President Obama has set out his plan for our withdrawal from Afghanistan, one with which his military chain of command is not pleased. I intend to start tracking this withdrawal in a serial article updated as I get new information. I began my effort on June 24, 2011.
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Situation in Afghanistan deteriorating
Despite government and military statements to the contrary, a growing consensus of other experts assesses the situation in Afghanistan as deteriorating. The Taliban appears to be getting stronger and stronger despite all efforts to fight them. Afghan forces are fighting, in many cases bravely so, but they cannot cope with the challenges.
Helmand Province is currently the site of fierce fighting and the Taliban is making great gains. Britain has decided to send in a small amount of ground forces to advise and assist. Afghan officials have expressed concerned over what they described as "the rapid advance of the Taliban" in Helmand Province and warned several areas in the southern province may fall to the militant group.
On December 19, 2015 Helmand Deputy Governor Mohammad Jan Rasoolyar pleaded for urgent reinforcement and assistance from Kabul. On December 18, some 44 people in Sangin were killed. The governor said the Taliban now controls the main highway that links Marjah to the provincial capital, Lashkar Gah. Several areas in Helmand appear primed to fall to the Taliban. Afghan forces are said to be exhausted.
Sources in Sangin on December 23, 2015 have told the UK's Independent that the Afghan Army has abandoned its base and police headquarters in the town of Sangin and that the Taliban now control the entire district. Reinforcements have been dispatched, some small number of British forces are there, and it is arguable whether the Taliban will be able to hold the town, but reports form the area are grim.
Heavy fighting is also occurring in the northern province areas. Recall the Taliban took the northern city of Kunduz in late September 2015. The area remains contested.
On December 21, a suicide bomber killed six American troops on patrol in a village near Bagram Airfield, the largest US facility in Afghanistan. There were also rocket attacks in Kabul the same day. Taliban forces also took Kunduz.
David Sedney, a former Defense Department official told BBC on December 21 that he thinks the security situation is the worst since before the surge of US forces in 2009. fghans are worried, and many are fleeing. They have little confidence in their future.
The ISIS threat is also growing, though the Taliban is fighting against ISIS as well. (102315)
Taliban not a US target, but rather an important partner!
The Stratfor Global Intelligence Group reported on November 5, 2015 that a Pentagon spokesman said at a media briefing on November 4, 2015 that the US is not active target the Afghan Taliban or conducting counter-terrorism operations against it, but rather the US views the Taliban as an important partner in a peaceful Afghan-led reconciliation process. Wow! (110615)
Afghan situation a disaster
No matter how one cuts it, the situation in Afghanistan is a disaster. The Taliban is making a strong comeback, especially in the north. The Iraqi Army fled Kunduz when the Taliban attacked. To that point, US and Afghan leaders felt confident that the Taliban could seize major cities. Al-Qaeda affiliates are joining with the Taliban. The Afghan political-military structure is crumbling with feuds and divided allegiances. It is arguable what the Kabul government really controls. Generals feel beholding to the political pals. ISIS is in Afghanistan, growing faster than expected, and now threatens the entire country. The Taliban is now targeting other major cities. The financial costs to the US have bene overwhelming. Increasingly US advisers find themselves in the fight. And thousands of Afghan refugees are fleeing the country. (102615)
Taliban claims it hit an USAF F-16
The Taliban claims hit an USAF F-16 with small arms fire over eastern Paktia province in Afghanistan on October 13, 2015. AFP has reported that military officials confirmed the F-16 was hit and that the pilot jettisoned his fuel tanks and munitions before successfully returning to base. The USAF has confirmed an F-16 received small arms fire and that the enemy attack did impact one of its munitions stabilizers and caused damage to the munitions. AFP quoted a military official saying, "The pilot jettisoned two fuel tanks and three munitions before safely returning to base. The pilot received no injuries and safely returned to base." The US has one squadron (12-18 aircraft) of F-16s at Bagram AB, the 555th Fighter Squadron. The USAF has said the F-16 was in a low-level flight over territory known to be infested with Taliban. The Taliban is displaying photos such as the one above. A military analyst at the scene said the jet had lost two fuel tanks, an air-to-ground missile, and two other unguided bombs. There are no reports yet of any larger weapons or surface-to-air missiles being used. (102015)
Afghanistan remains Taliban and al Qaeda may be coordinating in the north, rival factions, ISIS active focused on the south
Since September 28, 2015, the Taliban have stepped up the pace of its operations in Afghanistan. Furthermore, the al Qaeda leadership has urged all Taliban insurgents to pledge their loyalty to the Taliban leader, Mullah Akhtar Mansour. The open question now is whether al Qaeda is joining the Taliban in some kind of coordinated effort. As I have reported earlier, the Taliban is on the offensive in the north which contain key transit routes. This appears to be a prelude to an offensive against Kabul sometime in the future. The Taliban has to face rival factions, however, one of which is ISIS. These rivals appear primed to attack the southern provinces. (101815)
Obama announces new plan for US forces in Afghanistan
President Obama has announced the US will maintain thousands of troops in Afghanistan into 2017 instead of a nearly total withdrawal by the end of 2016. A senior defense official has said the US will probably maintain a force of 9,800 through 2016, and draw down to 5,600 in 2017 depending on the situation. NATO will now determine what to retain in country as well.
US considering slowing or halting withdrawal form Afghanistan
The New York Times reported on October 14, 2015 that President Obama is considering slowing or halting the US military force levels from Afghanistan. Many figures are floating, but apparently 3,000-5,0000 to conduct counter-terrorism is the popular figure. (101415)
Taliban reach in Afghanistan widens
Foreign Policy reflected a New York Times report on October 12, 2015 that says, "The Afghan Taliban has extended its reach through more of Afghanistan than at any time since their fall from power in 2001 … In the past two weeks, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan evacuated four of its 13 offices in the country for security reasons – and before the evacuation the U.N. had rated the threat level in half of Afghanistan’s administrative districts as 'high' or 'extreme.'" In addition, Radio Free Europe reported on October 7 that the Taliban is on the verge of threatening large parts of Afghanistan, and Vice President Dostum, a graduate of the Soviet Military Academy, has gone to Russia to seek help. (101215)
Taliban focused heavily on northern Afghanistan
The Taliban seized the northern Afghan city of Kunduz, the Afghan Army has reportedly taken it back, but the situation there is not at all clear. What is clear is that the Taliban offensive begun on or about September 21, 2005 has resulted in it attacking nine districts in four northern provinces. Four districts in Takhar Province have fallen to the Taliban. The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) has said, "The attacks throughout northern Afghanistan indicate that Taliban militants are executing a broader northern offensive in Kunduz, Baghlan, Takhar, and Badakhshan provinces. (100215)
Taliban conducting cross-country operations
The Taliban and other militant units are engaged in operations across all of Afghanistan and has been hitting major population centers and US bases. They are also conducting ground assaults to seize district centers, most notably in northern and southern Afghanistan. They claim to control multiple district centers. In some cases, there appears to be infighting within the Taliban as various factions compete for control of various places. Al-Qaeda may also be reinforcing a faction of the Taliban. (091915)
Afghan Security Forces retake Musa Qala
Afghan Security Forces retook the town of Musa Qala in Helmand Province on August 30, 2015 support by US air power. The Taliban held the town for only four days. NAYTO special forces quickly deployed to the area of advise the Afghans on how to handle their offensive. (090115)
NATO and Afghan forces on offense in Helmand
Radio Free Europe (RFE) reported on August 28, 2015 that NATO forces have joined with Afghan forces to launch a counteroffensive in Helmand. NATO air forces have attacked Taliban forces i themes Qala district area, and RFE said some NATO forces are on the ground supporting Afghan forces. (083115)
Taliban takes Musa Qala
The UK's Telegraph reported on August 26, 2015 that the Taliban has overrun Musa Qala in Afghanistan's Helmand Province. A good deal of British and American blood was spilled over several years during the war to evict the Taliban from this opium rich area. Despite calls from the governor, the Afghan government did not respond as the Taliban surrounded the town. I do not know how many Afghan soldiers were defending the town, but the Telegraph said at least 25 Afghan soldiers and police were killed. The message here is the Afghan military is not ready to fight. It took only about 100 Taliban to get the job done. (082715)
Plethora of threats pushing Afghanistan to sidelines?
National Public Radio has raised a most interesting question: "Is Afghanistan Backsliding?" It has suggested that the wars in Syria, Yemen and Iraq have caused the war in Afghanistan to slip to the rear in American priorities. I would add Russia, China and Ukraine.
President Ghani has blamed a series of bombing attacks in and around Kabul that have killed more than 50 people and wounded hundreds more on Pakistan. NPR reported on August 16, 2015 that Ghani tweeted, "We hoped for peace, but war is declared against us from Pak territory. This in fact puts into a display a clear hostility against a neighbor."
Furthermore, Masoom Stanekzai, the acting defense minister, has said Pakistan is in a declared ar against Afghanistan. he said, "Allegiances are being promised to Taliban's new leader in open meetings [in Pakistan], and they [Taliban] announce at such meetings that they are continuing their war and also at such meetings, they claim responsibility for the biggest crime that recently took place in Kabul. What does this all mean? This means an undeclared war has turned into a declared war."
NPR has reported, "In the first half of 2015, the number of civilians injured or killed reached 4,921, according to the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan ... The U.S. combat mission officially ended last Dec. 31. The U.S. still has 9,800 troops in Afghanistan and is spending nearly $60 billion this year on war-related costs, but Americans are serving only in advisory and training roles. Air support and surveillance capabilities support have ended. Most NATO forces have left the country ... Afghan forces are now responsible for the country's security, and they've endured heavy losses so far this year."
Militants are thought to be entering Afghanistan in large numbers from elsewhere in the world.
Questions now exist as to the degree of commitment of the US and others in Afghanistan. (082015)
US not yet firm on pace of Afghan withdrawal in 2016
Colonel Brian Tribus, an US military spokesman for US forces in Afghanistan, told reporters on July 20, 2015 the US has not yet decided on the pace of withdrawal from Afghanistan by the end of 2016. He said a decision is expected in the autumn. The growing activities by ISIS in Afghanistan is apparently a top concern. (072415)
Russia withdraws authorizations for NATO cargo transit of her territory
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has revoked all Russian authorizations for NATO cargo to transit Russian territory to Afghanistan. The excuse used is that the UNSC resolution authorizing international forces to operate in Afghanistan expired on December 31, 2014. This effectively closes the northern route in and out, which means only the southern option to Karachi, Pakistan or air transport are left. (051915)
US forces now in the fight
Foreign Policy reported on April 30, 2015, “American forces are being pulled back into engagements with low-level insurgents in Afghanistan despite the mission of training and advising according to a report in the New York Times. The news service went on to say US forces are engaged in an “aggressive range of military operations against the Taliban.” We reported earlier that the Taliban has begun its spring offensive. (050115)Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev revoked a decree that allowed for the delivery of NATO military equipment to Afghanistan through Russian territory on Monday (Pajhwok, RT).
Taliban offensive has begun --- US base attacked
The Taliban has begun its spring offensive. They attacked the US Bagram base outside Kabul with rockets, no casualties or injuries. The Taliban said they launched 108 attacks across the country. Thus far, no serious damage or injuries though that is sure to come. (042615)
Taliban spring offensive about to begin --- first time no NATO combat forces
The Taliban has announced it intends to start its spring offensive the week of April 26, 2015. This will be the first such offensive without NATO ground combat forces to oppose it. Attacks in the north and east have increased. Fighting has been underway in Helmand Province in the south for about two months. The Taliban’s problem is that after all its fighting it has not come any closer to taking control of the country. The sense is ISIS will try to fill that void on its own. (042515)
US troops in Afghanistan may see more fighting
Major General Mike Murray, USA, deputy commander, US Forces Afghanistan-Support, and commander of the 3rd Infantry Division, has noted that the presidential decision to slow down the US withdrawal means the remaining US troops have to focus more on the upcoming fighting season than on closing bases and drawing down equipment. Originally, downsizing was the focus. The fighting season usually starts in the spring and goes full bore in summer, as the snow melts away. At the moment, the Afghans have not had a good run with heavy fighting in Helmand and in the northeast. It is not clear to me what US military involvement beyond advising and training will be needed. (041415)
Kandahar and Jalalabad bases like to stay active after 2015
Reuters reported on March 18, 2015 that the US military bases in Kandahar and Jalalabad are like to remain open beyond 2015. Afghan President Ghani is to visit Washington this week and favors the US slowing down its withdrawal. President Obama reportedly has not yet made firm decisions. (032215)
Lt. General Wolters updates us on USAF deployments supporting Afghanistan
Lt. Gen. Tod Wolters, the Air Staff's director of operations, provided an update on current USAF global operations on March 17, 2015 in Washington. Air Force Magazine reported he said 15,000-18,000 airmen are deployed in support of operations from Afghanistan. The US has flown some 16,000 sorties there, 65 percent of which involved airmen. He added the USAF has been involved in 65 percent of the 1,500-plus airstrikes thus far in Iraq and Syria. General Wolters noted that tactics and procedures in Iraq and Syria vary, they are "very sensitive and very elegant" while still giving US and coalition officials the "ability to neutralize the threat" in nearly all scenarios. (031915)
US may keep two bases open beyond the end of 2015
Foreign Policy reported on March 19, 2015, “The U.S. military bases in the cities of Kandahar and Jalalabad are likely to remain open beyond the end of 2015, a senior U.S. official told Reuters on (March 18, 2015).” (031915)
Administration changing withdrawal plans, but much unknown, undecided
U.S. officials said on March 16, 2015 that the Obama administration will no longer be cutting the number of soldiers in Afghanistan to 5,500 by the end of 2015. However, the administration does not yet know what the numbers will be. We have also learned that of the US forces currently in Afghanistan supposedly for “training the Afghans,” some 2,000 are actually conducting combat counter-terrorism missions in Afghanistan. There has been talking of changing the withdrawal schedule for some time. It is disappointing to learn this is as far as the Obama admin has gone. Everything is still up in the air. (031615)
SecDef Carter discussing troop withdrawals with Afghan president
SecDef Ashton Carter was in Kabu discussing US troop withdrawals with Afghan President Ghani on February 21, 2015. Carter said President Obama is considering some new options and has hinted the troop withdrawals may be slowed down. He said, “I’m not looking for an increase in numbers. Would any commander want more? We always want more. But I’m [working] within President Obama’s framework guidance (and) I don’t see the number going up. I see [taking] what we have [now and] making it [work] better ... I think it’s safe to say … counterterrorism will be a continuing preoccupation and commitment of ours here … and we are discussing and rethinking the details of the counterterrorism mission and how the environment has changed here with respect to terrorism since we first laid out our plans.” (022115)
General Campbell wants to slow down withdrawal
General John Campbell, USA, commander US forces Afghanistan, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on February 12, 2015 he supports slowing down troop withdrawals from Afghanistan. He said this was the first fighting season where Afghan forces would be on their own. He did not provide specifics in the open-door session, but was to do so in a closed door session. (021215)
SecDef nominee says would review Afghan withdrawal plans
Ashton Carter, President Obama’s nominee to be the next SecDef, has told Congress in his answers to a questionnaire that he would consider changing the US withdrawal plan for Afghanistan. He responded “yes” to the question as to whether he would consider recommending changes to the current pace and size of the withdrawal plan. (020315)
Marines heading back to Afghanistan
The 2nd Marine Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company (ANGLICO) is sending an undisclosed number of Marines to Afghanistan to conduct “security operations” there. The Marines have said its force has been "tested on their reaction to different insurgency situations such as counter improvised explosive device patrols and investigating the origin of enemy fire.” It is not yet known when they will deploy or how many will be going. The Marines have said its force will be instructed to continue missions against the Taliban and other militant groups and US attack aircraft will be used to support them on the ground as required. ANGLICO forces plan, coordinate, employ and conduct terminal control of fires in support. (011115)
SACEUR warns more US casualties in Afghan “unavoidable”
Afghan President recommends US-NATO re-examine timelines
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said the United States might want to “re-examine” its timeline for withdrawing the remaining U.S. troops from the country. There are about 13,000 US forces still in Afghanistan under the NATO Resolute Support training and advising mission and the US counter-terrorism mission. By re-examine timelines, he means keep forces there longer than now planned. (010514)
Operation Resolute Support has begun
Operation Resolute Support, the NATO transition to a “non-combat mission in a combat environment,” began effective January 1, 2015. The US is working with its allies and partners as part of NATO's Resolute Support Mission to continue training, advising, and assisting Afghan security forces. Separately, the US is also conducting its “counterterrorism mission against the remnants of Al-Qaeda to ensure that Afghanistan is never again used to stage attacks against our homeland.” (010215)