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Uppsala: graphic displaying Afghan deaths in first half of 2019

September 11, 2019

Summary: Uppsala data – deaths in Afghanistan, first half of 2019

Because I am a sucker for maps and graphics as an aid to thinking…

This graphic is from the Uppsala Conflict Data Program and gives a clear and stark indication of the violence levels in Afghanistan this year.  I have looked at many similar maps over the last 15 years.  Levels rise and fall (mainly rise), but what still comes across strongly is the consistent geographic distribution of the fighting, which follows the ring road and is still primarily occurring in the south, south-east and east, with lower but still noticeable (and rising) violence in the north and north west.  A separate thread on Twitter regarding Uppsala data has some insightful observations and thoughts from Alex Strick about the problems of compiling accurate data to an exacting rigorous standard when addressing a period of years/decades


Talks collapse – what comes next?

September 10, 2019

Summary: Although the manner of the collapse was a surprise, a failure of such a difficult series of talks was always a real possibility. What happens over the next 12 months or so?

There are multiple possibilities – a handful here…

  1. The US and the Taliban will intensify military efforts in the absence of any other ideas and to show they are unconcerned and capable.
  2. Fighting will resume at current levels (or, less likely, a pause) in the hope/expectation that talks will continue again soon (at some level) once everyone has calmed down.
  3. US and/or Afghan government reject or minimise the Taliban’s political status and legitimacy- return to categorising them purely as terrorists to be targeted. They are no longer recognised.
  4. US and/or Afghan government demand: no new talks until a ceasefire demonstrates the Taliban’s good faith.
  5. Similar to point 4 – The withdrawal of US forces timetable looks to have been broadly agreed – US commits to this timeframe but does not move at all until a ceasefire is in place.
  6. US inactivity – Trump loses interest (there is no Nobel prize in this for him, better to try with North Korea again.  US actions and policy drift. In essence, no productive move for the rest of this presidential term beyond fighting.
  7. Wild Card: Withdrawal begins – the US decide to shut out the Taliban and commence the agreed staged withdrawal as part of a new strategic agreement with the Afghan government. The Taliban are excluded. US commits to a new long-term financial, economic and political support package for the Afghan democratic process. Some US counter-terrorism capabilities remain but the US/international community’s efforts are a renewed and revitalised focus on assisting governance, democracy, rule of law, growth of a civil service and anti-corruption initiatives. The Taliban have one of their key wishes met – no US troops in Afghanistan. Thus the Taliban are undermined – they lose a key motivational/recruitment tool and are now only ever killing fellow Muslims.

I don’t think these scenarios are necessarily exclusive to each other. On reviewing them, I realise the “Wild card” suggestion is not so much a scenario but an idea I have had as a possible – but unconventional – solution.  I will try and develop that more in the future.

Welcome any comments, critique and filling in of the many gaps…

Rising casualties in Afghanistan, 1999 – 2018

August 20, 2019

Summary: All credit to the Economist for putting together this very helpful but stark graphic representation.

Explosion targets wedding in western Kabul: over 60 killed 180 injured

August 19, 2019

Summary: A suicide bomb kills and injures over 240 civilians in western Kabul.  Islamic State have claimed the attack.

On the evening of Saturday 17th August a powerful explosion detonated at a wedding ceremony of over 1000 men, women and children in western Kabul.  Thus far, reports suggests that over 60 were killed and 180 injured.  The attack has been described as conducted by a suicide bomber who entered the celebrations.  The Taliban quickly denied responsibility, issuing a statement of condemnation.  On Sunday Islamic State claimed the attack.    Most of the wedding guests were reported to be Shia Muslims.  The wedding hall after the blast


If Islamic State has claimed the attack, it seems reasonable to accept this.  But responsibility for terrorist attacks in Afghanistan is problematic.  Afghan twitter feeds have blamed the Taliban, the Haqqani Network (closely aligned to the Taliban) and Islamic State.  The Afghan government, police and security resources for investigating such attacks are limited and the sites of such major terror attacks are difficult to adequately seal off in order to gather and preserve evidence.  It is therefore difficult to be sure exactly who is responsible for the attack.  There are overlaps between the Taliban, the Haqqani Network and Islamic State.  The Islamic State presence in Afghanistan (sometimes known as ISKP – Islamic State in Khorasan Province) is an opaque quantity, emerging in late 2014 and largely appearing to comprise local insurgent groups, foreign fighters and disgruntled former members of the Taliban.  President Ghani tweeted that the Taliban should none the less bear responsibility.  The Taliban do have a chequered past where it comes to claiming or denying attacks, claiming attacks, only to deny them when the scale of the civilian death toll becomes apparent.  The Taliban do appear in recent years to be avoiding purely civilian targets, or, at least, to ensure that there is some form of military target at the centre of the attack to form a justification.  On 7 August, a Taliban-claimed suicide attack in central Kabul killed 14 and injured 150.  If the target was selected on the basis of religion – a majority of the party-goers reportedly Shia – this adds another layer of factionalism to the atrocity.  Islamic State are believed to specifically target Shia and Hazara groups in an attempt to exacerbate ethnic, religious and factional tensions across the country.




Afghanistan is now the least peaceful country in the world

June 12, 2019

Summary: The Global Peace Index 2019 sees Afghanistan replace Syria as the most violent country.

Image result for global peace index 2019The Global Peace Index 2019, from the Institute for Economics and Peace has released its 13th edition.  It ranks 163 independent states according to their level of peacefulness.  Afghanistan has now succeeded Syria as the least peaceful country on the planet.  Afghanistan reportedly incurred economic cost of violence in 2018 as a percentage of their GDP equivalent to 47 per cent of GDP.  In terms of perceptions of safety, there has been a significant drop – of over 20% – in the population who say they feel safe walking alone at night.  In Afghanistan, drought is also being reported as a key concern.


“South Asia’s score for every indicator in Ongoing Conflict is less peaceful than the global average, with four out of six deteriorating last year. Only deaths from internal conflict improved, with fewer fatalities in Pakistan, Afghanistan and India than the year prior.  However, the number and duration of internal conflicts fought worsened in Afghanistan and Bangladesh… The dramatic increase in conflict deaths to 2014 was concentrated in a handful of countries, with the bulk of this increase being attributable to the war in Syria. There were also significant increases Afghanistan, Iraq, and Yemen.”


“Afghanistan is now the least peaceful country in the world, replacing Syria, which is now the second least peaceful… the number and duration of internal conflicts fought worsened in Afghanistan… In Afghanistan, confidence in the military fell over 31 percentage points in the last five years, which corresponded with a strong deterioration in peacefulness over the same period…. In the past year, Afghanistan had the largest deterioration in confidence in the local police, falling by 32 percentage points….”


Berlin conference: Bleak views on Afghanistan’s prospects…

June 10, 2019

Summary: Bleak views on Afghanistan’s prospects from two of the best experts you are going to get.  Thomas Ruttig from AAN is deeply negative about the progress of democracy in the country, talking about a deep institutional crisis and an erosion of democratic institutions…no rosy picture and a risk of civil war.  The failure to fully implement the Bonn Agreement and the international community’s tendency to interfere in the electoral process for expediency are key causes.  Michael Semple thinks that claims that a peace agreement can be delivered in this current process are “shallow” and “implausible”.  Both believe that, in as much as the Taliban do think at all about a “post-US Afghanistan”, it is based on the flawed assumption that the Taliban will return to monopolise power and that the Western-based government structure will simply collapse once the US pulls out.

I was lucky enough to be invited to attend the Academy for Cultural Diplomacy’s symposium on Afghanistan: “Understanding Afghanistan”.  The highlight for me was getting to hear Thomas Ruttig from the Afghanistan Analysts Network and Michael Semple from Queens University Belfast on the same bill.  The messages from both seemed bleaker than I can recall from their previous talks and writings.  My comments are inserted as square brackets.  I have highlighted key points that leap out in bold.

Dr. Lutz Rzehak “Observations on Cultural behaviour in Afghanistan”

  • Dr Rzehak has been studying Afghan language and culture for decades. He has travelled extensively (and independently) across the country.  “If you don’t want to embarrass yourself, be like society” – attention to clothing, headgear and general appearance (beard).  But it is almost impossible to fake an identity’
  • Age is advantageous – much respect is accorded to older people – gray hair an advantage!
  • Some Afghans use western clothing and appearance to show status (eg working at a university). Western clothing can be seen as denoting an official.
  • Legendary Afghan hospitality (“A guest is a friend of God”) but when travelling it is important to have a local Afghan as a guide/interlocutor to smooth the trip in advance and make preparations and also en route.
  • One Baluchi group in Zaranj (Nimruz) actually built a small house specifically for the Dr to use then and for his anticipated future visits!
  • Avoid travelling at night.
  • Importance of greeting rituals.

Thomas Ruttig spoke about “The State of Afghanistan Democracy in the light of the upcoming (and previous elections)”

  • Ruttig has lived and worked in Afghanistan for around 13 years – he is still a little dismissive of the “Kabul bubble” of international and diplomatic communities
  • In regard to Dr Rzehak’s presentation and subsequent discussion about breaking of cultural and religious norms he noted that Afghans do break the norms and this generally happens in connections with issues of power – those that have the Kalashnikovs…
  • He gave an interesting anecdote about the Afghan’s perspective on foreigners. He said that, whichever international job he had held in the country (diplomat, journalist, UN), once Afghans knew of his nationality, it was presented as “ah, the Germans are back”, with an expectation that his main agenda would be to continue whatever historic political, aid or development project had been undertaken by Germans previously in that area.  [comment: makes me think about how easy it must have been for the Taliban to construct anti-British propaganda messages when British forces arrived in Helmand and southern Afghanistan “British Empire back to try and conquer us…”]’
  • There is a slightly racist overtone to some Western views on the people of Afghanistan in relation to elections and popular will: “Afghans can’t do democracy”, “Afghanistan cannot be Switzerland”. But the Afghan constitutions have strong and clear statements – 2004 constitution “Peoples will and democracy”.  Social justice, human dignity, rights and democracy have all featured strongly.
  • But the democratic process seems to have been in reverse gear for some time now – this is not only because of the Taliban and conflict. There is a deep institutional crisis and an erosion of democratic institutions.  This is tilting towards increased use of executive power and a crisis of legitimacy.  On 22 May , President Ghani’s official tenure as president came to an end and has been extended to September because of the failure to prepare for the election in good time.  The system is full of holes – the Parliamentary system has many irregularities.  Ghazni province in particular struggled with a protracted dispute about how best to divide up the Pushtun and Hazara constituencies – as a result no elections were held.
  • There is a growing risk that an authoritarian system is being strengthened – President Ghani is the only authority officially elected.
  • The situation is not looking good – and the elections are now being prioritised over the peace talks with the Taliban.
  • Historical recap – Bonn Conference 2001 re-established provision for Afghan democratic institutions (Ruttig emphasised “re-“ established, rather than simply “established”, noting that the Afghanistan 1964 Constitution was probably Afghanistan’s most democratic document). But the post of Prime Minister was cancelled, creating its own institutional problems.
  • The Bonn process made provision for a lot of things – a census, voter registration, disbandment of militias, justice, addressing war crimes. This was all positive and embraced by Afghans.  At the 2002 Emergency Loya Jirga (which Ruttig and Semple have both worked on) no one was saying “democracy is a bad idea”…).
  • But progress faltered: women lost out and the warlords still held a lot of sway. In the end, the Bonn Agreement was only partially implemented – the census did not take place, militias were not properly disarmed (a warlord was made head of the Disarmament of Illegal Armed Groups – DIAG – operation).  Furthermore, the US began re-arming militias from around 2006 (eg “Afghan Local Police”, or ALP).
  • There were protests over the 2014 presidential election which brought Ghani to power – no one could say how many people voted, how many votes were counted, what the extent of fraud had been – multiple reports of the stuffing of ballot boxes and being able to buy voting forms in the markets. Furthermore, the result was never announced – a deal was struck (brokered by Secretary of State John Kerry) that Ghani would be announced as the winner.
  • Many social problems – unemployment, poverty. 54% of the population are under the poverty line: after $100 Billion USD of effort, the number of people in poverty is still more or less the same as it was in 2003.
  • If the Bonn Agreement had been fully implemented things could have been quite different but unfortunately even the UN was “part of the game” of bending democracy. Warlords have captured democracy and there are still no effective political parties operating in Afghanistan.  Electoral reform is being blocked and President Ghani is circumventing most of the checks and balances.  The people making the decisions are not democratically legitimate.
  • There is no rosy picture and there is a danger of civil war.  There is a widespread tiredness with “this kind of” democracy in Afghanistan – the post-2001 kind that is continually manipulated by the international community.  Many in Afghanistan now do not want democracy – this is not just older people, but also some youth groups who reject democracy as “against Islam”

Michael Semple spoke on “Taliban, Culture and Peace – how understanding Taliban political culture helps us assess progress towards an Afghan peace”

  • It is very important to be sensitive to the importance of understanding culture. On a 2019 visit to Kabul, Semple was invited to a meeting between [I think] the Afghan Ministry of defence and the US military.    Semple brought an Afghan researcher with him.  After a short period they both realised that the translations being given between the US and the Afghan government teams were appallingly garbled and greatly hampering the ability of both sides to understand the other [I think the implication was that the translators were not bad at their job, but that the Western military terminology and acronyms was hard to convey].  Semple observed how little important lessons are learnt – translation problems might have been understandable in 2001/2002 but surely not in 2019…
  • Without recognising and understanding the filter of culture, understanding becomes difficult. And culture is also evolving, disputed and manipulated – Hamid Karzai was good at this – making a show of traditions – Loya Jirgas and suchlike – to appeal to cultural traditions but ultimately intended to close off discussion.  Semple suggested that where he and Thomas Ruttig wear Afghan clothes as Westerners, by taking on the culture it undermines the potential to monopolise culture manipulation.
  • In terms of the Taliban and peace talks there have been “bouts of extreme hope”. In February 2018, Ghani made a prepared speech to the Taliban inviting them to come and join the political process.  This made diplomats very hopeful, but nothing came of it.   In the summer there was another flurry of hope with Ashraf Ghani’s unilateral ceasefire that the Taliban joined in for three days.
  • This was more significant, but from the Taliban leadership perspective it got out of control.
  • The Taliban leadership had told its fighters to “stop fighting” but the Taliban fighters then went into the towns and villages and fraternised with the police and the population (one local warlord said that he was hosting 150 Taliban fighters to a lunch). The Taliban leadership were worried that this undermined the war effort.  [In May 2019, the Taliban have ruled out a similar ceasefire for this year].
  • In September 2018, Zalmai Khalilzad began talks with the Taliban. The have been six sets of talks in Doha, with another set coming.  Messages have been projected that “peace is nigh” and that “good progess has been made but more dialogue is needed”.  Everyone (including the Afghan population and the Taliban fighters on the ground) is reading intensively what the media has to say about the talks and trying to understand what is really going on.
  • Semple is “broadly optimistic” – it is possible for the war to end very quickly. But it is perhaps “more likely” that the war will continue for the moment.
  • But Semple is “deeply sceptical” of the current peace process. There are some cultural clues – the shifting of timetables [presumably the pushing back of timetables?].  Semple was aware that at one point the US negotiating team had been telling the US military to start preparing in the event of a ceasefire.  The annual fighting season begins after the opium harvest is in [approx April/May] – there was therefore a hope that peace might come in the Spring of 2019 – or, if not a formal peace, but at least the suspension of the Taliban’s annual announcement of their Spring Offensive.  This did not happen.
  • Culture of the Taliban In the 1970s the Taliban were the poorest of the poor but felt superior because they had extensive religious knowledge. This created tension with sections of the Afghan population, in particular the rural vs urban divide.
  • Claims that a peace agreement can be delivered seem very “shallow” – “implausible”.
  • The Taliban are still a centralised, organisation and their mission is to take over the country. A top down peace solution may not be possible between the Islamic State of Afghanistan [i.e. the Taliban central command body] and fellow Afghans but a reconciliation between individual local Taliban groups and local Afghans may be achievable.  At the leadership-level, peace negotiations have stalled.  The Taliban are refusing to embrace a ceasefire or seriously pursue a political settlement.
  • Semple showed a photograph of a local, village-level, Taliban commander sitting alongside a local, village, level police chief. They are attending a wrestling completion together and were respectfully and pragmatically discussing local security issues and concerns.  Semple suggested that if there was more local-level dialogue of this sort, then the fighting might just simply die away.


  • Qatar is not a bad location for talks – it at least partially removes the Taliban from Pakistani influence.
  • The Taliban are not the only bad actors in the peace talks – the warlords as well. Many groups have an interest in conflict remaining.
  • Thomas Ruttig pushed back slightly on Semple’s suggestion that local dialogues might cause peace to break out spontaneously. He saw the Taliban as being a centralised command that was hard to challenge.  It was difficult to see local sets of dialogues having much impact.
  • I asked to what extent the Taliban think of a “post-US Afghanistan” and what their intentions might be after the US military pull out. Ruttig felt that the Taliban’s prime desire is to monopolise power – they will not turn into a political movement.  When Semple talks to the Taliban, he starts with a simple proposition for discussion that “there is no justification for the further killing of Afghans”.  Semple felt the Taliban have not had a change of heart.  The Taliban do think about a “post-US” Afghanistan, but their thinking is poorly informed and not well-developed – they see the US withdrawal as the prelude to the Taliban’s return to control of Afghanistan.  This is “wrong thinking” but this is what they believe – once the US departs the existing government and institutions will collapse and the Taliban will be back in power.  All those Western-educated Afghans in the government will simply disappear – returning to Europe, etc.

Comments and Outlook

Is it just me or is this some of the bleakest assessment from two of the best analysts of Afghanistan that I have heard in years?  Thomas Ruttig has not given up on the democratic process, but he is deeply pessimistic about how it has been perverted by outside influence and internal, non-democratic elties. “most of the checks and balances have gone”.  He blames the UN and other international bodies for bending democracy in aid of expedient election results.  Michael Semple sees claims of a peace settlement being delivered as “shallow” and implausible.  Both judged Taliban ultimate intentions were still best characterised as a monopolistic return to power.  Michael Semple said that the Taliban believe that once the US had left the Afghan democracy experiment will simply collapse and the Taliban will be back in power.  I have read carefully though my notes.  With the possible exception of Michael Semple holding out that a peace deal could theoretically come quickly (and perhaps through grass roots dialogue), neither were able to offer any optimistic route forward.  This doesn’t look good.

What do the Taliban want? What do they do? Snapshots from Helmand, Logar and Wardak

June 5, 2019

Summary: AAN and USIP both looking at local Taliban actions and expectations.  The Taliban do not seem to have changed the attitudes much.  Neither do they appear to have thought deeply about what might come after peace talks and a US withdrawal

Two very good pieces of analysis from two different sources but overlapping on many key themes regarding how the Taliban think, plan and operate in localities that they control.  Goes without saying that both reports should be read in full.  The Afghanistan Analysts Network have a series of pieces out under the title “One Land, Two Rules”.  They look at how the Taliban and the Afghan government are operating concurrently (and competitively) to deliver public services.  Part Six focuses on how the Helmand district of Nad Ali copes with the challenge of having both government and the Taliban attempting to control and influence the area.

  • The district remains unstable from a security perspective – it is an “active stalemate”
  • The government and NGOs fund public services but the Taliban have a strong say in how resources are allocated
  • A “dual rule” sees the civilian population pragmatically tolerant of government and Taliban, while learning to navigate this “dual rule”
  • The Taliban control much of the educational curriculum – girls do not have schooling beyond 6th grade
  • Health services are sub-standard and inadequate – the Taliban prioritise their injured fighters for health resources
  • Locals do not care who is in charge as long as it is one of the the other, but not both competing
  • The Taliban collect taxes
  • In Taliban controlled areas the TV, radio, music and smartphones are banned.  Mobile phone networks are shut down between 4pm and 7am.
  • In Taliban controlled areas, some NGO activity is permitted (water, wells, pumps).  Not clear is this is because the Taliban are keen to avoid alienating the population or because they benefit from taxing them.  Perhaps both.
  • Population do not enjoy this complex dual governance but have adapted.  They are used to having some levels of basic public services (however low grade) – this will need to be  taken into account in the future.

The USIP piece from Ashley Jackson parses a series of interviews with Afghans – non-combatants and Taliban – in areas controlled by the Taliban.  Questions focus on peace talks – how the Taliban perceive the talks, what the goals are and how might the Taliban move into a post-US future.

  • Most non-combatants just want the fighting to end.
  • Taliban local fighters do not plan to disarm until their two core demands are met: US withdrawal and an appropriately Islamic government.
  • Few Taliban have concrete ideas on what an appropriate Islamic government would mean and how it might differ from the current Islamic government
  • Few Taliban want to talk with the current Afghan government
  • Local Taliban and non-combatants alike assumed that the Taliban would retain control over their strongholds
  • Most women strongly object to Taliban restrictions over their lives
  • Strong belief that a process of justice, punishment and, as necessary, forgiveness was necessary, once peace was achieved

From these, my brief thoughts are that the Taliban do not seem to have changed that much, particularly in attitudes to women and education.  They do not appear to have much strategic debate about the future, beyond generalities – an idea of “first the fighting must stop, then we will decide”.    They appear emboldened.  Finally, they do not appear able to run and administer services effectively – only able to provide basic public systems if someone else is paying for it – the Afghan government, the international community, NGOs.  The sense is also that much of this funding is siphoned off into supporting the Taliban’s war effort.  Where they do run a service, their strict interpretations of Islam seem uniformly to hamper the quality of service provision.  Without education for women beyond the 6th grade, is it any wonder that there are only a handful of nurses and mid-wives in the district?

Afghanistan’s vast mineral assets still untapped…

May 29, 2019

Summary: Afghanistan’s underground wealth is failing to be exploited for the benefit of Afghans.

Afghanistan still cannot sustain itself economically and remains dependent on extensive international support.   A piece out from Al Jazeera, is highlighting one of the key economic problems in Afghanistan.  Billions of dollars worth of minerals and other natural resources are trapped underground – marble, copper,gold, uranium, lithium.  This is not being released into the Afghan economy because of the conflict, as well as corruption and government mis-management.  Infrastructure is poor and investment limited.  Some estimates suggest that $1 Trillion worth of assets are yet to be exploited.

This story broke some ten years ago, when it was pitched by many as the magic solution to Afghanistan’s problems.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Untapped mineral deposits in Afghanistan may be worth more than $1 trillion, a finding that could reshape the country’s economy and help U.S. efforts to bolster the war-battered government, Pentagon officials said on Monday…

Afghanistan has significant deposits of copper, iron ore, niobium, cobalt, gold, molybdenum, silver and aluminum as well as sources of fluorspar, beryllium and lithium, among others, a task force studying the country’s resources found.

“It’s certainly potentially good news, especially for Afghanistan,” said Pentagon spokesman Colonel David Lapan. “If we can assist the Afghans in developing these resources, it certainly has the potential for adding a lot to their economy.”

Deputy Undersecretary of Defense Paul Brinkley, who headed the task force, said the findings showed Afghanistan a path “toward its own economically sovereign capability to finance its own human and security needs.”

Experts cautioned the challenge to exploiting Afghanistan’s mineral wealth was huge and could take decades to overcome. The country has little mining infrastructure, is in the midst of a wrenching war and has a reputation for government corruption.

No significant change yet…

Airstrikes: hitting the wrong target as standard

May 17, 2019

Summary: Many Afghan police reported dead in a failed airstrike in southern Afghanistan.

Image result for mi-24 afghanistan afghan air force

Al Jazeera report that as many as 17 Afghan police have been killed, with 14 injured, in an airstrike that went awry in Helmand province near the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah.  The international “Resolute Support” mission say that they carried out the attack mission.

An air attack has killed 17 policemen by mistake during a battle with the Taliban just outside the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah in Afghanistan’s southern Helmand province, officials said.  Attaullah Afghan, the head of the provincial council, said the attack took place on Thursday while Afghan police were fighting the Taliban near the city.  Fourteen policemen were wounded in the attack, he added.  A spokesperson for the provincial governor said the strike was carried out by NATO Resolute Support mission force in the Nahr-e-Seraj area of the Helmand-Kandahar highway.  There was no immediate response to a query to the US military in Kabul. American forces regularly back Afghan troops when asked to.  Helmand’s Governor Mohammad Yasin said the air raid is being investigated. A Taliban statement claimed US forces were behind it.

Airstrikes on a fast evolving battlefield where the enemy is hard to identify, reliable intelligence is limited and civilians and friendly forces pop up in the most inconvenient of locations mean failures are inevitable.  It is a highly demanding, impossible-to get-perfect, process.  The history of the use of airpower in Afghanistan once 2001 is littered with examples of disastrous failures of airpower:  wedding parties, hospitals, funerals, schools, mosques, civilians, friendly forces, have all been wrongly targeted.  But the use of airpower by the US (who I think is the only international military force currently employing ground attack aircraft over Afghanistan) appears to have significantly increased in the last two years.

Not only that, the Afghan airforce is having its strike capability increased (and is also making the same mistakes).  It seems highly likely that the Afghan airforce will, for years to come, be less capable of accurate airstrikes than their international colleagues.  But airpower – such as ground attack aircraft and attack helicopters will always be a symbol of national power and prestige.  India is reportedly providing two ground attack helicopters.    With this sort of capability now available, my sense is that the increased employment of airstrikes is inevitable.  The old adage still applies – if all you have is a hammer, you see every problem as a nail.

Airpower generally economises on military lives but jeopardises the civilian population.  One thing that is sure to turn a friendly civilian into a neutral one or a neutral one into a enemy is if you keep dropping bombs on their children.  The Americans are training much of the Afghan air force (although less so now, as Afghan pilots seem to regularly claim asylum as soon as they get to America).  Perhaps the Afghan airforce might benefit from an emphasis on funding for training – a culture of firepower restraint, surveillance, reconnaissance, target identification, ground to air coordination – instead of receiving exciting (and lethal) new toys.  Perhaps the Afghan National Army and Air Force should be aiming to bake in a culture that emphasis a range of other options and the role of airpower as the absolute last resort.  It is highly counter-productive simply to gift propaganda victories to the Taliban.


Taliban targeting aid groups and NGOs

May 15, 2019

Summary: Taliban claim attack on US aid agencies in central Kabul

Afghan security forces guard the site of an explosion in Kabul, Afghanistan, Wednesday, May 8, 2019. The Taliban attacked the offices of an international NGO in the Afghan capital, setting off a huge explosion and battling Afghan security forces in an assault that killed at least five people, interior ministry said in a statement. (Rahmat Gul / AP)

The New York Times has an article out by Rod Nordland, examining the Taliban’s recent targeted attacks on aid agencies.

Two American aid groups – CARE and Counterpart International were struck by one large attack in Kabul claimed by the Taliban, with as many as 13 reported killed.  The attack was initiated by a common Taliban tactic of suicide bombers blasting gates open to allow other gunmen and bombers to penetrate into the compound or building itself.

Taliban fighters attacked the offices of a U.S.-based aid organization in the Afghan capital on Wednesday, setting off a huge explosion and battling security forces in an assault that lasted more than six hours and killed at least five people, the Interior Ministry said. Dozens of civilian vehicles and shops were either destroyed or damaged, and several buildings were also damaged. A large plume of smoke rose from the area and the sound of sporadic gunfire could be heard…The ministry’s statement said the attack ended after all five insurgents were killed by Afghan forces. “Around 200 people were rescued from both buildings within the compound,” it said.

The attack targeted U.S.-based aid organization Counterpart International, which has offices near those of the Afghan attorney general, said Interior Ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahimi. The group’s offices are in a compound with two five-story buildings…Johan Bass, U.S. ambassador in Afghanistan, strongly condemned the attack on the NGO. He said the targeted organization helps local communities, trains journalists and supports the Afghan people.

Map locating an attack in the Shar-e-Naw area in Kabul.The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan in a statement also condemned the insurgents for deliberately targeting a civilian aid organization.

“Today’s attack was particularly deplorable, hitting civilians helping Afghans,” the statement said.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the group attacked the organization because it was involved in “harmful Western activities” inside Afghanistan, without elaborating…The Taliban said they would continue their attacks during Ramadan, but would be “very careful of civilians during any operation.”

The insurgents have rejected past cease-fire proposals, saying U.S. and NATO troops must withdraw from the country first. The Taliban also refuse to negotiate directly with the government in Kabul, seeing it as a U.S. puppet.

Image result for taliban attack counterpart international mapThe Taliban gave an official statement explaining their rationale for the the attack.

“Amid the ongoing Al Fath Operations, an American network named “Counterpart” was brought under a martyrdom attack in Kabul city earlier today…

The said target was under the surveillance of Mujahideen for a very long time. Between 40 to 50 foreign advisors and tens of hirelings were based in the building where they groomed Kabul administration security and other personnel in implementing pro-western objectives.

Today’s attack resulted in tens of foreign invaders and their hirelings killed and wounded. Similarly, enemy reinforcements coming in from the outside were also engaged for 6-hours as a result dozens of other gunmen including high-ranking officers were killed and wounded…

This US network “Counterpart” began its operations in 2013 and was funded by satanic USAID with $70 million budget to implement 5 year pro-occupation projects.

The members of this group included stooges of all levels from Ashraf Ghani to lower-ranking individuals who implemented these projects and played an active role in the election process of the Kabul administration.

This network trained security personnel of the Kabul administration to supposedly strengthen and expand their “capabilities” so just like their foreign masters, they also embrace ruthlessness, murder, oppression and enmity towards Islamic values as well as abhor mosque, madrasa, Mullah and religious scholars.

The ruthless armed forces who know no Islamic and humanitarian limits such as Zero One, Zero Two and others are also a product of these institutions.

On the other hand, this network encouraged and promoted inter-mixing between men and women at the highest levels which has resulted in rampant moral corruption spreading in cities and areas under the control of Kabul administration over the past eighteen years, enmity towards Islamic values expanding and the job of students of this institution was to even challenge Islamic laws and regulations.

The said network funded by USAID was also implemented a program code named ‘Afghan Angel’ that promoted moral corruption and religious deviation in our country.”


Although generally recognised and respected across Afghanistan, the Red Cross itself has been the target of attacks by insurgents.[1] Most concerning of all, in August 2018, the Taliban declared that they would no longer give safe passage or protection for the Red Cross operating in Afghanistan.[2]  Although this was subsequently revoked, the Taliban reinstated this ban in April 2019.[3]

These are soft targets that are easy to hit and to garner media attention.  Terror attacks in crowded central Kabul inevitably generate a disproportionate amount of collateral casualties and damage.  The Taliban’s policy on targeting of such groups has been fluid over the years.  But these actions do not give any encouragement to the thoughts of peace talks which are currently supposed to be ongoing.


[1] Graham-Harrison, E., ‘Red Cross office in Afghanistan hit by suicide bombers’, The Guardian, 29 May 2013,

[2] ’Afghanistan Taliban withdraws protection for Red Cross’, BBC News, 15 Aug. 2018,

[3] ‘Afghan Taliban bans WHO and Red Cross work amid vaccination drive’, Reuters, 11 Apr. 2019,



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