SIGAR released its forty-eighth Quarterly Report to Congress.

SIGAR’s forty-eighth Quarterly Report to Congress

Key Points:

— Implementation of the U.S.-Taliban agreement, contested presidential election results, tensions between the United States and Iran, prisoner-release discussions, war, and COVID-19 had a major impact this quarter, making it “perhaps the most complex and challenging period in the last two decades” for Afghanistan’s security forces, according to the Combined Security Transition Command – Afghanistan (CSTC-A).

— Enemy violence levels stayed well above historic norms for most of this quarter, according to Resolute Support (RS). The Taliban conducted no attacks against Coalition forces, but attacked Afghan government forces at several sites in provincial capitals.

— According to DOD’s assessment of the violence level from February 29 – June 1, “The Taliban is calibrating its use of violence to harass and undermine the ANDSF and [the Afghan government], but remain at a level it perceives is within the bounds of the agreement, probably to encourage a U.S. troop withdrawal and set favorable conditions for a post-withdrawal Afghanistan.”

— Afghanistan’s National Security Council said Taliban attacks increased June 14 – 21, with 422 attacks in 32 provinces killing 291 ANDSF personnel and wounding 550 others, making it the “deadliest [week] of the past 19 years.”

— A UN monitoring team concluded this quarter that the Taliban-al-Qaeda relationship remained “close, based on friendship, a history of shared struggle, ideological sympathy and intermarriage,” despite Taliban commitments to break off support for al-Qaeda in the U.S.-Taliban agreement.

— RS reported 59% more civilian casualties in Afghanistan this quarter (April 1 – June 30) compared to last quarter (January 1 – March 30), and an 18% increase compared to the same period last year. The 2,085 civilian casualties this quarter were 776 more than last quarter and 321 more than the same period last year.

— COVID-19 testing remains limited in Afghanistan, but nearly 43% of samples tested positive as of July 15, one of the highest rates in the world, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Afghanistan lacks medical equipment needed to treat COVID-19; its hospitals have only 300 ventilators. JHU research suggests an 18% increase in child mortality and a 14% increase in maternal mortality as indirect consequences of COVID-19’s spread. The International Rescue Committee said Afghanistan faced a “humanitarian disaster.”

— Driven in part by COVID-19, the Afghan government’s sustainable domestic revenues contracted by 23.4%, year-on-year, over the first six months of 2020, according to SIGAR analysis of Afghan government accounting data. In the first six months of 2020, customs duties and taxes dropped 31.6% from the same period last year. According to State, the Afghan government expects tax revenue to contract by $715 million in 2020, 26% shy of the $2.7 billion in revenues that were projected before the emergence of COVID-19.

— About one-third of Afghanistan’s estimated 32.2 million people remain in either a crisis or emergency state of food insecurity and require urgent action, as of May, according to the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification. According to Save the Children, 7.3 million Afghan children will face food shortages due to the pandemic. Prices of essential food items have steadily risen, with reported food-price inflation of 16.7%, while the purchasing power of casual labor has dropped by 13%.

— State downgraded Afghanistan’s human trafficking rating to the lowest level since it first assessed the country in 2002, saying the Afghan government does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so. There is an Afghan government policy or pattern of sexual slavery in government compounds (bacha bazi or “boy play”) and the recruitment and use of child soldiers, according to State. The Department added that the Afghan government lacks the resources and political will to hold perpetrators accountable.

— Between November 1, 2019 and April 30, 2020, the number of ANDSF casualties, including those that occurred on local patrols, checkpoint operations, and offensive operations, decreased significantly compared to the same period in 2019, but still remained high, largely due to Taliban attacks at static ANDSF checkpoints, according to DOD. USFOR-A classified all ANDSF casualty information this quarter because the Afghan government classifies it.

— Recent United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reporting indicates that Afghanistan’s 2020 opium-poppy harvest was largely uninterrupted by COVID-19. UNODC estimated 163,000 hectares of opium-poppy were cultivated in Afghanistan in 2019. This is a 38% decline from 2018 (263,000 ha) and a 50% decline from the high point of cultivation in 2017 (328,000 ha). Overall, the opium-poppy cultivation in 2019 was at its lowest point since 2012 (154,000 ha). Neither disease nor drought affected the quality of opium-poppy in 2019 as it had in previous years.

— On July 1, DOD reported that the $1 billion reduction of assistance, announced by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in March, had not been implemented as of June 2020. On July 17, DOD told SIGAR that the Secretary of Defense has been actively engaged in reviewing recommendations for implementing a reduction in Afghan Special Forces Fund support.

Full Quarterly Report: https://www.sigar.mil/pdf/quarterlyreports/2020-07-30qr.pdf [sigar.mil]

Quarterly Report by Section: https://www.sigar.mil/quarterlyreports/index.aspx?SSR=6 [sigar.mil]

SIGAR released its forty-eighth Quarterly Report to Congress.
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Afghanistan: State Department 2019 terrorism report

Overview:  The United States partners with Afghanistan in a bilateral CT effort through Operation Freedom’s Sentinel.  The U.S. military, along with 38 other Coalition nations, also supports the ANDSF through the NATO Resolute Support “Train, Advise, and Assist” mission.  In 2019, the Taliban and the affiliated HQN increased terrorist attacks targeting Afghan civilians, government officials, and members of the international community.  Additionally, ISIS-K continued to attack civilians and especially targeted religious minorities.  The enemy-initiated attack trend in 2019 defied its usual seasonal pattern; while in most years, such attacks decrease in cold-weather months, they remained consistently high following the summer fighting season.  ISIS-K, elements of al-Qa’ida, including affiliate AQIS, and terrorist groups targeting Pakistan, such as TTP, continued to use the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region as a safe haven.  Afghanistan is also the only member of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS from South and Central Asia.

2019 Terrorist Incidents:  Attacks attributed to terrorist activity continued to increase in 2019.  While the majority of attacks occurred in Kabul, Jalalabad, and other major population centers, incidents also targeted Highway 1 (Afghanistan’s national Ring Road highway).  Militants conducted high-profile attacks through complex assaults involving multiple attackers wearing suicide vests to target ANDSF, Afghan government buildings, foreign governments, and soft civilian targets to include international organizations.  According to Resolute Support Mission reporting, between January 1 and September 30, insurgent and terrorist attacks were responsible for 1,618 civilians killed and an additional 4,958 wounded.  Among the significant terrorist incidents in 2019 were:

  • On May 8, the Taliban attacked USAID-funded, U.S.-based aid organization Counterpart International in Kabul, killing four civilians and a policeman, and wounding 24 others.  All attackers were killed after a six-hour battle with Afghan security forces.
  • On July 1, a Taliban attack against the Afghan National Army Logistic and Armory Directorate involved a VBIED and five gunmen attacking the compound.  The attack killed 40 civilians and wounded more than 100, including men, women, and children, in an adjacent school.
  • On August 17, ISIS-K conducted a suicide bombing that targeted Shi’ite celebrants in a wedding hall in Kabul, killing at least 80 people and injuring more than 140.
  • On September 2, the Taliban detonated a suicide car bomb at a facility in Kabul that housed numerous international organizations, killing 16 people and injuring more than 119.  Those killed included five Nepalis, two Britons, and a Romanian diplomat.
  • On September 5, the Taliban detonated a suicide car bomb in Kabul killing 12 people, including an American paratrooper and a Romanian soldier.  The explosion also injured more than 40.
  • On December 11, the Taliban conducted an attack on a hospital adjoining Bagram Airfield killing two and wounding 80 others, mostly civilians.  No Coalition fatalities were reported.

Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security:  The Afghan Attorney General’s Office investigates and prosecutes violations of the laws prohibiting membership in terrorist or insurgent groups, violent acts committed against the state, hostage taking, murder, and the use of explosives against military forces and state infrastructure.  These laws were codified into one Afghan Penal Code for national security crimes on May 15, 2017, in Official Gazette #1260. These laws include Crimes against the Internal and External Security of the State (1976 and 1987), Combat Against Terrorist Offences (2008), and Firearms, Ammunition, and Explosives (2005).

Specialized police Crisis Response Units located in the Afghan cities of Kabul, Kandahar, Mazar-e Sharif, and Herat continue to thwart and successfully respond to militant attacks.

Afghanistan continued to face significant challenges in protecting its borders, particularly those with Pakistan and Iran.  Under the bilateral Afghanistan-Pakistan Action Plan for Peace and Solidarity (APAPPS), which met for the first time in July 2018, Afghan and Pakistani officials agreed in principle to create a mechanism for communication between security forces on each side of the border.  On June 10 at the APAPPS Review Session in Islamabad, the Afghan and Pakistani deputy foreign ministers met to discuss trade, transit, the peace process, refugees, and closer border security coordination.  Despite this review and discussions between the two governments to utilize APAPPS, progress through this forum remains slow.

Afghanistan continued to process traveler arrivals and departures at major ports of entry using U.S.-provided PISCES border security management system, which currently operates at 13 ports of entry, including the airports of Kabul, Herat, Kandahar, and Mazar-e-Sharif.  The most recent implementation of PISCES was in October at the Gulum Khan border crossing of Khost province.

Countering the Financing of Terrorism:  Afghanistan is a member of the APG.  In line with FATF recommendations, Afghanistan’s FIU, the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Center of Afghanistan (FinTRACA), conducted a money laundering and terrorist-financing risk assessment in 2019.  On May 15, the UN 1267 Sanctions Committee designated ISIS-K as the first ISIS affiliate to be designated by the UN.

Afghan Peace Process:  Throughout 2019, the United States sought to negotiate an agreement with the Taliban that would commit the Taliban to take action against international terrorist groups, including not allowing those groups to recruit, train, or raise funds on Afghan territory, and to not host those groups.  In return for these commitments and for the start of intra-Afghan negotiations that would include the Afghan government, other Afghan leaders, and the Taliban, the United States would agree to a timeline for the conditions-based withdrawal of international troops from Afghanistan.  Although the United States suspended talks following Taliban attacks in early September that were inconsistent with multiple rounds of serious negotiations, these talks were restarted in December following a series of goodwill gestures by the Taliban and Afghan government, including the release of one American and one Australian hostage, the release of Taliban-held ANDSF hostages, and the release of Afghan-held Taliban prisoners.

Countering Violent Extremism:  A landmark July 6-8 intra-Afghan dialogue, hosted in Doha, Qatar, and organized by Germany, brought together representatives of the Afghan government, other Afghan leaders, civil society groups (including women’s groups), and the Taliban.  Participating in their personal capacities, the attendees agreed on the conditions necessary to reach a sustainable peace, and a roadmap for achieving peace.

From April 28 to May 3, a Loya Jirga chaired by Mujahedin leader and Islamic scholar Abdul Rab Rassoul Sayyaf included 3,200 religious leaders, politicians, and representatives who met to discuss peace and called for an immediate ceasefire between the government and militants.  The Jirga’s 3,200 delegates were divided into 51 committees that developed 23 recommendations urging a cease in violence between Afghan security forces and militants.  The Taliban condemned the Jirga as unrepresentative of the Afghan people.

International and Regional Cooperation:  Afghanistan is a member of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS.  In May, Afghan President Ghani agreed to participate in a trilateral meeting with Pakistan and the United States to discuss not only security but also prospective cooperation on economic growth and regional connectivity.

Afghanistan: State Department 2019 terrorism report
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The families paying the price for the war in Afghanistan

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism
Published June 3 2020

The stone compounds in which many Afghans live are a whirl of skinny arms and legs. Children run between the clustered homes of their aunts, their uncles, their parents. Afghanistan has one of the youngest populations in the world – more than 40 percent of people are under 15.

But childhood in Afghanistan is punctuated by war. With alarming frequency, that war is arriving at their homes. The consequences are often terrible.

When air strikes hit family compounds it is children, overwhelmingly, who die. Attacks on targets that appear to be homes are heavily restricted under international law; even if, for example, military officials know that insurgent fighters have used houses for cover to fire upon troops, officers should weigh up the risk to civilians before striking.

There are fears this is not being done in Afghanistan. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism – working with Al Jazeera and Bellingcat – has been tracking air strikes and trying to find the stories behind the statistics.

In a sample of ten air strikes carried out by the US military and their Afghan allies on family compounds in the past two years, 115 people were killed, more than 70 of them children. The strikes share similar features, and similar outcomes; a pattern that repeats up and down the country. In January of 2019, a strike in Helmand killed ten children. Two months later and hundreds of miles away in Nangarhar, ten young cousins lost their lives. The pattern continues: in July of that year, a farmer in Baghlan lost his wife and six children.

These are just a handful of the thousands of strikes that have been recorded – the ones the Bureau has been able to investigate.

The number of children killed has led experts to question the legality of these strikes. But sustained official silences make it hard to find out why many of the bombings were carried out. Basic information is rarely forthcoming from either the Afghan or US armed forces. Questions plague the survivors: who killed their loved ones? And can anyone ever answer why?

In February this year, representatives from the Taliban and the US signed an agreement in Doha to end their war. The deal paved the way for a withdrawal of US troops after nearly two decades of fighting.

But that agreement is fragile and the idea of “peace” seems an endlessly distant prospect. As the details were being hashed out, strikes and raids carried out by US and Afghan forces were killing more than twice as many children as the Taliban.

In efforts to get the Taliban to negotiate, strikes rained down in record numbers, meaning that with grim inevitability the number of civilians killed and injured hit new highs.

A ruined home that has been overgrown with weeds

The ruins of Bismillah Khan’s home

The newlyweds

Bismillah Khan understands the toll of those strikes.

His extended family lived in a shared compound, made up of three homes. But in the early hours of September 1 last year the compound was hit by several strikes, reducing every building to rubble.

Bismillah was there. He survived the first bomb, which hit his uncle’s home. “I was sleeping under duvets in my uncle’s house. I realised that suddenly piles of stones, boxes and things fell over me.”

When Bismillah dragged himself out of the room, he met a scene of mayhem. “I could hear the women crying and screaming,” he said. “We were shouting in every direction, calling everyone’s name.”

Like dominos, each house in the compound fell around him. “The houses were hit one after another,” Bismillah said. “We were trying to take the ones alive from my uncle’s to the street then the second bomb hit.”

The third strike took out the last standing building in the compound, he said. “There we heard my cousin from under the rubble, and while helping him to get out, the fourth bomb hit.”

By daybreak, twelve members of the family had lost their lives, including seven children and Rahima, 19. She had married Zabihullah, one of Bismillah’s cousins, just seven months earlier; the whole family had celebrated their wedding. Zabihullah, 21, had survived.

Pictures of the aftermath of the strike in Faryab were shared online
Bismillah said he and his surviving family members had been profoundly changed by their grief

There were few answers from the armed forces on what went wrong the night the Khans were hit.

Reports surfaced of a deadly attack on civilians. But an email from the US military said that no American strikes had hit the area in question within 72 hours of the date of the attack. The Afghan military, the only other force in Afghanistan that conducts air strikes, had announced that 47 Taliban fighters had been killed in the area, but did not reply to requests for comment and rejected allegations that civilians had been harmed.

The strike was one of a number of devastating incidents investigated by volunteers working with the Bureau and Bellingcat, an organisation that specialises in online investigations. The group helped to collect evidence being shared on platforms like Facebook and Twitter, and matched this with news reports and other sources.

The group was quickly able to establish that the strike had probably taken place (false or misleading reporting by militia groups make confirming this a sad necessity in every case). Within a few hours of online investigation, there were mounds of evidence to contradict the official denials: picture after picture of destruction – dead bodies, a destroyed house, the sorrowful aftermath.

In Afghanistan, Bismillah had been told a new story. He said that Afghan officials told him US forces were responsible for the strikes. But Afghan civilians have no way to directly approach the US armed forces. He had nowhere else to turn.

“No one took responsibility for this, although it was such a horrible incident,” he said.

Fractured by war, the remaining family members struggle in the aftermath. “After the incident my mother is in a different state of mind, she can’t speak.” Bismillah said. His aunt is similarly affected. “She lost young daughters … it is too much to carry.”

Rahima’s husband is gone too now. In the wake of her death, he decided to leave the country and was last heard from in Turkey. The family say they do not know where he is now.

A girl with a bloodied face from a head wound sits in a wheelchair in a hospital ward

Parwana, 9, was injured in a strike in late 2018Andrew Quilty

A fact of life

Civilian casualties are “a fact of life”, James Mattis, then the US defense secretary, said when grilled about rising death rates in 2017. “We do everything humanly possible…to avoid civilian casualties at all costs … We’re not the perfect guys, but we are the good guys,” he added.

His words carried the implicit recognition that civilian casualties are an unavoidable consequence of war. But the frequency and gravity of those casualties is not predetermined – it depends how much effort goes into avoiding them. In the Afghan war, priorities have changed; for the better, and then for the worse.

It took until 2008 for civilian casualties to be taken seriously by the military in Afghanistan, said Marc Garlasco, a former Pentagon senior intelligence analyst who became head of civilian protection in Afghanistan for the United Nations. That year civilian deaths in the conflict had risen to a record high.

One particular incident turned the tide. On 22 August 2008, US forces all but wiped out an entire village. The public denials were even more publicly refuted, with The New York Times visiting the village and printing an image of the horror on its front page. “That was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” Garlasco said. “It completely changed the way Nato dealt with civilian casualties.”

In the aftermath, steps were taken to limit civilian casualties. One was a directive put in place in 2009 that limited the use of force – such as air strikes – in residential and populated areas.

It served as recognition that strikes near and on homes, like the one that hit the Khan family, had a direct and predictable effect on civilian deaths. It had a massive impact – a UN report covering the year after the directive was passed noted a “substantial decrease” in civilian casualties.

The changes in approach meant that even as the number of troops and operations in Afghanistan grew, the number of innocent people dying went down. “It wasn’t perfect,” Garlasco said. “But it’s the closest to a gold standard I’ve seen from a military in my career”.

But at the end of 2014, the Nato-led military mission in Afghanistan came to an end. It was replaced by one that focussed mostly on training, advising and assisting the Afghan military, while the US continued its separate counter-terrorism mission. The team of a dozen analysts working on civilian casualties shrunk down.

“The real kicker is that as Nato leaves, things shift to the Afghan forces,” Garlasco said. “The Afghan air force can now carry out strikes, but they don’t have the capability to protect civilians. And not only do they not have it, they don’t want it.” By 2017, 49 per cent of civilian casualties from air strikes were caused by the Afghan military.

A boy with a large dressing on his abdomen lies in a bed

Rahmatullah, 8, injured in the same strike as Parwana in 2018. Two of their relatives were killedAndrew Quilty

A relaxed attitude to harm

The pace of the air war has only increased.

In 2015, the first year after all foreign forces bar the US stopped conducting operations in Afghanistan, there were about 500 strikes. By 2019, that number was fourteen times higher, at more than 7,000.

In 2016, the US had adopted a more relaxed attitude to civilian harm. The authority to carry out risky strikes was devolved to lower-ranking officials without the previous rigid sign-off process. Even strikes that would be more likely to endanger innocent lives did not have to go through the same checks.

The air war intensified after President Trump came into office in 2017. He vowed to “lift restrictions and expand authorities”, warning: “We are not nation-building again. We are killing terrorists.”

Then, in October 2017, the rules of engagement were changed. The “proximity requirement” had mandated that strikes could only be used where troops had come into contact with enemy forces. With it removed, the US military could use strikes more freely, shifting the focus of the air war from the defensive to the offensive. At the same time, more Afghan units were given the power to call in air support.

“One of the most dangerous things for civilians is when the commander wants the war to be over quickly,” a former British officer told the Bureau. “The results are always the same: short-lived military conquests, grotesque numbers of civilian casualties, followed by long-term bloodshed.”

Garlasco compared the US’s recent conduct to 2010, when troop numbers and operations rose but civilian casualties fell. “It goes to show that just because you have a high operation tempo, you don’t necessarily have to kill a large number of civilians,” he said. “This depends on leadership.”

By the end of 2018, the number of civilians killed by air strikes had risen by more than 80 percent, reaching a figure higher than the totals for 2014, 2015 and 2016 combined.

The next year strikes increased further as part of efforts to bomb the Taliban to the negotiating table. A deal was born out of that violence – US troops are preparing to withdraw after two decades of war.

But it came at a great cost; last year, the UN found that more than 1,000 civilians had been killed or injured in strikes, the highest number of casualties they had ever recorded.

Sherif Khan lost a brother, a sister-in law and ten nieces and nephews in a strikeAl Jazeera

The village doctor

In Nangarhar, in the east of Afghanistan, there is another Khan family still counting the cost of a strike. They are not related to Bismillah, but the story the survivors tell is the same.

Sherif Khan lost a brother, a sister-in law and ten nieces and nephews when twelve members of his family were wiped out in strikes on March 9 2019. One of his brothers, a serving soldier in the Afghan army, lost five of his children in the strike that hit his house. Two months later, Sherif said, he was killed on active duty.

The brother killed in the strike, Nazargul, was the village’s doctor. Sherif’s two daughters worked at his clinic as midwives. “He was so kind to the people,” Sherif told a crew from Al Jazeera’s Fault Lines, who collaborated with the Bureau on this investigation. “Two or three o’clock in the night, he would come out from his house to treat children or women, treating them in the cold, rainy, and hot weather.”

Sherif is now guardian to the doctor’s three surviving children. Waheeda, the oldest, managed to save two of her younger sisters that night. But life after so much loss is difficult to comprehend, especially at just 14 years old. “I lost my home and my good life … My father died. My mother died. I have no one now,” she said.

Waheeda, 14: “I have no one now.”Al Jazeera

Despite the testimony of Sherif and Waheeda, the strike has not been confirmed by the US military. It also has not been denied. Instead, it has been designated “possible”, one of the confusing terms used to classify civilian casualty allegations, and one that leaves survivors with no clear answers.

But even this result is in some ways a victory, even if a hollow one. Last year, the US military confirmed only a fifth of the civilian deaths attributed to them by the United Nations mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA). Most of the allegations were deemed “not credible” or “disproved”. But despite what the term suggests, “not credible” usually means that the military simply does not have enough information to carry out a full investigation.

The US says its figures differ because it has access to additional intelligence, such as drone footage, which shows that “what appeared to be US military-caused civilian casualties … actually had other causes”.

In a press conference in 2017, the commander of operations in Afghanistan said: “The Afghans are building better accountability of every place and time that they drop a munition and, of course, we have almost 100 percent accountability on the US side every time we deliver an aerial munition.” He added: “This would be one of the reasons why we would disagree on the numbers.”

Research has found that the US forces rarely interview witnesses or survivors of strikesAlamy

It is hard to verify this claim because the details of military investigations are only very rarely made public. What little is public sheds doubt on it.

One of the more common rebuttals to civilian casualty allegations is that the US military carried out no strikes in the area at the time in question. But while this response sounds robust, it is not always reliable.

One example can be found in the case of Masih Ur-Rahman Mubarez, who lost his wife, seven children, and four young nieces in 2018. The US military responded as above, denying any strikes in the area. An eight-month investigation by the Bureau and The New York Times uncovered evidence proving their involvement in the killings – in the form of a weapon fragment – eventually leading to an admission from the US.

This is not an isolated event. On multiple occasions military monthly releases of data showing no strikes in a province were later contradicted by the force itself.

In one of the cases in the set of strikes investigated with Bellingcat, the Bureau was given an official response that the strike had been disproved. Further investigation soon uncovered evidence, further supported by a UN report, that innocent people had been killed.

In another case, even an official Afghan government investigation and UN reports were not enough to convince the US military the strike they had carried out had not killed legitimate military targets, but fourteen women and children sheltering in a house.

The US forces eventually reversed their position, but only after the UN lobbied directly and the Afghan military stepped in to pay the survivors a condolence payment.

A fighter jet flying past snow-capped mountains

Alamy

Like looking through a straw: how the US investigates

“The US has not conducted on-the-ground investigations for many years, so they rely on visual and satellite imagery which … is simply not 100 percent reliable,” Patricia Gossman, senior researcher on Afghanistan for Human Rights Watch, told the Bureau. “Such imagery cannot detect who is inside a building.”

Senior military officials have spoken of how limited the imagery can be – with drone footage compared to looking through a “soda straw”, often leaving out more information than it provides.

It was much easier to investigate allegations, the officials said, when the US still had a large number of troops on the ground. Then they could easily dispatch a patrol to talk to those affected.

But there is still more the Pentagon could do now that the US has fewer than 12,000 personnel in Afghanistan. Gossman has spent years investigating the military’s investigations into air strikes. She found they very rarely interviewed witnesses and never conducted site visits.

Not interviewing witnesses is a “critical flaw” in the process, she said. The US military also relies on information from Afghan forces, which Gossman said cannot always be trusted.

“The Afghan authorities merely ask the original force – army, police, or air force – to file a report. This means asking them to investigate themselves,” she said. “In one recent case of an air strike, the security officials who were dispatched from Kabul to investigate merely asked their colleagues in the same force what had happened and that was the extent of the investigation. They did not interview witnesses and survivors.”

The on-the-ground realities reflect this. When the Bureau and The New York Times shared findings from our investigation into the strike on Masih’s house, the US military concluded it was “possible although unlikely” that civilians died in the strike – reversing its initial position. But during that entire year-long process, no official spoke with Masih and the results of the US’s investigation were not communicated to him.

Masih was not alone in this. Speaking to an Al Jazeera film crew, Sherif Khan said that no one from the US had made contact with his family and an Afghan promise to investigate had not been followed up.

The aftermath of a strike in Baghlan that killed Ismael Khan’s wife and six children

In these cases, families have been left in the dark. At the same time, it is up to them to prove the innocence of their dead relatives – and themselves.

For a moment, imagine the unthinkable: you find your home destroyed and the bodies of your children in the rubble. Your faith requires you bury them as soon as possible.

But to prove their deaths and get compensation from an Afghan government fund, you have to collect up their bodies, sometimes in pieces, and take them to the nearest hospital. When reports of the strike reach the news, officials claim that only Taliban fighters were killed.

Ismael Khan lost his wife and six children in a strike. Rather than take the mangled bodies of his family to the nearest hospital, he chose to bury them quickly, in accordance with Islam. But as a result, he said he has struggled to get the compensation he believes he is owed from a specific government fund for Afghanistan’s war dead.

The local hospital director confirmed that bodies had to be brought there for survivors to qualify for the compensation. He said the policy was put in place to limit potential false claims. “We know it caused lots of problems to people … but this is how the system is designed.”

Khairullah, 15, was the oldest of Ismael’s six children
Sanaullah, 2, was the youngest

While he has been given a small amount of money from elsewhere, Ismael is desperate for further official recognition that his children were victims of the near interminable conflict that has ravaged Afghanistan for decades.

The Afghan government has recently created a civilian casualty counting body, housed in the Presidential Information and Coordination Center in Kabul

Hope

Change is hopefully coming, said Sahr Muhammedally, who advises militaries and governments on civilian harm mitigation as part of her work for the Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC).

The Pentagon is developing its first department-wide policy with regard to civilian casualties, with the aim of applying the same standards across all of America’s wars.

In Afghanistan, Nato has made some efforts to reduce harm, noting that civilian casualties were “the single greatest threat” to the mission. The US has streamlined their investigations process to deal with the rising number of allegations.

Muhammedally believes there is real political will in the Afghan government to reduce harm, pointing to new policies and the creation of a casualty counting body. But she warned: “Translating that will into practice takes time and mentoring. The US is withdrawing, yet Afghan forces face enormous challenges. It’s important not to abandon progress.”

The Pentagon policy is expected by the end of the year, but how long it takes for changes to be felt on the ground remains to be seen.

In the meantime, transparency in Afghanistan is decreasing. Questions on the status of internal investigations are given one word answers; requests for more information are pushed into a queue of hundreds. Last month, the US military announced it would no longer say how many bombs it drops in Afghanistan, ending ten years of public records. It claimed the data could adversely impact the Taliban peace talks.

The US’s behaviour in Afghanistan is not mirrored in its other conflicts. In Iraq and Syria the US military responds to a much higher number of allegations on a monthly basis, and engages with third parties openly. Last month, the US commander for Somalia announced a quarterly civilian casualty report, saying: “Where we come up short, we will admit it openly.”

The Afghan Air Corps on paradeAlamy

Closure

Experts told the Bureau that the stories uncovered by our investigation, as well as the sheer number of civilian casualties in Afghanistan, raised questions about the legality of US and Afghan military operations.

Daragh Murray, a senior law lecturer at the University of Essex, said the cases “raise serious concerns around compliance with the law of armed conflict”. He highlighted the principle of proportionality, which put simply, means that while it is legitimate to attack a Taliban fighter, this attack must not cause disproportionate harm to civilians or civilian property.

He added: “As the targeted buildings were ostensibly civilian in nature, and likely to be inhabited by relatively large numbers of civilians, questions must be asked as to why the decision was taken to call in air strikes, rather than to attack using less destructive means.”

Patricia Gossman agrees. “A situation where you have 100 civilians killed in 10 air strikes, with 70 percent of the dead being children, raises serious concerns that these strikes may have been disproportionate.”

But with such limited transparency, both agree it can be difficult to work out what is proportionate. The “why” of most strikes remains mysterious, with any investigations largely kept secret from the wider public in both the US and Afghanistan.

Neither the US nor Afghan forces responded to any of the specific allegations of civilian harm put to them by the Bureau.

Some strikes are accompanied by reports of Taliban fighters forcing their way into homes and then firing on troops, often in the hope that the civilians will act as “human shields”, protecting them from retaliation.

But the actions of the Taliban do not negate the responsibility of US and Afghan troops to protect civilian life. Even in these strikes, flattening an entire home would be a questionable response according to the experts. This is especially true for strikes at night – when the majority of those investigated by the Bureau took place – because families are more likely to be at home and in bed.

Many of the families in this story are pinning their hopes on an international trial to get answers. In March, the International Criminal Court ruled that an investigation into war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed by the US and other warring parties in Afghanistan could proceed, overturning an earlier rejection.

“We are ready for any trial, either the international court or internal Islamic court. We only have that demand. We have no other requests from Americans. Anyone who has done this cruelty to us should be convicted,” said Sherif Khan.

Sherif Khan said he was prepared to take a case to the International Criminal CourtAl Jazeera

Masih is equally determined to see justice done in court. “I am pinning my hopes on the ICC’s hearings after being denied justice by the Americans and Afghan government officials,” Masih told an Al Jazeera reporter.

He told the Bureau: “From the first day, when people were coming to me paying their condolences, I was telling them that I will ask for justice.”

But it is unclear whether those hopes will ever be realised. The ICC faces many challenges, including deliberate non-cooperation from the main parties of the conflict. Last year, the US revoked the visa of the court’s main prosecutor to hamper the Afghanistan investigation.

There are doubts that the ICC can serve justice for the families the Bureau has spoken to – for Bismillah, Sherif, Masih, Ismael, and for the dead. But regardless, Muhammedally says there needs to be a way forward.

“There are sad stories in every family, those who live in Taliban areas and have been affected by air strikes, the families of Afghan security forces who have to bury their soldiers … every Afghan has suffered,” she said.

“There is no military solution to the conflict in Afghanistan. The government and the Taliban need to come to the negotiating table and ask the question: can we continue to suffer?”

The aftermath of the strike that killed Masih Ur-Rahman Mubarez’s family

Header image: Children recuperating after a strike on their home. Credit: Andrew Quilty. The full story of that strike can be read here.

Our Shadow Wars project was funded by the Open Society Foundation and the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust. None of our funders have any influence over the Bureau’s editorial decisions or output.

The families paying the price for the war in Afghanistan
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Exclusive: U.S. troop strength in Afghanistan down to close to 8,600 ahead of schedule – sources

A key provision of the Feb. 29 agreement between the Taliban and the United States, to which the Afghan government was not a party, involved a U.S. commitment to reduce its military footprint in Afghanistan from about 13,000 to 8,600 by mid-July and, conditions permitting, to zero by May 2021.

Two senior sources in Kabul said the 8,600 target was likely to be achieved by early June.

Two U.S. officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that the United States was close to 8,600 troops and could reach that number in coming days.

“Due to COVID-19 concerns, we are moving towards that planned drawdown faster than anticipated,” one of the officials said.

The other U.S. official said the United States had focused on quickly removing non-essential personnel and those considered to be at high risk from the virus.

All four sources asked not to be identified due to the sensitivity of the matter.

Last month CNN reported that the United States had less than 10,000 troops in Afghanistan, putting the Trump administration ahead of schedule.

U.S. forces are in Afghanistan to conduct counter-insurgency operations. A few thousand U.S. soldiers work with troops from 37 NATO partner countries to train, advise and assist Afghan forces.

NATO’s mission in the country totalled 16,551 troops in February, according official data available on its website.

On Tuesday, U.S. President Donald Trump there were “7,000-some-odd” U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan but officials clarified that number was slightly over 8,600 troops.

Trump renewed his desire for a full military withdrawal from Afghanistan but added that he had not set a target date, amid speculation he might make ending America’s longest war part of his re-election campaign.

The Taliban, who ruled Afghanistan with an iron fist from 1996 before being ousted by U.S.-led troops in 2001, have sought to topple the Western-backed government in Kabul and reimpose Islamic rule. They dismiss the Kabul government as a puppet of the United States.

The faster-than-expected withdrawal has put NATO in a dilemma as to whether it should consider swiftly sending back some non-U.S. troops from Afghanistan as well, two NATO sources said.

“The drawdown by the U.S. was expected to be done in 135 days but it’s clear that they have almost completed the process in just about 90 days,” said a senior Western official in Kabul on condition of anonymity.

The official said that some other NATO soldiers would be withdrawn before schedule.

The Taliban have recently increased attacks in a number of provinces, despite the Afghan government releasing prisoners as per the U.S.-Taliban agreement signed in Doha.

In a statement, the Pentagon said it expected to be at 8,600 troops within 135 days of signing the agreement, but declined to say how many troops were currently in Afghanistan.

“We are not providing updates on current troop levels primarily due to operational security concerns associated with the drawdown,” Pentagon spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Campbell said.

Officials are now looking at the pace of the drawdown beyond 8,600.

Additional reporting by Phil Stewart; Editing by Euan Rocha and Nick Macfie

Exclusive: U.S. troop strength in Afghanistan down to close to 8,600 ahead of schedule – sources
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Joint Declaration between the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the United States of America for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan

Joint Declaration between the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the United States of America
for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan

The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, a member of the United Nations and recognized by the United
States and the international community as a sovereign state under international law, and the United States
of America are committed to working together to reach a comprehensive and sustainable peace agreement
that ends the war in Afghanistan for the benefit of all Afghans and contributes to regional stability and
global security. A comprehensive and sustainable peace agreement will include four parts: 1) guarantees
to prevent the use of Afghan soil by any international terrorist groups or individuals against the security
of the United States and its allies, 2) a timeline for the withdrawal of all U.S. and Coalition forces from
Afghanistan, 3) a political settlement resulting from intra-Afghan dialogue and negotiations between the
Taliban and an inclusive negotiating team of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, and 4) a permanent and
comprehensive ceasefire. These four parts are interrelated and interdependent. Pursuit of peace after
long years of fighting reflects the goal of all parties who seek a sovereign, unified Afghanistan at peace
with itself and its neighbors.

The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the United States have partnered closely since 2001 to respond
to threats to international peace and security and help the Afghan people chart a secure, democratic and
prosperous future. The two countries are committed to their longstanding relationship and their
investments in building the Afghan institutions necessary to establish democratic norms, protect and
preserve the unity of the country, and promote social and economic advancements and the rights of
citizens. The commitments set out here are made possible by these shared achievements. Afghan and
U.S. security forces share a special bond forged during many years of tremendous sacrifice and courage.
The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the people of Afghanistan reaffirm their support for peace and
their willingness to negotiate an end to this war.

The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan welcomes the Reduction in Violence period and takes note of the
U.S.-Taliban agreement, an important step toward ending the war. The U.S-Taliban agreement paves the
way for intra-Afghan negotiations on a political settlement and a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire.
The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan reaffirms its readiness to participate in such negotiations and its
readiness to conclude a ceasefire with the Taliban.

The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan furthermore reaffirms its ongoing commitment to prevent any
international terrorist groups or individuals, including al-Qa’ida and ISIS-K, from using Afghan soil to
threaten the security of the United States, its allies and other countries. To accelerate the pursuit of peace,
the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan confirms its support for the phased withdrawal of U.S. and Coalition
forces subject to the Taliban’s fulfillment of its commitments under the U.S.-Taliban agreement and any
agreement resulting from intra-Afghan negotiations.

The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the United States therefore have made the following
commitments:

PART ONE

The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the United States recognize that al-Qa’ida, ISIS-K and other
international terrorist groups or individuals continue to use Afghan soil to recruit members, raise funds,
train adherents and plan and attempt to conduct attacks that threaten the security of the United States, its
allies, and Afghanistan. To address this continuing terrorist threat, the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan
and the United States will continue to take the following steps to defeat al-Qa’ida, its affiliates, and other
international terrorist groups or individuals:

1. The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan reaffirms its continued commitment not to cooperate with or
permit international terrorist groups or individuals to recruit, train, raise funds (including through
the production or distribution of narcotics), transit Afghanistan or misuse its internationallyrecognized travel documents, or conduct other support activities in Afghanistan, and will not host
them.

2. The United States re-affirms its commitments regarding support for the Afghan security forces
and other government institutions, including through ongoing efforts to enhance the ability of
Afghan security forces to deter and respond to internal and external threats, consistent with its
commitments under existing security agreements between the two governments. This
commitment includes support to Afghan security forces to prevent al-Qa’ida, ISIS-K, and other
international terrorist groups or individuals from using Afghan soil to threaten the United States
and its allies.

3. The United States re-affirms its readiness to continue to conduct military operations in
Afghanistan with the consent of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan in order to disrupt and
degrade efforts by al-Qa’ida, ISIS-K, and other international terrorist groups or individuals to
carry out attacks against the United States or its allies, consistent with its commitments under
existing security agreements between the two governments and with the existing understanding
that U.S. counterterrorism operations are intended to complement and support Afghan security
forces’ counterterrorism operations, with full respect for Afghan sovereignty and full regard for
the safety and security of the Afghan people and the protection of civilians.

4. The United States commits to facilitate discussions between Afghanistan and Pakistan to work
out arrangements to ensure neither country’s security is threatened by actions from the territory of
the other side.

PART TWO

The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the United States have consulted extensively on U.S. and
Coalition force levels and the military activities required to achieve the foregoing commitments including
through support to Afghan security and defense forces. Subject to the Taliban’s fulfillment of its
commitments under the U.S.-Taliban agreement, the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, the United States,
and the Coalition jointly assess that the current levels of military forces are no longer necessary to achieve
security objectives; since 2014, Afghan security forces have been in the lead for providing security and
have increased their effectiveness. As such, the parties commit to take the following measures:

1. The United States will reduce the number of U.S. military forces in Afghanistan to 8,600 and
implement other commitments in the U.S.-Taliban agreement within 135 days of the
announcement of this joint declaration and the U.S.-Taliban agreement, and will work with its
allies and the Coalition to reduce proportionally the number of Coalition forces in Afghanistan
over an equivalent period, subject to the Taliban’s fulfillment of its commitments under the U.S.-
Taliban agreement.

2. Consistent with the joint assessment and determination between the United States and the Islamic
Republic of Afghanistan, the United States, its allies, and the Coalition will complete the
withdrawal of their remaining forces from Afghanistan within 14 months following the
announcement of this joint declaration and the U.S.-Taliban agreement, and will withdraw all
their forces from remaining bases, subject to the Taliban’s fulfillment of its commitments under
the U.S.-Taliban agreement.

3. The United States re-affirms its commitment to seek funds on a yearly basis that support the
training, equipping, advising and sustaining of Afghan security forces, so that Afghanistan can
independently secure and defend itself against internal and external threats.

4. To create the conditions for reaching a political settlement and achieving a permanent, sustainable
ceasefire, the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan will participate in a U.S.-facilitated discussion
with Taliban representatives on confidence building measures, to include determining the
feasibility of releasing significant numbers of prisoners on both sides. The United States and
Islamic Republic of Afghanistan will seek the assistance of the ICRC to support this discussion.

5. With the start of intra-Afghan negotiations, the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan commits to start
diplomatic engagement with members of the UN Security Council to remove members of the
Taliban from the sanctions list with the aim of achieving this objective by May 29, 2020, and in
any case no later than 30 days after finalizing a framework agreement and a permanent and
comprehensive ceasefire.

PART THREE

1. The United States will request the recognition and endorsement of the UN Security Council for
this agreement and related arrangements.

2. The United States and the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan are committed to continue positive
relations, including economic cooperation for reconstruction.

3. The United States will refrain from the threat or the use of force against the territorial integrity or
political independence of Afghanistan or intervening in its domestic affairs.

4. The United States will continue to work to build regional and international consensus to support
the ongoing effort to achieve a political settlement to the principal conflict in Afghanistan.

29 February 2020

Joint Declaration between the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the United States of America for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan
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Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan between the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan which is not recognized by the United States as a state and is known as the Taliban and the United States of America

Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan between the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan which is not recognized by the United States as a state and is known as the Taliban and the United States of America

February 29, 2020
which corresponds to Rajab 5, 1441 on the Hijri Lunar calendar
and Hoot 10, 1398 on the Hijri Solar calendar

A comprehensive peace agreement is made of four parts:

1. Guarantees and enforcement mechanisms that will prevent the use of the soil of Afghanistan by
any group or individual against the security of the United States and its allies.

2. Guarantees, enforcement mechanisms, and announcement of a timeline for the withdrawal of
all foreign forces from Afghanistan.

3. After the announcement of guarantees for a complete withdrawal of foreign forces and timeline
in the presence of international witnesses, and guarantees and the announcement in the presence
of international witnesses that Afghan soil will not be used against the security of the United
States and its allies, the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan which is not recognized by the United
States as a state and is known as the Taliban will start intra-Afghan negotiations with Afghan
sides on March 10, 2020, which corresponds to Rajab 15, 1441 on the Hijri Lunar calendar and
Hoot 20, 1398 on the Hijri Solar calendar.

4. A permanent and comprehensive ceasefire will be an item on the agenda of the intra-Afghan
dialogue and negotiations. The participants of intra-Afghan negotiations will discuss the date
and modalities of a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire, including joint implementation
mechanisms, which will be announced along with the completion and agreement over the future
political roadmap of Afghanistan.

The four parts above are interrelated and each will be implemented in accordance with its own agreed
timeline and agreed terms. Agreement on the first two parts paves the way for the last two parts.
Following is the text of the agreement for the implementation of parts one and two of the above. Both
sides agree that these two parts are interconnected. The obligations of the Islamic Emirate of
Afghanistan which is not recognized by the United States as a state and is known as the Taliban in this
agreement apply in areas under their control until the formation of the new post-settlement Afghan
Islamic government as determined by the intra-Afghan dialogue and negotiations.

PART ONE
The United States is committed to withdraw from Afghanistan all military forces of the United States,
its allies, and Coalition partners, including all non-diplomatic civilian personnel, private security
contractors, trainers, advisors, and supporting services personnel within fourteen (14) monthsfollowing
announcement of this agreement, and will take the following measures in this regard:
. II

A. The United States, its allies, and the Coalition will take the following measures in the first one
hundred thirty-five (135) days:

1) They will reduce the number of U.S. forces in Afghanistan to eight thousand six hundred
(8,600) and proportionally bring reduction in the number of its allies and Coalition
forces.

2) The United States, its allies, and the Coalition will withdraw all their forces from five
(5) military bases.

B. With the commitment and action on the obligations of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan which
is not recognized by the United States as a state and is known as the Taliban in Part Two of this
agreement, the United States, its allies, and the Coalition will execute the following:

1) The United States, its allies, and the Coalition will complete withdrawal of all remaining
forces from Afghanistan within the remaining nine and a half (9.5) months.

2) The United States, its allies, and the Coalition will withdraw all their forces from
remaining bases.

C. The United States is committed to start immediately to work with all relevant sides on a plan
to expeditiously release combat and political prisoners as a confidence building measure with
the coordination and approval of all relevant sides. Up to five thousand (5,000) prisoners of
the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan which is not recognized by the United States as a state and
is known as the Taliban and up to one thousand (1,000) prisoners of the other side will be
released by March 10, 2020, the first day of intra-Afghan negotiations, which corresponds to
Rajab 15, 1441 on the Hijri Lunar calendar and Hoot 20, 1398 on the Hijri Solar calendar.
The relevant sides have the goal of releasing all the remaining prisoners over the course of the
subsequent three months. The United States commits to completing this goal. The Islamic
Emirate of Afghanistan which is not recognized by the United States as a state and is known
as the Taliban commits that its released prisoners will be committed to the responsibilities
mentioned in this agreement so that they will not pose a threat to the security of the United
States and its allies.

D. With the start of intra-Afghan negotiations, the United States will initiate an administrative
review of current U.S. sanctions and the rewards list against members of the Islamic Emirate of
Afghanistan which is not recognized by the United States as a state and is known as the Taliban
with the goal of removing these sanctions by August 27, 2020, which corresponds to Muharram
8, 1442 on the Hijri Lunar calendar and Saunbola 6, 1399 on the Hijri Solar calendar.

E. With the start of intra-Afghan negotiations, the United States will start diplomatic engagement
with other members of the United Nations Security Council and Afghanistan to remove
members of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan which is not recognized by the United States as
a state and is known as the Taliban from the sanctions list with the aim of achieving this
objective by May 29, 2020, which corresponds to Shawwal 6, 1441 on the Hijri Lunar calendar
and Jawza 9, 1399 on the Hijri Solar calendar.
. III

F. The United States and its allies will refrain from the threat or the use of force against the
territorial integrity or political independence of Afghanistan or intervening in its domestic
affairs.

PART TWO
In conjunction with the announcement of this agreement, the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan which is
not recognized by the United States as a state and is known as the Taliban will take the following steps
to prevent any group or individual, including al-Qa’ida, from using the soil of Afghanistan to threaten
the security of the United States and its allies:

1. The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan which is not recognized by the United States as a state and
is known as the Taliban will not allow any of its members, other individuals or groups, including
al-Qa’ida, to use the soil of Afghanistan to threaten the security of the United States and its
allies.

2. The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan which is not recognized by the United States as a state and
is known as the Taliban will send a clear message that those who pose a threat to the security
of the United States and its allies have no place in Afghanistan, and will instruct members of
the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan which is not recognized by the United States as a state and
is known as the Taliban not to cooperate with groups or individuals threatening the security of
the United States and its allies.

3. The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan which is not recognized by the United States as a state and
is known as the Taliban will prevent any group or individual in Afghanistan from threatening
the security of the United States and its allies, and will prevent them from recruiting, training,
and fundraising and will not host them in accordance with the commitments in this agreement.

4. The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan which is not recognized by the United States as a state and
is known as the Taliban is committed to deal with those seeking asylum or residence in
Afghanistan according to international migration law and the commitments of this agreement,
so that such persons do not pose a threat to the security of the United States and its allies.

5. The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan which is not recognized by the United States as a state and
is known as the Taliban will not provide visas, passports, travel permits, or other legal
documents to those who pose a threat to the security of the United States and its allies to enter
Afghanistan.

PART THREE
1. The United States will request the recognition and endorsement of the United Nations Security
Council for this agreement.

. IV

2. The United States and the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan which is not recognized by the United
States as a state and is known as the Taliban seek positive relations with each other and expect
that the relations between the United States and the new post-settlement Afghan Islamic
government as determined by the intra-Afghan dialogue and negotiations will be positive.

3. The United States will seek economic cooperation for reconstruction with the new postsettlement Afghan Islamic government as determined by the intra-Afghan dialogue and
negotiations, and will not intervene in its internal affairs.

Signed in Doha, Qatar on February 29, 2020, which corresponds to Rajab 5, 1441 on the Hijri Lunar
calendar and Hoot 10, 1398 on the Hijri Solar calendar, in duplicate, in Pashto, Dari, and English
languages, each text being equally authentic.

Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan between the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan which is not recognized by the United States as a state and is known as the Taliban and the United States of America
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The Afghanistan Papers: Costs and Benefits of America’s Longest War

The Afghanistan Papers: Costs and Benefits of America’s Longest War

Federal Spending Oversight and Emergency Management

Location: SD-342, Dirksen Senate Office Building


Open in New Window

Member Statements

Witnesses

Panel I

Panel II

  • Hon. Douglas E. Lute

    Former United States Permanent Representative to NATO and Senior Fellow
    Project on Europe and the Transatlantic Relationship, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School

    Download Testimony (42.4 KB)

Panel III

  • Hon. Richard A. Boucher

    Former United States Ambassador to Cyprus and Senior Fellow
    The Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, Brown University

    Download Testimony (64.2 KB)

  • Lt. Col. Daniel L. Davis, USA, Ret.

    Senior Fellow and Military Expert
    Defense Priorities

    Download Testimony (111 KB)

The Afghanistan Papers: Costs and Benefits of America’s Longest War
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DOD Releases Report on Enhancing Security and Stability in Afghanistan

Department of Defense
JAN. 23, 2020

Today the Department of Defense provided to the Congress the semiannual report, “Enhancing Security and Stability in Afghanistan,” covering events during the period of June 1 to November 30, 2019.

The report was submitted in accordance with requirements from the Fiscal Year 2015 National Defense Authorization Act, as well as subsequent amendments.

The principal goal of the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan remains a durable and inclusive political settlement to the war that protects the United States homeland from terrorist attacks.  The Special Representative for Afghan Reconciliation, Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, leads the effort for a political settlement with the Taliban.  The military mission in Afghanistan remains in support of diplomatic efforts to achieve such a political settlement and conduct counterterrorism operations.

During this reporting period, the Special Representative for Afghan Reconciliation, Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, pursued an agreement with the Taliban until President Donald J. Trump suspended formal negotiations in September 2019, and announced a restart of talks with the Taliban in November.

During this reporting period, United States Forces-Afghanistan and Coalition allies and partners supported the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) in a focused military campaign against the Taliban to pave the way for reconciliation and counterterrorism efforts against al-Qaida and the Islamic State-Khorasan (ISIS-K).  These efforts have helped prevent these groups from exporting violence and the Taliban from seizing any provincial capitals in 2019.

Challenges within the ANDSF such as corruption, attrition and executing logistic planning remain a focus of advisory efforts at all levels.  This reporting period, Resolute Support took steps to optimize its advising mission to better align advisors across Afghanistan.

Improved communication between the Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Interior helped minimize violence during Afghanistan’s presidential election and led to successful operations against ISIS-K in Nangahar province.  The Afghan Special Security Forces remain the most capable force in the ANDSF and their capabilities continue to grow.

Terrorist and insurgent groups also continue to present a formidable challenge to Afghan, U.S., and coalition forces. ISIS-K, operationally limited to South and Central Asia, maintains the ability to conduct attacks and sought to retain territory in eastern Afghanistan despite pressure from U.S. forces, ANDSF and the Taliban.

The United States remains fully committed to the Resolute Support mission and our Afghan partners, as we work to ensure Afghanistan never again become a safe haven for terrorists.

See the full 1225 Report – Enhancing Security and Stability in Afghanistan.

DOD Releases Report on Enhancing Security and Stability in Afghanistan
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President Ashraf Ghani’s seven point peace proposal (Oct 2019)

Steps Toward Stability in Afghanistan
Confidential | October 2019
Background

Afghanistan is at a critical time in its history. Over the past two decades, we have made
tremendous gains mainly laying the foundations of the Islamic Republic to promote people- centric governance, human rights, freedom of expression, and education among other
democratic ideals. The people of Afghanistan desire to build upon these gains and achieve lasting peace that will lead to stability for the benefit of Afghans and the region.

Peace for Afghans is a comprehensive term that addresses not only the issue of talks with the
Taliban but also requires intensive and collective top-down and bottom-up approaches to
eliminate factors that create the conditions for war.

Much has happened thus far to advance peace and stability in Afghanistan, and yet much more needs to be done to accomplish this noble objective. In February 2018, the Afghan government extended an unconditional offer of peace talks to the Taliban. In June, a nationwide three-day ceasefire over the Eid holidays was implemented. They gave Afghans tremendous belief that peace is possible.

In November, the Afghan government presented a comprehensive road map to peace, and
announced a negotiating team.

As 2019 began, Afghanistan’s journey toward peace continued with nationwide consultations
with the Afghan people.

In February, 15,000 women were consulted from all 34 provinces on what would be acceptable
to them in a peace agreement, and 3,000 of them came together in Kabul to endorse that agenda.

In April, the Afghan government organized a historic and inclusive Consultative Loya Jirga for
peace, which laid out the people’s demands for a peace agreement.

As we prepare to take the next step in this process, we are committed to the principles of
inclusivity, sustainability and dignity. The Afghan people have demanded a ceasefire to
immediately stop the bloodshed; they have demanded that talks must happen between the
Afghan government and the Taliban; and they have demanded that the Islamic Republic be
preserved as the foundation of our nation-state. We want not only to preserve the gains we have made but also to maintain the foundation that will allow us to advance those gains.

To build upon the past efforts and take steady steps toward stability with an aim to end the
bloodshed as soon as possible, the Afghan government will undertake thorough national and
international inclusive consultations to implement a 7-Point Peace Plan for Stability that is laid
out in this document. These 7 points are not necessarily sequential.

The 7-Point Plan for Stability

Top-Down Negotiations

Point 1) Negotiations with USA + NATO
We propose to the US to jointly develop an implementation mechanism and plan with
Afghanistan for withdrawal of US forces and a CT cooperation framework for the post withdrawal period. This could build upon the US’s discussions with the Taliban and salvage parts of the past year’s efforts that were undertaken by the Americans.

Point 2) Negotiations with the Taliban Once the Taliban have assurances (only assurances at this stage) that foreign troops, which they claim to be the problem, will leave, the previously constructed inclusive 15-member Negotiations Team will participate in negotiations with the Taliban. These potential negotiations will be of utmost importance to Afghans and they will be carried out in an inclusive and consultative manner. This is to ensure that all Afghans feel represented and their voices shape the outcomes.

Before the negotiations begin, the Afghan people and government demand the Taliban to enter
into a mutual ceasefire a) to prove that they have maintained unity of their command and b) to
provide space for successful talks. The Afghan government’s objective in undertaking the
negotiations will be to finalize a peace agreement with the Taliban. Detailed plans for a ceasefire as a pre-condition to the talks as well as the negotiations process are developed separately.

Point 3) Negotiations with Pakistan
Points 1 and 2 have been emphasized by the US and the Taliban but we also want to address the root of the problem and that is Pakistan.

This Point will aim to provide mutual assurances between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Afghanistan needs to know that Pakistan will not continue to harbor terrorists and nurture terrorism in the region, and Pakistan needs to know that Afghanistan can be an earnest partner for trade, commerce and energy projects that can help boost Pakistan’s economy.

Consensus Building with Regional and International Partners
Point 4) Discussions with Neighbors, Region, and the Islamic World
This will provide mutual assurances of non-interference between these countries and
Afghanistan, and assurances by Afghanistan that it will continue to evolve into a country that
emanates economic possibility instead of regional instability. With an economic-centric and
regional connectivity approach, we can work together for shared interests of the region which
will reinforce peace and stability. Simultaneous to efforts undertaken in Points #1, #2, #3,
Afghanistan will request some of the countries in this category to facilitate track 2 or track 1.5
peace dialogues with the Taliban. Mechanics of these dialogues will be constructed separately.
Point 5) Discussions with the West + International Organizations

We aim to engage the European Union, European countries, the United Nations, the World Bank and others throughout the peace process. Afghanistan will partner with countries and entities in this category to design and implement comprehensive development programs that can chart us on a long-term path to development in our post-peace agreement phase. These countries and entities may also have the role of guarantors in potential peace agreements.

Bottom-up Stability
Point 6) Strengthen Institutions at the National Level
To sustain and strengthen the peace which could potentially be achieved with efforts outlined
above, Afghanistan will need to continue to strengthen the Islamic Republic as a system of
governance, further strengthen the ANDSF, improve governance and curb corruption, and work
out mechanisms for systemic political inclusion of all Afghans.

Point 7) Address Grievances at the Local Level
Each district of Afghanistan has its own unique drivers of conflict. They need to be identified and addressed. Promoting rule of law, strengthening traditional conflict resolution mechanisms, rural development programs, and mechanisms to include people in local politics will be the focus of efforts in this category.

Immediate Concrete Steps
In order to garner national and international support to this plan and further refine it, the Afghan
government will undertake the following concreate steps in the short -term:

1. Organize a Mini-Jirga: This Jirga will bring different political factions, key civil society
actors, representatives of families of the victims, representatives of youth and women
groups together to hold inclusive consultations about the way forward and build unity for
it.

2. Form an Alliance Consultations Group: Afghanistan will invite working level
representatives (Special Representative or equivalent) from 12-15 countries and
international organizations to participate in a 1-day conference in Kabul to collectively
reflect over the past efforts and lessons learned and provide consultation for the way
forward.

3. Holds Intra-Afghan Dialogues: Afghanistan will request potential partners to organize a
series of intra-Afghan dialogue to ensure momentum is maintained and channel of
communication is open between the parties to the conflict. Unlike official negotiations,
intra-Afghan dialogues will not require a precondition.

While key components of the plan will continue to be consistent, this will be a living document
that will evolve as a result of consultations at national and international levels.

End of Document.

Source: Tolo News

President Ashraf Ghani’s seven point peace proposal (Oct 2019)
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Peace Jirga Delegates Issue Resolution

Peace Jirga Delegates Issue Resolution; Stress On Ceasefire

The Jirga delegates have mentioned the following demands in their resolution:

  1.  Afghans remain committed to bringing a durable peace in the country.
  2.  Taliban should listen to the Afghan people, end violence and bloodshed and take part in the country’s development.
  3.  There should be a unified view of Islam by the Taliban and the country’s religious scholars.
  4.  The Afghan government and the Taliban should agree on an immediate ceasefire starting from the first day of Ramadhan.
  5.  The Islamic Republic system should be preserved.
  6.  Afghanistan’s Constitution should be preserved and if needed, amendments should be brought to it through required legitimate mechanisms.
  7.  The basic rights of all Afghans, including women’s rights and their rights for education, should be preserved in the peace process.
  8.  A strong Afghan National Defense and Security Forces is a need for ensuring durable peace in the country.
  9.  The Peace Jirga delegates call on the involved parties and countries in the peace process to provide the ground for the opening of the Taliban’s political office in Afghanistan.
  10.  The Peace Jirga delegates call on the Afghan government to preserve the achievements of the past two decades and in collaboration with the international community prepare a timeline for “responsible” withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan.
  11.  Members of the Peace Jirga call on all political parties and movements as well as influential figures in the country to enter the peace talks through a unified position.
  12.  All involved parties should prevent from recommending preconditions for starting direct peace talks.
  13.  All involved parties should implement flexibility towards prisoners and act on releasing prisoners as a goodwill gesture and for creating trust environment.
  14.  The delegates call on the international community and countries in the region to coordinate their peace efforts with the Afghan government and place the government of Afghanistan in the center of these efforts.
  15.  The Jirga delegates call on the Afghan government to maintain good relations with regional and neighboring countries in all its peace efforts and if it sees any interference by these countries, it should lodge its complaint to the United Nations Security Council.
  16.  The Afghan government should expedite its consultations with influential figures in the country on peace efforts and on starting direct talks with the Taliban.
  17.  Reforms should be brought to the structure, formation, and activities of the High Peace Council.
  18.  The negotiating team should include at least 50 members from former Jihadi leaders, religious scholars, women, youths, Kochis and representatives of different classes of the society.
  19.  Taliban’s legitimate demands should be recognized by the Afghan government and it should take required steps for trust building.
  20.   The Peace Jirga delegates remain committed to their efforts for peace as the messengers of peace and they will pass on the message of the Jirga to the relevant areas.
  21.  The Jirga delegates call on the Afghan government to ensure good relations with the delegates and keep them updated about consultations and developments in the peace talks.
  22.  The Afghan government, the Taliban, the international community, regional countries, and other involved parties should respect the demands of the Jirga delegates and take practical steps to reduce violence.
  23.   All suggestions and recommendations of the 50 committees of the Jirga should be published as an official document.

President Ashraf Ghani, who addressed the closing ceremony of the Jirga, said all the demands mentioned in the resolution will be implemented by the Afghan government.

The United Nation mission in Afghanistan says in a tweet that it supports the call of the Grand Consultative Jirga for Peace and vows to help parties to end the conflict.

“UNAMA congratulates delegates on successful completion of Jirga and supports their call for a ceasefire. This would help create conditions for peace and save Afghan lives. UNAMA stands ready to assist all parties to bring an end to the conflict. #Afghanistan,” UNAMA said.

Source: Tolo News

4 May 2019

Peace Jirga Delegates Issue Resolution
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