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.
The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) released a special report Aug. 20 detailing human rights violations committed during attacks on Mirza Olang village (Sayyad district, Sari Pul province) earlier this month. During the three-day assault, Taliban and Islamic State fighters reportedly killed at least 36 people in the predominantly Shi'ite village. Those killed included both civilians and members of a pro-government militia who were unarmed prior to execution. While UNAMA verified the killings and the separation of women and children, it could not verify other claims of beheadings, abductions of women, or sexual assault. Further investigations are required to ascertain whether the attacks amounted to sectarian violence. According to the report, "These killings, corroborated by multiple credible sources, constitute violations of international humanitarian law and may amount to war crimes." The Taliban have rejected the claims and denied the involvement of IS fighters.
President Trump was widely expected to announce a troop surge for Afghanistan n his Aug. 21 address from the Fort Myer military base in Arlington, Va. Gen. John Nicholson, the top US military commander in Afghanistan, had been requesting another 4,000 troops, on top of the current 8,500. Instead, Trump's comments were heavy on get-tough rhetoric and light on actual specifics. "Our troops will fight to win," he said. "From now on, victory will have a clear definition: attacking our enemies, obliterating ISIS, crushing al-Qaeda, preventing the Taliban from taking over the country, and stopping mass terror attacks against Americans before they emerge." In an admission that a surge might be in the works, despite his campaign-trial isolationism, he added: "My original instinct was to pull out, and historically I like following my instincts. But all my life, I've heard that decisions are much different when you sit behind the desk in the Oval Office." (BBC News, WP, Aug. 21)
The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) released a report (PDF) July 17 condemning an increase in civilian deaths in Afghanistan during the first half of 2017. Although there was an overall decrease in civilian casualties in the first six months of 2017, there was an increase in injuries and deaths from improvised explosive devices (IED). IEDs from anti-government forces, the majority of which are suicide bombs, account for 40% of all civilian casualties in the period. "Anti-government forces" were held responsobe for 67% of civilian casualties, compared to 18% attributed to "pro-gvoernment forces," and the remainder to cross-fire and other actors. The report notes that an increase in aerial operations by pro-government forces led to a jump in women and child casualties as well. Additionally, the report enumerates they ways ground engagements extend human suffering beyond death and injury such as the displacement of communities, families and individuals; property damage; loss of livelihood; and diminished access to education, medical care and humanitarian aid. UNAMA praised pro-government forces for an overall decrease in casualties from their operations, and encouraged a further reduction throughout the remainder of 2017.
The "Kabul Process" peace talks opened in Afghanistan's capital this week, drawing representatives from 20 countries and international organizations—but none from the Taliban or other insurgent groups. President Ashraf Ghani's own foreign minister apparently even boycotted the gathering as a farce. Meanwhile, anti-government protesters continued to defy orders to leave camps they had set up in the city, demanding that top security officials step down for failing to stop relentless attacks. Despite extreme security measures, at least one rocket was fired into the Green Zone near where the meeting was being held. As the meeting opened, Ghani admitted that over 150 people were killed and more than 300 were wounded in the truck bombing outside the German Embassy last week, making it possibly the deadliest such attack since the US-led invasion in 2001. And heavy fighting was reported in the countryside, clashes between the army and Taliban leaving high numbers dead in Kunduz province. (Khaama Press, Khaama Press, June 11; NYT, June 6)