Region
Impact on U.S. Interests
 
Conflict Status
 
Type of Conflict

14,000

Number of U.S. troops remaining

Source

17,148

Number of NATO troops remaining

Source

$18.8 BILLION

Amount of U.S. foreign aid dispersed

Source

Recent Developments

Representatives from the U.S. government and the Taliban have engaged in a series of direct negotiations throughout 2019. In January 2019, after a week of talks with Taliban representatives in Qatar, U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad announced that U.S. and Taliban officials had agreed in principle to a framework for peace negotiations. Under the framework, the Taliban reportedly agreed to prevent territory in Afghanistan from being used by terrorist organizations in return for a withdrawal of U.S. troops, among other concessions.

In August 2019, after eight rounds of talks, the two sides reportedly neared an initial peace agreement that would see a withdrawal of four to five thousand U.S. troops from Afghanistan if the Taliban agree to a cease-fire and enter into direct negotiations with the Afghan government. However, with no cease-fire yet in place, the United States has increased air strikes and raids targeting the Taliban as talks are ongoing, while the Taliban continues to carry out attacks on Afghan government targets.

Violence has continued across Afghanistan in 2019, as the Taliban continue to make territorial gains and target Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) bases and outposts. They have also carried out high-profile attacks across the country, including in Kabul. Over the past year, the Islamic State-Khorasan Province, also known as ISIS-KP, has also continued to expand and maintains a presence in several eastern Afghan provinces. ISIS-KP continues to carry out major attacks in Kabul and is responsible for an increase in suicide attacks targeting civilians. 

Background

After the Taliban government refused to hand over terrorist leader Osama bin Laden in the wake of al-Qaeda’s September 11, 2001, attacks, the United States invaded Afghanistan. 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.

In the eighteenth year of the war, and in their fifth year of being responsible for securing the country, the ANDSF continue to face significant challenges in holding territory and defending population centers, while the Taliban continues to contest districts and carry out suicide attacks in major cities. For more than three years the war has been at a stalemate, with, according to official U.S. government estimates, only 53.8 percent of Afghan districts under government control or influence, 33.9 percent contested, and the remaining 12.3 percent under the control or influence of the Taliban. The ANDSF continue to suffer heavy casualties and, while actual figures have now been classified by the U.S. military, senior Afghan officials estimate that for several months in 2018 as many as thirty to forty ANDSF personnel were killed every day. In the first six months of 2019 the UN documented nearly four thousand civilian casualties; 2018 saw a record-high total number of 10,993 civilian casualties, with the UN documenting 3,804 deaths and 7,189 injuries.

In addition to a stronghold in the strategically important southern province of Helmand, the Taliban controls or contests territory in nearly every province, and continues to threaten multiple provincial capitals. The Taliban briefly seized the capital of Farah Province in May 2018, and in August 2018 captured the capital of Ghazni Province, holding the city for nearly a week before U.S. and Afghan troops took back control. In addition to a U.S. troop increase in 2017 and continuing combat missions, the U.S. military shifted its strategy to include the targeting of Taliban revenue sources as well as fighters, conducting an air campaign against drug labs and opium production sites. After more than two hundred air strikes targeting the Taliban’s drug production and transportation networks, the campaign was ended in late 2018.

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.

Concerns

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 all compete for influence in Kabul and with subnational actors.

A Visual Exploration of the Conflict

Slideshow

War in Afghanistan