The Conflict in Afghanistan Part IV

Big losses for the Afghan army

Since 2016, the situation has deteriorated more and more for the government. The losses of the army and the police are increasing and thousands of civilians fall victim to violence every year. The Taliban have increasingly large areas in a firm grip. In addition, the Islamic State (IS) has gained a foothold in the country, mainly in the easternmost part but with the opportunity to strike also in Kabul and the central hinterland. As in Iraq in particular, Sunni extremist IS is mainly carrying out terrorist attacks against Shia Muslims.

In 2016, fighting left more than half a million Afghans homeless, while more than 600,000 were forced back from Pakistan and Iran into a country in increasing chaos. Nearly 11,500 civilians were killed or injured and army losses were described in early 2017 as “shockingly” high. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was forced to drastically reduce its activities in the country after losing seven employees in terrorist attacks.

In 2017, the new US President Donald Trump chose Afghanistan as a strategy for expanding the force by a few thousand men and giving it more offensive tasks. A little over a year later, however, he made a complete U-turn, when he announced that the United States would bring home its soldiers from Afghanistan. It is unclear when this will happen; latest bid is spring 2021.

Gloomy figures for the 2010s

According to the UN, the armed conflict claimed 3,804 civilian casualties in 2018 and 7,189 civilians were injured in the fighting that year. That was 11 percent more than in 2017 and a higher figure than any other year since 2009 when comparable statistics began to be kept. The rising numbers were partly due to the fact that the resistance groups, mainly the Taliban and IS, carried out more suicide bombings and other acts, and partly that American and Afghan forces intensified their airstrikes against resistance forces. At least 65 suicides were committed during the year, most of them in Kabul. The resistance groups killed more than 2,200 civilians in the country in 2018.

In 2019, US fighter jets dropped more bombs (7,423 individual bombs) over Afghanistan than any other year in the 2010s, according to the US Air Force. That was a significantly higher number than the number of bombs dropped across the country during President Barack Obama’s “surge” (big wave) in 2009, when 4,147 bombs were dropped. Airstrikes have increased since Donald Trump became President of the United States in 2016. In the first half of 2019, 717 civilians were killed by the government, including American aviation, according to the UN. This was an increase of 31 percent compared to the same period in 2018. Most were killed by American or Afghan aircraft that supported Afghan ground troops.

More than 100,000 Afghan civilians were killed or injured in the armed conflict in the 2010s, according to the UN. At the beginning of 2020, fierce fighting was going on in the country while negotiations between the United States and the Taliban continued. The presidential election gave Ghani an extremely narrow victory.

Agreement between the United States and the Taliban

In February 2020, a success was achieved when the United States and the Taliban movement signed an agreement in Qatar, which intended to lay the groundwork for regular peace talks. With representatives from some 30 countries on the ground in Doha, the two parties signed a complicated agreement, which roughly stated that the United States and its allies would withdraw their forces from the country within 14 months in exchange for the Taliban starting negotiations with the Afghan government in Kabul, and guaranteed never to make Afghanistan a haven for international terrorist networks such as al-Qaeda or extremist Islamist groups such as the Islamic State (IS) so that they can attack Western interests from there. The Taliban also promised not to “recruit, train and fund” such movements or their members.

The agreement between the United States and the Taliban also provided for a prisoner exchange: 5,000 Taliban and 1,000 on the Afghan government side were to be released by March 10. The government in Kabul was not a party to the agreement, but had representatives on site in Doha. The agreement stipulated that talks between the Taliban and all “Afghan parties” would begin on March 10. A ceasefire would be discussed in the forthcoming negotiations. The United States also promised to “review” the sanctions against Taliban leaders and members. The goal was for these sanctions to be lifted by 27 August 2020.

The peace talks begin

After a series of sharp delays and many trips, President Ghani announced in September 2020 that the prisoner exchange had now been completed. One reason for the delay in the process was that the government in Kabul had long hesitated to release a number of prisoners demanded by the Taliban, including Taliban leaders convicted of serious crimes.

Regular peace talks began in Doha, Qatar, the same month between representatives of the Afghan government and the Taliban. The government delegation was led by Abdullah Abdullah, who called for an “immediate humanitarian ceasefire”. However, Taliban spokesman Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar did not comment on Abdullah’s appeal. Instead, he reiterated the Taliban’s basic stance that Afghanistan should be governed by Islamic Sharia law.

Also present in Doha was US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Simultaneously with the peace process, fighting and other acts of violence were taking place in Afghanistan. Dozens of deaths were reaped every day.

The Conflict in Afghanistan Part IV