The Conflict in Afghanistan Part III

Swedish soldiers

A UN-mandated peacekeeping force, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), had already been sent to Kabul around New Year 2002 to protect the government and maintain order. The highest command of ISAF was awarded to NATO in August 2003.

After the UN gave Isaf a mandate to expand and be stationed outside Kabul, some bases were set up in 2004 in the country’s relatively quiet northern part. Sweden was given responsibility for four provinces based in Mazar-i-Sharif.

In accordance with the foreign forces’ planned march out of Afghanistan in 2014, Sweden in 2010 handed over responsibility for its provinces to the Afghan authorities. According to Isaf, the Swedish force, which in 2009 was up to 500 soldiers, had in April 2014 been reduced to 270 men. After Isaf’s departure, a few Swedes remain as military advisers.

As early as 2002, the Taliban began launching new attacks on the government, foreign forces and aid workers.

The US leadership was criticized for being more focused on military than political and social solutions in Afghanistan. Several US and NATO flights killed civilians. Karzai repeatedly criticized such attacks, which only increased the Afghans’ traditional aversion to both the central government and the foreign presence.

Prolonged conflict

Afghans, especially in rural areas, did not experience any major improvements during the first years of a democratically elected government. In the south and southeast, more and more Taliban could move fairly freely and gain new supporters – albeit in some cases with money or threats.

The profitable cultivation of opium poppies more than doubled after the fall of the Taliban regime, and Afghanistan today accounts for about 90 percent of the world’s opium. Various attempts to persuade farmers to grow other crops have had only limited success.

In the provinces in the south and east, it became increasingly clear from 2006 that the conflict would be long-lasting. The Taliban carried out rocket fire and regular military attacks on the army and foreign troops. Following the pattern of Iraq, they also began carrying out suicide bombings, which often affected the civilian population. Aid staff also suffered.

In 2006, NATO took over the main responsibility for the military operation in most of the country. More than half of the US troops were placed under ISAF / NATO command, while a reduced US-led OEF force was almost entirely engaged in hunting terrorists on both sides of the border with Pakistan.

During the second half of the twentieth century, the foreign presence increased steadily. From the summer of 2008 to June 2010, Isaf grew from about 53,000 to almost 120,000 men. The US effort in ISAF increased from about 17,000 to 78,000 men. OEF amounted to at least 20,000 men.

Despite billions of dollars in aid, the Afghan people have seldom experienced any decisive progress – significant parts of the aid have been squandered. There have also been problems with a lack of coordination and mistakes in the efforts of the outside world

Corrupt government

For a long time, NATO countries had also been dissatisfied with the inefficiency and corruption of the Karzai government, and several NATO leaders would have liked to see Karzai lose the 2009 presidential election.

Despite an intensive build-up of the Afghan army to almost 300,000 men in 2013 and an upgrade of the police force, the security forces still have a low standard. A large proportion of soldiers and police are illiterate and many abuse drugs. The police force in particular is considered to be permeated by corruption and is also suspected of being infiltrated by the Taliban. Both the army and the police are bothered by extensive defections.

Among the Western powers, since 2007, the realization grew that the war could not be won militarily.

Following a decision as early as 2010, military responsibility was gradually transferred to the Afghan forces, while NATO troops were reduced. From June 2013, the entire country was formally under domestic command. In September 2014, the NATO-led force was down to just over 41,000 soldiers.

The Taliban are bidding their time

Repeated attempts, even by the United States, to negotiate with the Taliban have been in vain. The growing number of Taliban forces has only been waiting to extend its influence after NATO withdrawal.

In recent years, the Taliban and other armed movements have shown that they can carry out attacks even in the most well-guarded places.

After a conflict-ridden and protracted election process, which according to EU election observers was marked by systematic fraud, former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani could be announced as the new president after Hamid Karzai in September 2014. The day after he took office, he signed an agreement that the United States would retain about 10,000 troops in Afghanistan after the end of the international force’s end of the year.

In total, about 13,000 soldiers from the United States and some other countries have remained after the turn of the year 2015 to provide training and advice to the hard-working Afghan forces.

Taliban leader Mohammad Omar died in 2013 and his successor was killed by a US drone in Pakistan in 2016. The militia is now led by Haibatullah Akhundzada, who under Taliban rule from 1996 to 2001 was head of the country’s sharia courts.

The Conflict in Afghanistan Part III