GP Insights # 243, 4 February 2020
In the news
On 29 January, at least 14 Afghan security forces were killed and several more injured after Taliban fighters attacked security checkpoints in the northern Kunduz province. Eight soldiers and at least four policemen were injured in the overnight assault while three others were taken captive by Taliban fighters. The attack came a day after at least 11 police officers were killed and six others wounded in an attack carried out by the armed group in the capital of Baghlan province.
According to the quarterly report of the Office of the US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction that was released on 30 January 2020, attacks by the Taliban and other insurgent groups in Afghanistan reached record-high levels in late 2019 as peace talks between US and Taliban negotiators stalled. During the last three months of 2019, the Taliban and other insurgent groups launched more than 8,200 attacks against Afghan troops, American forces and civilians, which have increased from 6,974 attacks in the same period in 2018. The report also found that attacks launched by the Taliban and other insurgent groups increased by 6 per cent in 2019 from the previous year.
Issues at large
First, the violence is continuing despite the peace talks between the United States and the Taliban in Doha. A new direction in the peace talks was seen when the Taliban presented a proposal to the US special representative for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad. There was an expectation that it would reduce violence and restart long-stalled peace talks when negotiators met in January.
Kunduz is among the most volatile provinces in Afghanistan where the Taliban have a considerable presence and regularly carry out attacks against the government forces. The new wave of attacks against Afghan forces comes while Khalilzad is in Brussels to update NATO officials on the recently relaunched United States-Taliban peace talks.
Second, since 2018, the push for peace continues side by side with a spike in violence as the US-backed government and the Taliban have looked to gain negotiating leverage through battlefield gains. Increased violence has resulted in record-high civilian casualties and rising casualties among Afghanistan's security forces. The American military command in Kabul has already begun reducing forces despite stalled talks, bringing US troops in Afghanistan down to 13,000. At the height of the war in 2010 and 2011, there were more than 100,000 US forces in Afghanistan.
First, the surge in hostilities signals deadlocks at stop-start peace talks involving US and Taliban negotiators in Doha. Despite a concerted bombing campaign and American-Afghan offensive ground operations, Taliban fighters can attack at levels similar to those a decade ago. It goes to show nothing much has changed, and the war in Afghanistan might not witness a peaceful or complete ceasefire anytime soon.
Second, the Taliban's continued attacks hint at limits of American strategy in Afghanistan. The number of attacks, detailed in the quarterly inspector general report, highlights the disparity between talking points and reality. The increase in violence occurred during a period in which President Trump tweeted that the United States was "hitting our Enemy harder than at any time in the last ten years!"
Third, the Afghan government, so far excluded from the talks, has asked the United States to agree to nothing but an extensive ceasefire. It fears that if the United States signs an initial deal with violence levels reduced only in the cities, the war will continue to rage in the countryside, with casualties being from the Afghan forces and the unsuspecting civilians.