Taliban In Afghanistan
On April 14, 2017, U.S. dropped one of the biggest nonnuclear bomb (MOAB) in the U.S. military arsenal on Afghanistan. According to the Pentagon, MOAB (Massive Ordnance Air Blast), the largest nonnuclear bomb ever used in combat, was deployed to strike a cave network in Afghanistan used by ISIS militants. The Afghan government announced thirty-six alleged militants were killed by the 21,600-pound bomb.
In July 2016, President Obama announced that the United States will leave 8,400 troops in Afghanistan through the end of his term. Also in July 2016, during the Warsaw Summit, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) committed to maintaining 12,000 total troops in Afghanistan, and to providing an annual $1 billion—in addition the United States’ requested $3.5 billion—in funding for the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) through 2020. The Taliban continued to make territorial gains across the country and carry out high-profile attacks in Kabul throughout the summer of 2016. The insurgency now threatens several provincial capitals, including the capital of the strategically important Helmand province in the south and the capital of the northern province of Kunduz, which briefly fell to the Taliban in September 2015.
The Taliban launched their spring offensive, named “Operation Omari,” in April 2016, hitting Kabul with an attack that killed dozens and wounded more than three hundred people. In May 2016, Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour, who had assumed leadership of the insurgency less than year before, was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Pakistan’s Baluchistan province. Mawlawi Haibatullah Akhundzada, a religious leader within the group and a former top judge during the Taliban rule of Afghanistan, was selected to succeed him.
In late May 2016, President Obama approved new authorities for the military, authorizing commanders to send U.S. troops on combat missions with ANDSF forces and expanding authorities for U.S. air strikes to target the Taliban. The expanded military measures came after months of high ANDSF casualties, increased difficulty maintaining security and protecting territory, and reports of a growing self-proclaimed Islamic State and resurging al-Qaeda presence.
After the Taliban government refused to hand over Osama bin Laden in the wake of al-Qaeda’s September 11, 2001, attacks, the United States invaded Afghanistan. The Taliban leadership quickly lost control of the country and relocated to southern Afghanistan and across the border to Pakistan. From there, they have waged an insurgency against the Western-backed government in Kabul, international coalition troops, and Afghan national security forces.
The Taliban now controls more territory than at any time since the U.S. invasion in 2001 and continues to carry out suicide bombings in major cities. Now in their second year of being responsible for securing the country, the ANDSF continue to face significant challenges in holding territory and securing population centers. The first half of 2016 saw a 20 percent jump in ANDSF casualties compared to the same time last year, and 2015 saw nearly 20,000 total ANDSF casualties. The first six months of 2016 saw a record-high number of civilian casualties, with the UN documenting 1,601 civilian deaths and 3,565 civilian injuries. In 2015, there were 11,000 civilian casualties.
Afghanistan’s 2014 presidential election resulted in political deadlock, requiring two rounds of voting and an international audit to address allegations of voter fraud. In September 2014, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry brokered an agreement to form a national unity government led by Ashraf Ghani, who assumed the position of president, and Abdullah Abdullah, who assumed the position of chief executive. Ghani and Abdullah continue to face political gridlock in jointly governing a country plagued by Taliban-led violence. The two-year agreement that initially formed the national unity government expired in September 2016, raising concerns over potential political instability in addition to serious security challenges.
Uncertainty surrounding the future of international donor assistance has strained the Afghan economy. While the United States and its allies have pledged to provide support to Kabul, the transition to a peacetime economy risks further destabilizing Afghan society by inflating the budget deficit and increasing unemployment rates.
The United States has a vital interest in preserving the many political, economic, and security gains that have been achieved in Afghanistan since 2001. A resurgence of the Taliban insurgency could once again turn Afghanistan into a terrorist safe haven. Moreover, internal instability in Afghanistan could have larger regional ramifications as Pakistan, India, Iran, and Russia all compete for influence in Kabul and with influential subnational actors.
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Council On Foreign Relations
JANUARY 4, 2017
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The Cipher Brief
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