Conflict in Afghanistan
December 2, 2020

Joint Chiefs Chair Gen. Mark Milley, speaking during a Brookings Institution event Wednesday, said that, after nearly 20 years in Afghanistan the U.S. has "achieved a modicum of success" with its military operations in the country. That's true, he argued, despite a current "state of strategic stalemate" and the inability to defeat the Taliban militarily.

The comments, which come as the military looks to execute President Trump's partial troop withdrawal order, sparked a backlash, with critics suggesting — some more explicitly — that a "modicum" is a fairly paltry amount of success to earn for such a high cost

Others added that Milley's analysis of the situation, even if it's interpreted as defeatist, still downplays the reality on the ground over the last two decades. Tim O'Donnell

November 29, 2020

Afghanistan officials reported a pair of separate fatal suicide bombings in the country Sunday.

At least 31 Afghan security force members were killed and 24 others wounded after an attacker reportedly drove a military humvee packed with explosives onto an army base outside the city of Ghazni on Sunday and detonated them. So far, no one has claimed responsibility for the suicide attack. Per Reuters, a spokesman for the Taliban did not confirm or deny the group's involvement.

Another suicide bomber targeted the convoy of Attajan Haqbayat, the council chief in the southern Zabul province, on Sunday, killing at least three people and wounding 21 others. Haqbayat survived the attack with minor injuries. No one has claimed responsibility for that incident, either; Reuters notes Haqbayat is an outspoken critic of the Taliban.

The Taliban and the Afghan government are seeking a solution to their decades-long conflict as the United States prepares to withdraw more troops from the country, but violence has surged throughout the negotiation process. The Taliban and the Islamic State have both carried out attacks in recent weeks. Read more at The Associated Press and Reuters. Tim O'Donnell

November 21, 2020

Nearly two dozen rockets hit Kabul's heavily fortified Green Zone, where many embassies and international firms are based, on Saturday, reportedly killing at least eight civilians and wounding at least 31 others in the Afghan capital. Tariq Arian, a spokesman for Afghanistan's interior ministry, said the perpetrators mounted the rockets on a small truck and set them off, adding that an investigation is under way.

The Islamic State has reportedly claimed responsibility, while the Taliban, which is involved in peace talks with the Afghan government as the sides seek an end to their decades-long conflict, denied involvement, saying it does "not blindly fire on public places." Despite the negotiations, violence has continued to rise in Afghanistan in recent weeks, with the Taliban and other armed groups carrying out attacks. The Afghan government has maintained the Taliban orchestrated another recent attack that was similarly claimed by ISIS.

There is reportedly hope that a breakthrough in the talks is just a few days away, as the U.S., under orders from President Trump, prepares to pull more than 2,000 troops out of Afghanistan. The move has been met with skepticism, although it was received positively by the Taliban. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is scheduled to meet with Taliban and Afghan negotiators Saturday in Qatar, the State Department announced Friday. Read more at Al Jazeera. Tim O'Donnell

October 24, 2020

At least 18 people were killed and 57 injured Saturday during a suicide bombing in Kabul, Afghanistan, the interior ministry said. The casualty toll may rise as family members continue searching hospitals where the wounded are being treated.

The explosion occurred outside an education center in Dasht-e-Barchi, a heavily Shiite neighborhood in the western section of the capital, per The Associated Press. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, and the Taliban — which has begun peace talks with the Afghan government amid an ongoing, decades-long conflict that has seen a recent surge in violence — rejected any involvement. The Islamic State said it was behind a similar attack that killed 34 students at an education center in 2018, but there has been no word from the militant group regarding the most recent incident.

Also on Saturday, one roadside bomb killed nine people in eastern Afghanistan, and a second killed two policemen after it struck their vehicle en route to the site of the first explosion. Again, no one claimed responsibility, although a spokesman for the provincial police claimed the Taliban had placed the explosives, AP reports. Read more at The Associated Press. Tim O'Donnell

May 19, 2020

The Taliban continued violent operations "at high levels" in Afghanistan during the lead up to and after the signing of a peace agreement with the United States earlier this year in the hopes of ending an 18-year conflict, the Lead Inspector General for Operation Freedom's quarterly report said.

In the days preceding the agreement, which was signed in February in Doha, Qatar, the two sides negotiated a week-long reduction in violence, but the latest report found that didn't happen. Instead, the Taliban reportedly limited violence against the U.S. and coalition forces, but increased attacks against the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces during the time period. Trump administration officials had praised the reduction period before Doha.

Then, after the agreement was signed, the Taliban reportedly escalated violence even further while the U.S. began to reduce its forces in Afghanistan, despite their exit being conditioned upon a fall in violence.

Since the agreement, there has been quite a bit of skepticism from the U.S. side about whether the Taliban would hold up its end of the deal, and there are efforts underway to determine whether that's the case. Tim O'Donnell

February 11, 2020

What's believed to be the first official government report by an independent inspector general to determine the "true cost" of United States reconstruction and stabilization missions in Afghanistan has "conservatively" identified 5,135 casualties, including 2,214 deaths, associated with such projects between April 17, 2002 and Dec. 31, 2018.

Special Inspector General for Afghanistan John F. Sopko sent the results of the report to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mark Esper among others last week. The investigation revealed 284 Americans and 1,447 Afghans killed (many more were wounded or kidnapped) in Afghanistan were performing reconstruction or stabilization missions, which involve "all direct or indirect" U.S. assistance in Afghanistan other than combat operations. That includes projects like rebuilding physical infrastructure or helping local political authorities manage conflict.

The data is incomplete and is scattered around many different places, so there's a chance the total number of casualties varies. Sopka's team subsequently left a harsh message for Washington in the report's conclusion. "While considerable effort is made to track the amount of U.S. dollars spent" on reconstruction and stabilization efforts, "this review shows that we do not adequately capture the human cost" of those projects, especially when it comes to third country nationals and Afghans, the report reads. Until the U.S. "considers the human costs," the true toll non-combat efforts have taken on Afghanistan can't be measured accurately. Read the full report here. Tim O'Donnell

July 7, 2019

A car bomb in central Afghanistan killed at least 12 people — eight members of the security forces and four civilians — and wounded more than 179 on Sunday. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the suicide attack, which was reportedly targeting an intelligence unit compound in the city of Ghazni.

The attack occurred just as Taliban officials were meeting with Afghan leaders in Qatar in an effort to end Afghanistan's wars. It also came just one day after United States peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad said the most recent round of negotiations between the U.S. and the Taliban in Doha had been "the most productive" since they began in September. He also said that "substantive progress" had been made on the withdrawal of foreign troops, Taliban anti-terror guarantees, and a permanent cease-fire.

Some officials have expressed concern that the attack will harm the talks between the Taliban and Afghan leaders, which were seen as a first step toward opening up negotiations between the Taliban and Afghan government officials. A spokesman for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said the bombing was "beyond understanding." Tim O'Donnell

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