces is in “sharp decline” even as the Taliban are on the march throughout the countryside.

The number of “security incidents” is similarly on the rise, to include a series of recent suicide bombings in Kabul, including one in late April attributed to Daesh (aka the Islamic State) that targeted and killed nine journalists and four police officers. Opium production skyrocketed by nearly 90 percent in 2017, and the Afghan government continues to rate near the bottom on Transparency International’s “Corruption Perception Index.”

The publication Long War Journal, which tracks the conflict, recently estimated that the Taliban now “controls or contests” 58.5 percent of Afghanistan’s 407 districts, a high-water mark for the Islamist extremist group.

“The Taliban has seized the initiative and are dictating the pace and location of combat this fighting season, and they control or contest more Afghan territory than at any time since the United States ousted them from power back in 2001,” said Bill Roggio, a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies in Washington, and editor of Long War Journal. He characterized the Trump administration’s “surge” from roughly 8,400 to 14,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, and a stepped-up bombing campaign, as necessary but not sufficient to check the Taliban’s momentum. “The Obama surge [2009-2012] forced the Taliban to retreat from key strongholds but they regrouped in safe havens in Pakistan, and since the U.S. and NATO withdrawal in 2014 the Taliban has taken advantage of a dysfunctional Afghan government and security forces. Why the Trump administration thinks it can now defeat the Taliban with 14,000 ‘train and assist’ troops, when we failed to defeat them with over 100,000 U.S. combat troops, is beyond me.”

Gen. John Nicholson, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan and NATO’s “Operation Resolute Support,” now confronts a familiar set of challenges. Afghan Security Forces number 313,728 on paper (army and police), but are declining as a result of attrition and recruiting problems, and Afghan units are wildly divergent in terms of quality. For its part, the Afghan government is riven by the corruption that attends a booming drug trade in a developing country. The government is also split by a barely workable “power sharing” arrangement between rivals President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, who now face another potentially disruptive presidential election scheduled for later this year. Despite the Trump administration freezing security aid to Pakistan, the Taliban and other extremists continue to enjoy sanctuary there that allows them to rest, regroup and plot in relative safety.

Finally, Nicholson faces a ticking time clock back in Washington managed by a mercurial commander-in-chief in President Trump, and a war-weary Congress.

“All the trend lines suggest the Taliban has the initiative and momentum right now, and 14,000 U.S. trainers and advisers may not be enough to push the insurgents back on their heels. So this is a very dangerous period,” retired Lt. Gen. Dave Barno, former commander of U.S. and allied troops in Afghanistan, thinks.

“The upcoming presidential elections are important both practically and symbolically, but with the Taliban targeting polling stations and election officials, and controlling or contesting a majority of the country by some estimates, I’m not sure you can hold a legitimate election,” said Barno, who noted that former National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, a key architect of the Trump administration’s Afghan strategy, is no longer in the White House.

“If the election scheduled for this year leads to greater volatility, as happened during the last election cycle, then I think you’re going to hear a lot more `time to throw in the towel’ sentiments voiced in Washington,” said Barno. “At that point it will be interesting to see if President Trump remains invested in Afghanistan, or if he goes back to his earlier position that we should leave, and risks ceding this space to the Taliban and ISIS. U.S. military leaders would see that as catastrophic.”

Indeed, U.S. military leaders have pushed back against a narrative of failure in Afghanistan, arguing that it is much too early to judge the impact of a campaign of additional troops and more aggressive tactics that only began last autumn. As recently as the end of 2016, they note, U.S. troops were still withdrawing from Afghanistan. With the Islamic State kicked out of most of the territory of its “caliphate” in Iraq and Syria, U.S. Central Command has shifted resources and key enablers such as airpower and Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance assets to Afghanistan. As a result, the number of munitions dropped in the first quarter of 2018 was the highest recorded since reporting began in 2013, and is more than two-and-a-half times the amount dropped in the first quarter of 2017.

The Army’s new 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade is also in Afghanistan on its maiden deployment, and Resolute Support commanders have lifted restrictions so that advisers can push forward and work with lower-echelon units. Perhaps most importantly, the command has announced plans to double the size of Afghan Special Operations Forces, which have consistently prevailed over the Taliban on the battlefield.

“The American advised units – commandos and Special Forces – over the last several years have not been defeated in combat with the Taliban. Those that were not mentored by our units were being defeated,” Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis testified before the Senate Appropriations’ defense subcommittee on May 9. “As we…start having more NATO advisors working with them – mostly American but other NATO countries as well – then we will end up with more capable units in the field.”

Mattis also argued that the growing number of “security incidents” in the SIGAR report is misleading because it fails to distinguish between attacks initiated by the Taliban, and those initiated by Afghan Security Forces. “Who is initiating attacks is as important as the [total] number of attacks,” said Mattis, noting that Taliban initiated attacks – often directed at less risky “soft targets” – are down by 17 percent this year. “Where we are ambushing the Taliban, that means we have the initiative.”

Recent history suggests Mattis and his generals may have a point that it is premature to judge the impact of the Trump campaign. It was well over a year after U.S. forces redeployed to Iraq in the summer of 2014 to help rearm, retrain and assist derelict Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) before they began having notable success on the battlefield, first in recapturing Ramadi in December 2015, then in recapturing Falluja in June 2016, culminating in the recapture of Mosul from ISIS just last year.

“It looks good on paper that the U.S. has deployed the additional ‘train and assist’ forces, but it takes a lot of time to get people settled, and pushed out to forward units where they can have an impact. That process is probably only 40 percent completed, and it’s way too soon to judge whether it will be successful,” said Anthony Cordesman, one of the best defense analysts who works at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. In the meantime, the Taliban have so far proven incapable of capturing and holding major cities or provincial capitals, he noted, and it was never realistic to assume 14,000 U.S. troops would be decisive in ensuring Afghan Security Forces could defend the entire Afghan countryside. “We’re still in a war of attrition in Afghanistan, and while you can argue whether or not we’re losing, we’re clearly not winning.”

The Great Afghan Paradox arises from the fact that victory remains elusive and sometimes seems impossible even after seventeen years of fighting, while a defeat that cedes Afghanistan to Islamist terrorist groups with the blood of thousands of Westerners on their hands is all but unthinkable.

Already Daesh has made inroads in the country and is claiming some of the most horrific suicide bombings there, for instance, and just last month U.S. forces killed Al Qaeda leader Hazrat Abbas and his bodyguard in an airstrike in the eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar.

“We went to Afghanistan to eliminate the sanctuary where senior Al Qaeda leaders planned and conducted the initial training for the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States, and we stayed to prevent the likes of Al Qaeda and the Islamic State from reestablishing sanctuary in an area that seems to have a magnetic attraction for them,” retired Gen. David Petraeus, formerly the commander of all U.S. and NATO troops in both Afghanistan and Iraq, told Breaking Defense.

The United States and its allies have largely succeeded in that mission, he said, and are doing so today with dramatic reductions in the number of troops and associated costs. “I’ve said before this is a generational struggle, and we may have to continue operations in Afghanistan for a considerable time to come,” Petraeus told me. “I don’t think throwing our hands up in the air and saying ‘Let’s go home’ is a good option.”
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[*] posted on 31-5-2018 at 10:20 PM

Militants wore US military uniforms in attack in Afghanistan’s capital

By: Rahim Faiez, The Associated Press   14 hours ago

Afghan Security personnel stand guard at the site of a deadly attack on the interior ministry in Kabul, Afghanistan, Wednesday, May 30, 2018. Afghan officials said a suicide bomber struck outside the ministry, allowing gunmen to pass through an outer gate where they traded fire with security forces, who eventually killed the attackers. (Rahmat Gul/AP)

KABUL, Afghanistan — Islamic State militants, including two suicide bombers, dressed in what appeared to be U.S. military uniforms and riding in two armored vehicles launched a surprise attack on the Interior Ministry in Kabul on Wednesday but Afghan forces managed to repel the assault, leaving all the attackers dead.

It was a rare victory for Afghan security forces, who have struggled to secure the capital in recent months amid relentless attacks by the Taliban and the ISIS affiliate in Afghanistan.

According to the ministry spokesman, Najib Danish, one policeman was killed and five were wounded in the assault.

The attack began around noon when a group of 10 militants tried to storm the ministry compound in Kabul, Danish said.

Two of the attackers detonated their explosives, allowing eight others to pass through an outer gate at the ministry where they traded fire with security forces before they were eventually killed.

Danish said the “attackers were dressed in military uniforms” — apparently seeking to confuse Afghan security forces guarding the ministry.

Hours after the attack, the Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the assault in a brief statement carried by its Aamaq news agency. The statement called it an “immersion attack” on the ministry in Kabul.

An eyewitness at the scene, Mohammad Safi, said an explosion first went off and then bullets started flying near where he was standing with a group of people on the road.

“We ran to escape to the other side of the road,” said Safi.

Like Danish, Safi also said the attackers wore military uniforms but could not provide more details. Video footage from the scene showed that the assailants wore what appeared to be imitations of U.S. military uniforms. The Stars and Stripes newspaper reported that the attackers were dressed as U.S. soldiers.

It wasn’t immediately clear how the militants managed to penetrate so close to such a high-security location. Last year, the Interior Ministry moved into a new building, surrounded by numerous security barriers and close to the Kabul international airport and several military compounds.

Later Wednesday, the American commander of U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan cast doubt the attack was the work of ISIS, saying instead there are indications the Taliban-allied Haqqani network was behind it.

Gen. John Nicholson, speaking to reporters at the Pentagon from his Kabul office, said U.S. forces “believe it was a Taliban-Haqqani attack, but we’re still developing that information.”

The tactics used in the attack “track with” the tactics that the Haqqani faction has used in the past, he said and added: “We at this time do not believe it was an ISIS attack.”

The Taliban and the Afghan ISIS affiliate have both carried out scores of attacks, mainly targeting security forces and the country’s Shiite minority, that have killed hundreds of people in recent years.

Both militant groups seek to establish strict Islamic rule in the country. Their relentless assaults underscore the struggles that Afghan forces have faced since the United States and NATO concluded their combat mission in Afghanistan at the end of 2014.

Elsewhere in Afghanistan, the Taliban attacked a district headquarters in the northern Takhar province, killing five security forces, according to provincial police spokesman Khalil Asir. He said another three people were wounded in the battle Wednesday. He said 10 insurgents were killed.

In the eastern Logar province, Taliban suicide bombers attacked a police station, killing at least three policemen. Among the dead were the commander of the police station and the deputy director of traffic police for Puli Alim, the provincial capital, said Khalid Safi, a spokesman for the governor.

Another four policemen and eight civilians, including two children, were wounded in the Logar attack early Wednesday, said Shah Poor Ahmadzai, spokesman for the provincial police chief.

He said the attackers set off a suicide car bomb at the entrance to the station before three suicide bombers tried to enter. He said all three were shot and killed by security forces within minutes of the initial attack, adding that a number of nearby homes were damaged.

The Taliban claimed the attacks in both provinces.

In the southern city of Kandahar, a roadside bomb killed three people and wounded another 13, said Daud Ahmadi, spokesman for the Kandahar provincial governor. He said the victims included mechanics who had been contracted to repair Afghan army vehicles. No one immediately claimed the attack.

Associated Press writers Robert Burns in Washington, Amir Shah in Kabul, Afghanistan, and Samy Magdy in Cairo contributed to this report.
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Over 70 Taliban leaders killed in US precision strikes in Afghanistan, says ‘Resolute Support’

Gabriel Dominguez, London - IHS Jane's Defence Weekly

31 May 2018

Still from video footage showing an M142 HIMARS strike on what the US military says was a high-level Taliban command-and-control node in Musa Qala, Helmand Province. Source: US AFCENT

More than 70 senior Taliban leaders were killed in a series of precision strikes carried out by US forces in Afghanistan’s southern Helmand Province from May 17 to 26: a move described by the NATO-led ‘Resolute Support’ mission as “one of the largest blows” dealt to the Taliban leadership in the past 12 months.

‘Resolute Support’ said in a statement on 30 May that the largest of these strikes occurred on 24 May when four missiles, fired from High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) launchers, destroyed a “known Taliban command-and-control node” in Musa Qala during a high-level meeting of Taliban commanders.

Among the more than 50 casualties of that strike were “the deputy shadow governor of Helmand, multiple Taliban district governors, intelligence commanders, and key provincial-level leadership from Kandahar, Kunduz, Herat, Farah, Uruzgan and Helmand provinces”, according to the statement.

That same day a commander of Taliban special units in Helmand and an associate were killed in a US Air Force (USAF) airstrike while they were transiting in Sangin district, said ‘Resolute Support’, adding that USAF A-10 ground-attack aircraft also targeted a shadow district governor and destroyed a shadow district headquarters in Nahri Saraj the following day.

Moreover, a “senior improvised explosive device [IED] facilitator” was killed in an airstrike launched on 26 May from a MQ-1C Gray Eagle medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) unmanned aerial vehicle, according to the statement. The Taliban member had reportedly been responsible for co-ordinating IED operations against Afghan and international forces as well as civilians for the past 13 years.

An additional 15 Taliban members were killed in separate strikes conducted around the province during the 10-day period.

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