Taliban in Afghanistan
Increased violence and instability in Afghanistan resulting from the withdrawal of coalition combat forces and strengthening of the Taliban insurgency
President Obama announced in October 2015 a halt to further withdrawal of U.S. military forces from Afghanistan. The 9,800 U.S. troops participating in the train, advise, and assist mission, and counterterrorism operations will remain in country through the end of 2016, and will be joined be an additional 2,000 North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) troops. The policy reversal comes after months of high Afghanistan National Security Forces (ANSF) casualties, increased difficulty maintaining security and protecting territory, and reports of a growing self-proclaimed Islamic State and resurgent al-Qaeda presence.
In September 2015, after months of stalemate with Afghan government forces, the Taliban captured the northern provincial capital of Kunduz. This was the first time since 2001 that the Taliban held a major Afghan city. The battle to take back the city, launched by ANSF and backed by U.S. special forces and air power, lasted for two weeks and highlighted fears that the ANSF may not be capable of defending major population centers. During the fight, U.S. forces mistakenly targeted a Médecins Sans Frontières hospital, killing twenty-two people.
In late July 2015, the Taliban confirmed that reclusive leader Mullah Omar, not seen since the invasion in 2001 and believed to have been hiding in Pakistan, had died in a Pakistani hospital in early 2013. Long time deputy Mullah Akhtar Mansour was selected to lead the insurgency, but disagreement over the decision threatens to fracture the movement, and has led some disaffected commanders to defect to the Islamic State.
In the wake of al-Qaeda’s September 11, 2001, attacks, the United States invaded Afghanistan after the Taliban government refused to hand over Osama bin Laden. The Taliban leadership quickly lost control of the country and relocated to southern Afghanistan and across the border to Pakistan. From there, they have waged an insurgency against the Western-backed government in Kabul, international coalition troops, and Afghan national security forces.
The Taliban now controls more territory than at any time since the U.S. invasion in 2001 and continues to carry out suicide bombings in major cities. 2015 is the first year the ANSF have been responsible for securing the country, with only about 12,000 NATO troops remaining in the country following the U.S. drawdown at the end of 2014. The first half of 2015 saw a 40 percent jump in ANSF casualties, with more than 4,300 security forces personnel killed and another 8,000 wounded. Over that same period, there were 1,592 civilian deaths and 3,329 injuries.
Afghanistan’s 2014 presidential election resulted in political deadlock, requiring two rounds of voting and an international audit to address allegations of voter fraud. In early September 2014, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry brokered an agreement to form a national unity government led by Ashraf Ghani as president and Abdullah Abdullah as chief executive. Ghani and Abdullah face challenges jointly governing a country increasingly plagued by Taliban-led violence
Uncertainty surrounding the future of international donor assistance has strained the Afghan economy. While the United States and its allies have pledged to provide support to Kabul, the transition to a peacetime economy risks further destabilizing Afghan society by inflating the budget deficit and increasing unemployment rates.
The United States has a vital interest in preserving the many political, economic, and security gains that have been achieved in Afghanistan since 2001. A resurgence of the Taliban insurgency could once again turn Afghanistan into a terrorist safe haven. Moreover, internal instability in Afghanistan could have larger regional ramifications as Pakistan, India, Iran, and Russia compete for influence in Kabul and among influential subnational actors.
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