In response to the horrific events of 9/11, the U.S. launched a military offensive on Afghanistan in search of al-Qaeda’s leader, Osama Bin Laden. This mission saw millions of homes and lives destroyed, and took power away from the Taliban but restored it back to the Afghan warlords in the North-East. The rebuilding of war-torn Afghanistan began in 2002 and despite NATO’s best efforts to establish a democratic state, Taliban shadow-governments continued to dominate much of the country. midst growing signs that what was once a low-intensity conflict has now escalated into a war, the UN strategic review of 2017 reclassified Afghanistan from a post-conflict country to one in active conflict. The U.S. mission has transformed into one of aiding the Afghan government in its civil war against the Taliban. Fighting between Afghan government and Taliban forces combined with surges of sectarian violence intensified through 2017, causing high numbers of civilian casualties. Afghanistan is afflicted also by high levels of terrorist infighting as the Taliban in particular have rejected ISIS’s encroachment into their territory.

Primary Terrorist Presence in Afghanistan: The CIA lists 8  Foreign Terrorist Organizations as active in Afghanistan. The most prominent of those include…

  • Taliban:  Formed in 1994, the Taliban are the predominant umbrella group for the Afghan insurgency, including the semi-autonomous Haqqani Network. As of 2017, the Taliban control more than a third of the country and continue to make territorial gains. They have also carried out high-profile attacks in Kabul and across the country throughout the summer of 2017.  As of January 2018, officials estimate that the Taliban included at least 60,000 fighters, almost a 66% rise since 2014.

  • Haqqani Network (HQN): Formed in the late 1970s, the Haqqani Network (HQN) was designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the U.S. in 2012.  HQN is believed to have several hundred core members and cooperates closely with the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

  • Al Qaeda and Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS): Though the Taliban and Al Qaeda have strong ties, this insurgent group is most active outside of Afghanistan. Afghan officials say al -Qaeda activity in the area has also decreased after years of drone strikes. More recently, the group has shifted its focus towards a larger, newer regional subgroup, called Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS). This group aims to establish an Islamic caliphate in the Indian subcontinent and maintains its heaviest presence in Afghanistan (Politico). The intelligence community’s official assessment is that both the main al-Qaeda organization and  AQIS “maintain the intent to conduct attacks against the United States and the West.”

  • Islamic State: ISIS has declared Afghanistan and Pakistan to be a singular region called the Khorasan Province. Islamic State’s Khorasan Province (ISIS-K) was designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization in  2016. The group is based in Afghanistan, conducts operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan and is composed primarily of former members of the Taliban. According to U.S. intelligence assessments, the ISIS affiliate is fighting against both the Afghan government and the Taliban. Afghan officials believe there are now an estimated 3,000 Islamic State fighters in Afghanistan (New York Times).

Other Groups Engaged in the Conflict:

  • Northern Alliance: The Northern Alliance is an anti-Taliban coalition dominated by ethnic Tajiks and is said to be supported by Iran.

  • Afghan National Defence and Security Forces (ANDSF): Once the U.S. officially concluded Operation Enduring Freedom and NATO ended the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission, the Afghan National Defense and Security forces (ANDSF) took over full security responsibility in Afghanistan on January 1, 2015. According to the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), ANDSF, which includes the army, air force and police, is comprised of an estimated 296,400 personnel. This main pro-government force continues to face significant challenges in holding territory and defending population centers.

  • The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO): NATO led the UN-mandated International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) from August 2003 to December 2014.  The Resolute Support Mission (RSM), launched in January 2015, shifted the responsibility for security in Afghanistan to the Afghan national defence and security forces.  In June 2017, NATO vowed to increase troop levels under RSM to continue to train, advise, and assist the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF). As of 2018, there are still 15,623 NATO troops in Afghanistan.

  • United States: The U.S. military, with British support, officially launched Operation Enduring Freedom and began a bombing campaign against Taliban forces. Canada, Australia, Germany, and France also pledged support. In April 2017, the United States dropped the most powerful conventional weapon commonly known as the “Mother of All Bombs”  on a network of caves along the border with Pakistan. As of the fall of 2018 there are approximately 15,000 U.S. troops remaining and President Trump announced plans to send more troops to fight a resurgent Taliban (BBC).

Human Rights, Humanitarian and Refugee Crises:

  • In the first six months of 2018, the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) reported that 1,692 were civilians killed. According to the report, 42 percent of the casualties are attributed to the Taliban, 18 percent to ISIS, and 7 percent to unidentified attackers.

  • Improvised explosive devices (IED) remained the leading cause of civilian casualties  (HRW).

  • About 2.6 million Afghan refugees live outside the country (Amnesty International).

Other restrictions on Humanitarian Aid:

  • Afghanistan remains one of the most dangerous countries in the world for humanitarians to operate. In 2017 there were over 17 aid workers killed, 15 injured and 43 abducted (UNOCHA)

  • Afghanistan is considered prone to a number of natural disasters, i.e.: earthquakes, flooding, drought, landslides, and avalanches (GNDR). Growing insecurity has left many organisations reluctant to leave provincial capitals to access harder-to-reach, affected areas.

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