US forces in Afghanistan have dropped more munitions in the first three months of 2018 than during the same time period in 2011—a time widely considered the height of the war. The spike in bombing comes after years of drawing down US troops across the country's remote rural areas—and therefore relies increasingly on technical rather than human intelligence. Figures released by US Air Forces Central Command indicate 1,186 "munitions expended by aircraft" in January, February and March this year. In 2011, during those same months, the military documented 1,083 weapons released from both manned and unmanned aircraft. The increase in "kinetic air operations" is part of a strategy to degrade the Taliban’s finances by targeting drug labs, which the insurgents are believed to tax.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Feb. 21 urged the Afghan government and US military to investigate alleged summary executions committed by special forces against civilians in Kandahar province. The executions reportedly took place during military operations spanning from Jan. 31 to Feb. 1. In one instance, during a coordinated attack by a Special Forces Unit of the National Directorate of Security, the NDS troops reportedly killed at least 20 civilians and arbitrarily detained at least 38 men. HRW writes:
Recent US raids in Afghanistan have targeted presumed forces of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), the supposed Uighur militant network active in China's far-western Xinjiang region. This news comes amid reports that China is preparing to establish a military base in the same region of Afghanistan. On Feb. 6, NATO's Resolute Support said in a press release that US forces in Afghanistan had carried out a series of air-strikes on "Taliban training facilities in Badakhshan province, preventing the planning and rehearsal of terrorist acts near the border with China and Tajikistan by such organizations as the East Turkistan [sic] Islamic Movement and others." Badakhshan province forms a long panhandle between Tajikistan to the north and Pakistan to the south to reach a border with Chinese territory.
With Afghanistan's opium output now breaking all previous records, it seems that hashish continues to remain an important sideline for the country's warring factions—and to hear the US tell it, it's the ultra-puritanical Taliban that are responsible for it. A Dec. 18 press release from NATO Special Operations Command boasts of the& seizure of 34 tons of "raw hashish" (presumably meaning herbaceous cannabis) and 300 kilograms of "processed hashish" in a raid carried out jointly with the National Interdiction Unit of the Afghan police force.
A coordinated attack on a compound of the Afghan army in capital Kabul left at least 11 soldiers dead Jan. 29, authorities report. Two suicide bombers blew themselves up outside the barracks of the army's 111th division in Qargha district before a small team of gunmen moved in. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack through its Amaq news agency. This was the third large attack in Kabul since Jan. 20, when Taliban insurgents launched an assault on the Intercontinental Hotel that left over 20 dead. The second attack came Jan. 27, when presumed Taliban militants detonated an ambulance packed with explosives near an Interior Ministry compound, killing over 100. Another six people were killed in an assault claimed by ISIS on the office of aid group Save the Children in the eastern city of Jalalabad. (Khaama Press, NPR, Reuters)
The latest stats from the UN's annual Afghanistan Opium Survey are in, and the news is grim. Opium production in the war-torn country jumped nearly 87% in 2017, to record levels—an estimated 9,000 metric tons (9,921 US tons). Areas under poppy cultivation rose by 63%, reaching a record 328,000 hectares (810,488 acres), according to the joint survey by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the Afghan Counter-Narcotics Ministry. The survey also found that the number of poppy-free provinces in the country decreased from 13 to 10, with Ghazni, Samangan and Nuristan provinces joining the list of poppy-growing regions. This boosts the number of Afghanistan's 34 provinces now cultivating opium from 21 to 24.
International Criminal Court (ICC) chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda made a formal request (PDF) on Nov. 20 to investigate alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by the US military and the CIA. The proposed investigation focuses on alleged crimes committed in Afghanistan by the US military in May 2003, in addition to crimes at secret CIA detention facilities in Poland, Romania and Lithuania since July 2002. The allegations are brought under articles 7 and 8 of the Rome Statute and include murder, unlawful imprisonment, torture and cruel treatment, outrages upon personal dignity, rape and sexual violence, and using, conscripting or enlisting children under the age of 15 years.
The Academy of Sciences of Afghanistan on Aug. 21 warned that continued illegal extraction of the country's mineral wealth is leading to problematic security and political consequences. Acting ASA director Suraya Popal stated: "Terrorists and strongmen with illegal extractions and revenues from mines weaken the rule of law and fund the insurgency. Thus, extraction of the country's minerals should be done in line with the law and international standards before it's too late." She called on the Ministry of Mines and Petroleum (MoMP) to bring the mineral indsutry under "strong management," with the aid of the international community.