The government believes it has driven ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) out of all the villages it controlled in the east, near the Pakistan border. ISIL was attracting many of the most fanatic Islamic terrorists in Pakistan and Afghanistan and at its peak in 2015 was believed to have as many as 3,000 members, most of them in Afghanistan. These men are attracted to the ISIL view of the world. For example ISIL insists that the Pakistani military controls the Afghan Taliban as well as Islamic terrorist groups based in Pakistan that mainly operate inside India. These accusations are nothing new but they are the reason ISIL considers Pakistan un-Islamic and worthy of some lethal retribution delivered by ISIL. To underscore that ISIL has been carrying out suicide bomber attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan. So far there have been few such attacks because ISIL is under attack by Afghan and Pakistani security forces as well as rival Islamic terrorist groups.
For most of 2015 ISIL has been trying to establish a base area in eastern Afghanistan (mainly Nangarhar Province) but that has led to constant skirmishing with Pakistani Taliban hiding out there. The local tribes are also largely hostile to ISIL and all this has provided better intel for the security forces on what ISIL is up to and exactly where they are. Some of the tribes used their own militias to fight ISIL but more often just helped villages set up defenses to keep ISIL out. This cooperation (and information) led to more effective and frequent American air strikes and raids by Afghan troops and American commandos and hundreds of ISIL men have been killed and many more wounded. Many of the wounded desert and there are fewer new volunteers. ISIL is hanging on but is now out of all the 22 villages it occupied at the start of the year. ISIL is not dead in Afghanistan but it isn’t growing much either. There may still be a thousand or more living rough up in the hills and they can survive there until the cold weather returns. These remaining ISIL get little sympathy from the locals, many of whom have bitter stories to tell of harsh ISIL rule that included beheadings of most who resisted and imposition of strict lifestyle rules. This included closing all secular schools as well as religious schools and mosques that did not enthusiastically support ISIL. These lurid (and often true) stories are circulating throughout eastern Afghanistan making the region a no-go zone for ISIL.
The fighting in Nangarhar will continue this year, mainly in an effort to keep ISIL out of any towns or villages. There are some ISIL members operating in Pakistan, which is an even more hostile environment for them because of the same hostility towards ISIL tactics and behavior in general. Since ISIL considers all other Islamic terror groups enemies it is finding enemies everywhere. The Afghan government reported that in the last year security forces had killed nearly 2,000 “terrorists and criminals” in Nangarhar province alone and arrested nearly a thousand. About a third of those arrested were drug smugglers or dealers. Those in the drug business are less likely to fight to the death, as ISIL men are prone to do.
Senior American commanders in Afghanistan and back in the United States agree with their Afghan counterparts that a sharp increase (by 15,000 or more troops) in American combat forces could be essential if brought into Afghanistan this year. While the Taliban is pushing the army out of parts of Helmand province the Islamic terrorists are on the defensive most everywhere else. Part of this is because of a civil war within the Taliban and the continued threat from ISIL.
In particular the Afghans want more American combat aircraft and helicopters along with more intelligence, electronic surveillance and special operations troops. In short the Afghans want a lot of the specialized support that the Afghan army misses the most since American combat troops left in 2014. The current American government has opposed sending a lot of combat forces back to Afghanistan and the current plan is to cut the current force of 9,800 (mostly trainers and advisors) to 5,500 by the end of the year.
In Helmand the drug gangs are not only paying the Taliban to fight harder but also helping with specialists and supplies of weapons, ammo and equipment. As a result five of fourteen districts are now under Taliban/drug gang control. These districts are the ones in the north that have long contained many key drug production facilities. The government still controls some towns and roads but the Taliban have the access and territory they and the drug gangs want. In the rest of the country there are 22 other districts where the Taliban, drug gangs or other outlaw groups control most of the district. Thus some six percent of the 407 districts are not controlled by the government.
The long-sought peace talks with the Taliban seem to be dead although the government is still talking with some non-Taliban terrorist leaders. Some Taliban factions are still negotiating but not the Taliban as a whole. For one thing the Taliban are even more divided than ever and some factions are fighting each other. Then there is the issue of Pakistani domination which Pakistan (very much in favor of a negotiated peace) denies even though Pakistan created the Taliban and now admits that it has provided a sanctuary across the border from Helmand since 2002. The current Taliban civil war has led several prominent Taliban to talk openly about continued Pakistani influence over and support of the organization.
The main Taliban dissident faction denied that their leader, Mullah Rasool, had been arrested in Pakistan.
The Afghan security forces are taking heavy losses but are holding up so far. American aid covers pay and other necessities but too many years of heavy fighting is more than most men can stand. The majority of Afghans oppose the drug gangs and the Taliban but also want peace after nearly four decades of war.
March 22, 2016: In the east (Nangarhar Province) two American UAVs missile attacks in the last two days left at least ten ISIL men dead.
March 14, 2016: In the east (Nangarhar province) twelve ISIL men died and 21 were wounded when one of their bombs went off prematurely. This is a sign that the U.S. tactic of finding and going after leaders and technical specialists of terror groups. The success of this reveals itself in things like badly made bombs and poorly organized operations in general.
March 12, 2016: In the west (Herat) troops have killed over 40 Taliban in the last few days. The army was taking advantage of the fighting between rival Taliban factions that has been going on here since December. This has left hundreds of Taliban dead and even as this infighting continues the army is moving to oust Taliban from areas the Islamic terrorists long controlled directly or indirectly. This fighting has also spread to neighboring Badghis amd Farah provinces. The Taliban civil war is the result of disagreement over who should take over as Taliban leader after founder Mullah Omar was revealed in 2015 to have died in 2013 (in a Pakistani hospital). The information was kept to a few key Omar associates who are now accused of doing this as part of a plot to install an Omar successor who was second-rate. The civil war began in late November 2015 when Mullah Mansour, leader of the OT (Original Taliban) ordered attacks against the forces of rival Taliban leader Mullah Rasool. This marks a major defeat for the Taliban as they have now lost a major asset; unity. Similar fighting has also occurred in Zabul and Farah and provinces.
March 8, 2016: Afghanistan accused Pakistan of allowing their armed helicopters to cross into Afghan territory (Kunar province) to continue attacking Islamic terrorists. Pakistan insists its helicopters remained in Pakistani air space. This might be complicated by the fact that there is no agreement on exactly where the border is in northwest Pakistan.
March 5, 2016: In the north (Kunduz Province) Tajikistan reported that one of its border guards was killed during a clash with armed Afghan men illegally crossing the border. One of the Afghans was also killed and the rest retreated back into Afghanistan. Tajikistan is part of one of the major smuggling routes for Afghan heroin.
March 2, 2016:
In the east (Nangarhar province) Islamic terrorists tried to attack the Indian consulate but failed. Four of the attackers died and eight people in the vicinity were wounded. ISIL was believed responsible, as they were for a January Indian consulate attack.