05.11.2013 Author: Viktor Titov

Silent degradation of the situation in Afghanistan

The military-political situation in Afghanistan is currently characterized by the activation of a specific subversive work of Taliban Movement (TM) with reduced activities of foreign troops and government forces to combat the armed opposition. The most intense fighting activities are led in the southern and eastern provinces of the country. Despite the large-scale joint anti-terror operations of Afghan security forces, including the army and police force (ANSF) and International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), the armed opposition continues to strengthen its influence practically all over the IRA.

In addition to TM, other active extremist groups such as the Islamic Party of Afghanistan G. Hekmatyara (IPA), Al-Qaeda, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and its breakaway faction the Islamic Jihad Union, and the Haqqani group are active in the country. The situation is complicated by the close interaction of the Afghan and Pakistan Talibans, as well as a large-scale infiltration of militants across the Afghan-Pakistan border. According to NATO, the armed militants in Afghanistan reach more than 35 thousand people. Although, according to an internal Afghan source, in fact, their number is approximately 60 thousand people. In this case, the total number of troops in the north of the IRA represents more than 7 thousand people, including a number of IMU – that has more than 3 thousand fighters. In autumn 2013, a sharp increase in IMU activity was observed in northern Afghanistan. Its militant attacks against ANSF in the first half of 2013 increased by 60%, compared to the same period in 2012. The militants are leading an active mine-explosive war, extensively using improvised devices and suicide bombers.

It is impossible to exclude that the current strengthening of the position of TM and the IMU in the north of the IRA may have a negative impact on the situation in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.

One of the key sources of terrorist groups’ financing is related to drug production and drug trafficking. ISAF management believes, according to an evaluation made in April this year, 35– 40% of funds for the insurgents comes from the drug trade. The conclusions of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime also point to the close interaction between extremists and drug traffickers.

The process, launched in 2011, of withdrawal of coalition troops from Afghanistan continues. For the period from January to August this year, ISAF casualties in Afghanistan were 54 killed and 574 wounded soldiers. In the presented NATO report to the UN Security Council in September, it is noted that the loss of the ANSF in the second quarter of this year doubled, compared to the first quarter of 2013 (IRA Ministry of Defense does not publish concrete data).

In 2012, the Americans withdrew from Afghanistan 33 thousand soldiers, that had been sent “to strengthen” forces in 2009. In 2012–2013, the UK also reduced its contingent by nearly 1,500 people (down to 8 thousand troops in March of this year), and by the end of 2013 they will have reduced the number of troops to 5,200. In February 2013, Obama announced the reduction of U.S. troops from 68 thousand to 34 thousand by February 2014.

After 2014, ISAF will convert to the NATO mission “Resolute support” (8–12 thousand troops, of which at least 50–60% will be Americans). Its stated goals are training for the ANSF staff and consulting the high command staff (instruction-level brigades and battalions will be discontinued). A separate U.S. contingent (2–4 thousand people), which may be joined by other U.S. allies, will solve the problem for counter terrorism fighting against Al Qaeda, as the Afghan national security forces will be busy with the Taliban. The representatives of the USA will command the two missions.             

Washington is making efforts to consolidate its long-term military presence in the country after 2014. In May 2012, the United States and the IRA signed an agreement on a long-term strategic partnership. The document was signed for a period up to 2024, having a framework character and it defines the principles of cooperation in the sphere of security. Moreover, the U.S. promotes the social and economic development of Afghanistan.

In addition to the October-November 2013 Afghan-American strategic partnership agreement, they plan to sign a separate bilateral agreement on security (will govern the presence of U.S. troops remaining in the IRA). A key issue for the signing of this agreement is the immunity of U.S. troops, when touching upon Afghan jurisdiction.

On May 9, H. Karzai said that Afghanistan would allow the placement of 9 U.S. military bases on its territory, but only after the United States will have provided guarantees to Afghanistan in the fields of economy and security. The president of Afghanistan also noted that the United States wants to keep military bases in Kabul, Bagram, Mazar-e-Sharif, Jalalabad, Gardez, Kandahar, Helmand, Shindand and Herat.

NATO wants to sign a similar document on security with Afghanistan, while taking as a basis the agreement between the U.S. and the IRA. They plan to introduce here all the key parameters of the US-Afghan agreement, including the immunity and privileges of the military, tax and customs exemptions, personnel freedom of movement throughout the country, involved in the education and training of ANSF troops, without the right of inspection of vehicles, including air transportation.

Currently, ISAF forces are located on approximately 300 military bases. U.S. carried out in IRA operations on strengthening its military facilities, including permanent bases.

On June 18 of this year, announced was the beginning of the last, 5th stage of transmission, after which, in December 2014, Afghan national security forces will be responsible for ensuring the safety of the country.

Afghan army and police problems at the moment are their low combat capability, desertion, lack of cash allowance, widespread corruption. 3 out of every 10 new ANA recruits desert monthly, are killed, wounded or taken prisoners. Total monthly losses of ANA represent more than 5 thousand troops. There is a reducing trend in the number of new ANSF recruits. In January – March 2013, there was a rise of internal killings in the ANSF.

By March 2013, they plan to increase the total number of Afghan national security forces to 352 thousand people, however, according to a NATO’s report, made in April, ANSF soldiers numbered only 339 thousand. ISAF plans to achieve the quantitative level of 352 thousand soldiers by the end of 2013 and to support them up to 2018. This is mostly due to Washington’s agreement to provide adequate funding.

There is a weariness felt by the population of this long war and the presence of foreign troops on the territory of the countries, which are bombing villages, conducting night raids, arresting and killing civilians, and destroying their property.

Recently, on the background of NATO’s ending of its military mission, Kabul intensified efforts to achieve progress in the process of national reconciliation. In January of this year, H. Karzai appointed to the High Peace Council, the exclusive representative of IRA authorities, for official negotiations with the TM. In March of this year, H. Karzai visited H. Al-Thani, the Emir of Qatar, at his invitation, where he talked about the process of reconciliation in Afghanistan and the opening of a Taliban contact office in Doha.

Taliban office in Doha, was officially opened on June 18 of this year. At the opening of the office, there was a conflict caused by the Taliban, who placed official symbols of the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” on the office building (the sign “The political office of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” and the flag of the emirate). IRA National Security Council issued a statement about the suspension of negotiations with the U.S.A. on the Afghan-American security agreement, because of the situation around the TM office in Qatar. Later the flag and the sign were removed from the territory of the office under pressure of the U.S.A. and Qatar.

On July 9 of this year, TM announced the suspension of its recently opened office in Qatar and of all the international political contacts, in connection with the alleged unsettled question of the right to call the office, the “Political Bureau of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” and to have the Islamists’ flag on it.

On September 1, D. Musazay, IRA Foreign Ministry spokesman, said that the Afghan government is working on the opening of a Taliban office on the territory of Afghanistan, trying to achieve the consent of the TM to open an office and to negotiate in Kabul. Moreover, the spokesman said that the Ministry guaranteed the safety and immunity of the office and its staff. However, if the TM does not want to open an office in IRA, the government is ready to hold talks in Saudi Arabia or Turkey.

The country continues preparations for the presidential elections scheduled for April 5, 2014. In June of this year, the process of registration and re-registration of voters began. Then the IRA parliament adopted a new version of the election law, approved by the President of the IRA. H. Karzai signed a bill, approved by the Parliament on the activities of the IRA Complaints Commission responsible for election irregularities. According to the document, the committee members will be appointed by the citizens of the IRA. UN staff, previously included in the structure, will be dismissed from their posts.

In early August of this year, M.Yu. Nuristani was elected as the new Chairman of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC). He was previously IRA Deputy Minister Defense and the governor of Herat Province (he also has U.S. citizenship). A.R. Hotaki was appointed as the Deputy Chairman of the IEC. G. Achakzay was appointed as the Secretary of the Commission.

On October 6 of this year, the registration of IRA presidential candidates’ campaign ended. In total, there were 27 candidates, including Z. Rasula, the current Minister of Foreign Affairs, A. Abdullah, the former Minister of Foreign Affairs (Tajik), A.G. Ahmadzaya (Pashtun) A.R. Sayyafa (Pashtun), Kayum Karzai (Pashtun, H. Karzai’s brother), A.R. Vardaka (Pashtun), the former Minister of Defense and a number of other political figures of the country.

In accordance with IRA Constitution, Hamid Karzai, who is in office for a second consecutive term, can no longer stand as a candidate. The election campaign kicks off on November 17 of this year and will end on April 2, 2014

In early September, in Kabul, officially announced was the formation of the opposition bloc “Elected Alliance of Afghanistan”, created for the purpose of nominating a single candidate in the presidential election. In total, the unit includes 14 political parties and a number of leading politicians of the country, including the National Front of Afghanistan (A.Z. Masud), the Party of Islamic Unity of the Peoples of Afghanistan (M. Mohakkek), the National Coalition of Afghanistan (A. Abdullah), National Islamic Movement of Afghanistan (A.R. Dostum), A.M. Nura, the governor of Balkh province, A. Salih, the former head of the Gongbei (secret service), Yu. Kanuni, the former speaker of the parliament, S. Rabbani, the head of the High Peace Council and the others.

There was announced the setting up of another election bloc (still-untitled), which consists of Z. Halilzad, a former U.S. ambassador in the UN and the Ambassador to Iraq and Afghanistan, A.H. Ahadi, IRA Minister of Trade and Industry, and A.A. Dzhalali, the former Minister of Interior Affairs.

On May 26 of this year, IRA Independent Electoral Commission began the first phase of registration of voters. As of October 9, there were registered more than 2 million new voters, including more than 650 thousand women, in the country.

Z. Amarheyl, the Head of the Secretariat of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) of IRA noted that there were serious concerns about the security of polling stations in the upcoming presidential election. Z. Amarheyl noted that 3410 of 6845 polling stations are threatened, which casts doubt on the possibility of holding elections as such.

Therefore, today, no one can predict the nearest future of the country. It is possible to speak about some kind of security in Kabul and other major cities while there are still NATO and significant allied forces present. However, all will deteriorate when they are gone, and this will lead to anarchy at first, and then to the coming to power of the Taliban, which will return IRA to the Vahhabit Emirate of 2001, where only Sharia laws will be valid.

Viktor Titov, Ph.D., political commentator on the Middle East, especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.