June 12, 2017:
The recent terror bombings in Kabul were explicitly denied by Haqqani Network and the Afghan Taliban. Actually both these organizations are now run by the head of the Haqqani Network, which remains a “protected (from attack by Pakistani security forces)” group in Pakistan. Nevertheless the Haqqani Network has been avoiding attacks that kill a lot of civilians and concentrating on the security forces and especially specific commanders. The Afghan Taliban has been ordered to follow the same fuels but observance has been spotty. The usual suspect in large scale attacks, ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) has not claimed credit. While Afghan security forces are blamed for not preventing this attack, the Afghan intel and police investigators have become quite good and with American intel back in force it is usually possible to identify who carried out a specific attack based on debris at the scene and the growing informant network and databases the Afghans have created. The Afghan police have already admitted they knew of Haqqani plans for a Kabul attack in late May but underestimated the size of it.
The major sponsor of most attacks in cities is not the Taliban but ISIL or Haqqani Network and continued that is made possible with support from the Pakistani military. That means Haqqani has less trouble obtaining explosives and safe areas in Pakistan where staff for bombing missions can be trained and indoctrinated. ISIL does it for their own reasons while Haqqani does it because that is how they continue to enjoy a sanctuary in Pakistan. The government of Pakistan insists Haqqani has moved to Afghanistan but American and Afghan intelligence efforts keep picking up evidence that leads back to Pakistan. This includes dead, or captured, suicide bombers who turn out to be Pakistanis or Afghans who received training in Pakistan and captive ones casually note that the military and police there left them alone.
The Afghan Taliban still openly enjoys sanctuary in southwest Pakistan (on the border with Helmand province, where most of the world heroin supply comes from) but has been in turmoil since 2015 because of a dispute over who the senior leaders should be. There are also increasingly loud accusations that the current leader, who is also the head of the Haqqani Network, has turned the Taliban into a Pakistani puppet. There have always been complaints about this but they have gotten more popular, and more violent, as more Taliban remain in the group mainly for the money, not the goal of turning Afghanistan into a religious dictatorship. These attitudes were reinforced in late 2014 as thousands of Pakistani Taliban fled to Afghanistan to escape a Pakistani military offensive against their longtime sanctuary in North Waziristan. These refugees spoke of the devious plans the Pakistan military had for Pushtuns (most Taliban have always been Pushtuns) and Afghanistan in general.
The Pakistan angle also plays a role in the feud going on inside the local ISIL branch (the “Khorasan Province”). This crew is based in eastern Afghanistan and being torn apart by disputes over interference by the Pakistani ISI (military intelligence) that created the Taliban in the 1990s and supports many other Islamic terrorist groups that will cooperate with Pakistan when asked. There are growing signs that the Pakistani military (mainly the ISI) is trying to gain some influence, or even some control, over local ISIL leadership. They do this by exploiting divisions within ISIL and offering the losing faction help in surviving. Most Islamic terrorist groups know that ISI is active in supporting Islamic terrorists in an effort to achieve ISI goals (which mainly involve protecting the political power and economic assets of the Pakistani military).
Islamic terrorist leaders are always being tempted with offers like this and the ISI is a major player in the region because they have been so successful at it since the 1980s. The Islamic terrorists also know that you can exploit the ISI for a while, before the Pakistanis run out of patience and come after you as they did in mid-2014 when they shut down North Waziristan. This weakened local Islamic terror groups (that were not on the ISI payroll) but also provided ISIL with recruiting opportunities. The ISI knows that one weakness ISIL has is a sense of false superiority. ISI has exploited that before with other Islamic terrorist groups that believed their own propaganda. ISI is aided in these recruitment efforts by Islamic terrorist leaders who see the ISI relationship as mutually beneficial, not a betrayal to the religious doctrine most Islamic terror groups preach. Thus ISI still controls much of the Afghan Taliban because the current leader is also the head of the Haqqani Network. That has caused a split within the Afghan Taliban but that is nothing new and the dissenting factions are at a disadvantage.
The increased fighting between Taliban and ISIL groups is also about drugs although it is unclear if all these battles are over ISIL hostility to the drug trade or wanting a piece of it. Without cash even the most fanatic Islamic terrorists cannot survive, especially since the 500 or more ISIL men left in Afghanistan are at least half non-Afghan and have a reputation for treating locals brutally. That has largely turned the tribes against ISIL. Despite that ISIL survives and continues to attract Afghan recruits, mainly because ISIL is seen as uncorrupted, at least compared to the Taliban. Most Afghans are more concerned with the cash. ISIL had nearly 3,000 personnel in 2016 but battles with the Taliban, local tribes plus increased attacks from the Americans and Afghan forces have reduced that by more than 70 percent. In some weeks over a hundred ISIL men were killed and many of those dead were reached by Afghan or American troops who gathered information for more such attacks. The fighting continues and the Afghan and American commandos in eastern Afghanistan have the dead ISIL men and captured documents to prove it.
The North Resists
In the north (Kunduz province) an army offensive against the Taliban (using airstrikes, artillery and ground forces) has been going on since early May. Back then the Taliban again tried to get into Kunduz city. They failed at that but did manage to seize control of a district outside the city. The Taliban announced that this was part of their 2017 “Spring Offensive” during the traditional warmer weather Afghan “fighting season.” Since that Taliban claim was made the Taliban have been on the defensive around Kunduz and the security forces claim over 500 Islamic terrorists casualties including the death of several prominent (and well known) local Taliban leaders.
June 11, 2017: After going back and forth a few times to clarify who said what at recent peace talks in Astana, Afghan and Pakistani political leaders agreed that both nations would cooperate in attacking Afghan Taliban who refuse to enter peace talks. This cooperation would include regular meetings in Afghanistan and Pakistan by officials from both countries to discuss problems and opportunities. These arrangements are mainly for civilian officials, especially from Pakistan. That’s because the key problem many fear to even speak about openly is the fact that the Pakistani military (and ISI, its intel branch) continue to offer sanctuary for the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network. ISI is also trying to gain control of local ISIL leadership. The Afghan sanctuary has long been obvious to anyone visiting Baluchistan (southwest Pakistan) while the Haqqani Network has always been more concerned with concealing its operations in Pakistan.
The Pakistani military not only denies the sanctuaries exist but insists the main foreign sponsor of Islamic terrorism in Pakistan and Afghanistan is India. The Pakistani military has supporters in many government ministries that ensure that the Pakistani government does what the military requires (like official condemnations of India for supporting Islamic terrorism in Afghanistan). No one in Afghanistan believes that, viewing it as yet another Pakistani lie while many in Pakistan agree with that assessment but fear to speak out openly because the Pakistani military continues to threaten or even murder those who do. What these new security arrangements are doing is allowing the civilian leaders in both Afghanistan and Pakistan do what they can to deal with the rogue Pakistani military.
In Kabul the government suspended the Kabul police chief as well as the commander of the military garrison.
June 10, 2017: In central Afghanistan (Wardak Province) police arrested a Haqqani Network suicide bomber who was on his way to carry out an attack in Kabul but backed out. He confirmed the Pakistan/Taliban connection when describing how he was taken across the border to a terrorist training camp in Pakistan. He described how the Pakistani border guards let them pass once his Taliban escort displayed his ID. The Afghans are pretty sure that whoever was responsible for the recent Kabul attacks they used ISI and support based in Pakistan. The Afghans have captured and interrogated many reluctant suicide bombers like this and nearly all have either been to Pakistani training camps or knew about them.
In the east (Nangarhar province) three American rangers were killed and one wounded when they were fired on by an Afghan commando they were working with. The Afghan soldier was killed by return fire. The Taliban claimed credit but it is more likely the incident, if deliberate, was the result of a personal disagreement not an Islamic terrorist plot. Such attacks peaked in 2012 when there were 61 such fatal attacks by "friendly" Afghans against foreign troops. There were only 35 such deaths in 2011. There have been more of these deaths in 2011-12 than in all the previous years (back to 2001). These “green-on-blue” attacks caused 15 percent of foreign troop deaths in 2010 year and six percent in 2011. For the Taliban the problem is that overall foreign troop deaths were declining during those two years (down 20 percent or more each year). Moreover, most of these “green-on-blue” deaths turned out to have nothing to do with any Taliban activity. The main problem with Afghan soldiers was that many have serious anger management issues and the size of the Afghan security forces had expanded enormously by 2012. Afghan commanders believed that more careful screening would eliminate the less stable troops, as well as traitors. By 2012 foreign troops were well aware that they must be careful about getting into an argument with an armed Afghan. Most of the attacks were caused by a recent argument, often over something trivial (at least to the Westerners). An Afghan will often open fire on armed NATO troops, even though it's obvious that this is a suicidal action. The Taliban often take credit for these incidents, when it was just another case of an Afghan soldier losing control. Afghan troops often do this with other Afghans but those incidents rarely make the headlines in Afghanistan or outside the country. Afghanistan is a very violent place, which fascinates, perplexes, and frustrates foreigners. The violence is also at the root of the many social problems that keep Afghans poor, ignorant, and terrorized. It starts in childhood and never stops. Westerners who get to know the place are appalled to discover how violent Afghanistan is. It's not just men killing each other over minor matters but violence against women and children. Western doctors and nurses working in clinics see a lot of this, much more so than they would back home. The violence continues into adulthood. This violence makes it more difficult for Afghan troops to receive advice, training, or services (intelligence, medical, logistic) from the foreigners. Worse yet, the foreign troops are more wary when among their Afghan allies, creating the risk that there will be friendly fire going in the other direction, as NATO troops open fire at threats they formerly dismissed. After 2012 the Afghan military screened troops, and new recruits, more thoroughly. Officers and NCOs were ordered to report troops they believe may be unstable or working with the enemy. All this was not enough because the problem was not so much with individuals as it was with Afghan culture.
June 9, 2017: In Kabul continued anti-government protests (over recent terror bombings) left at least seven dead, most of them from security forces firing on demonstrators threatening to force their way into the presidential compound.
In China Afghan and Chinese officials signed an agreement allowing Chinese firms to enter Afghanistan and examine if it was possible to rebuild the railroad from the Tajikistan (the Sher Khan dry-port in Kunduz province) to Herat (the Iran border) as well as a separate project to build dams and hydroelectric facilities on the Kabul river. The Chinese are not certain if either project can be built much less maintained because of the corruption and violence (from the Taliban, drug gangs and assorted other bandits). The Sher Khan dry-port facility and existing roads are an example of what usually happens. Afghan officials in charge of maintaining these facilities steal as much of the money they receive for running and maintaining these facilities and often extort more cash from users. The opium/heroin gangs depend on widespread corruption to stay in business and most Afghans see nothing wrong with many practices wealthier and better run nations consider corruption. This is not an easy problem to fix and while China has its own problems with corruption and most Chinese accept the fact that corruption is, in the long run, bad for everyone. Meanwhile the Taliban and Afghan security forces continue to fight for control of the Tajikistan border around where Sher Khan is because that is also the best route for illegal opium and heroin exports.
June 8, 2017: In Kabul police discovered and disabled a bomb hidden in a large fuel truck.
June 7, 2017: In the east (Nangarhar province) air strikes on ISIL and Haqqani Network, as does fighting between ISIL factions and now, apparently, Haqqani is siding with some of those factions.
June 6, 2017: In Kabul an RPG rocket landed in the Indian ambassador’s residential compound and exploded. There was minor damage and no casualties.
June 5, 2017: The government revealed that analysis of the explosives used in recent Kabul terror attacks had come from Pakistan and that Pakistani intelligence (ISI) appears to have been involved. Moreover the tanker truck carrying 1.5 tons of explosives appears to have gone through Kabul without being inspected at any checkpoint. That may have been because the large tanker truck was used to collect human waste and remove it from the city. Then again perhaps key checkpoint commanders had been bribed.
June 3, 2017: In Kabul 18 people were killed and many more wounded when three suicide bombers attacked a large funeral gathering at a cemetery where a prominent victim (the son of a senator) was being buried.
June 2, 2017: In Kabul large protests against government inability to prevent the May 31 bombing got violent and four people were killed.
June 1, 2017: Demonstrating its defiance towards the Taliban, Haqqani and the Pakistani ISI the Afghan government ordered the execution of eleven Taliban and Haqqani prisoners convicted of murder. The government was willing to trade the freedom of these men in return for some progress in peace talks but at the moment a response to continued terror attacks on Kabul and Afghans in general is required.
May 31, 2017: In Kabul a suicide truck bomb went off near major foreign embassies killing at least 150 and wounding over 400. Windows in several nearby embassy compounds were shattered by the force of the explosion. This was the worst such attack since 2001 and no one has taken credit for it yet. No Americans were killed but ten Afghan security guards manning posts outside the embassy compound were killed and 11 American security contractors working for the embassy were wounded.
May 27, 2017: In the east (Khost province, near the Pakistan border) a Taliban suicide car bomb was used in a crowded market to attack a group of men belonging to a much-feared (by the local Islamic terrorists and gangsters) Khost Protection Force. This is one the many tribal militias the U.S. has trained and continues to support. This attack killed at least 18 people, most of them civilians. Attacks like this are why there are so many of these militias. Most Afghans hate the drug gangs and the Taliban (which is seen as hired muscle for the drug gangs). This attack was made on the first day of Ramadan (a month long fasting period for Moslems). Islamic terrorists consider it more rewarding (from a publicity and religious standpoint) to murder lots of people during Ramadan, especially on the first day of Ramadan. Despite the efforts of the Afghan security forces some of these attacks occur, and they are particularly unpopular. While in some countries these attacks intimidate in Afghanistan they tend to make people eager for revenge. That’s why Afghanistan is such a violent place but also why Islamic terrorists have a hard time because the locals come after them. The government also finds it is good for morale (of the security forces and the general population) to publicize attacked that have been foiled, even if this risks providing the enemy with some insight into police methods. In most cases the attack was foiled when someone noted something odd and tipped off the police. Cell phones, the bane of Islamic terrorists in this part of world, have made such tip offs a lot easier, and safer for the tipster.
May 24, 2017: The U.S. admitted that it saw the Pakistani military supporting Islamic terrorism in Afghanistan in part as an effort to ensure that India does not gain economic and military presence in Afghanistan. The Pakistani strategy is backfiring because many Afghans would rather work with Indian infidels (non-Moslems) than with Pakistan. In any event it is no secret that India has more Moslems than Pakistan and much less trouble with Islamic terrorism carried out by Indian Moslems.
May 14, 2017: The U.S. accuses Russia of colluding with Iran, or Iranian arms smugglers, to supply the Taliban with weapons. Apparently Russia is again trying to destabilize the Afghan government so that they, and their ally Iran, will have more influence. This has been going on since the 1800s. But for over a thousand years before that warlords in Iran and northern India fought to control parts of Afghanistan, especially those areas that were part of the “Silk Road” between the Middle East (and Europe) and China (as well as stops along the way, like India and Iran.) Russia further complicates the issue by currently hosting Afghanistan peace talks that involve leaders from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, and China but not the United States. Even many of the invited participants point out that this makes no sense. But for Russian leaders the idea that most problems in Russia and with Islamic terrorism worldwide are the work of the United States is important to maintain. This makes the Afghan peace effort pointless because the non-Russian participants know nothing will work without American participation. Nevertheless Russia and Iran have some influence with the Pakistani military and offer to use that to pressure the Afghan Taliban to seriously consider peace talks. Russia and Iran are willing to make deals with the Taliban and drug gangs that most Afghans could accept but Western nations never could. Russia and Iran are concerned about the damage Afghan opium and heroin are doing (by creating millions of Russian and Iranian addicts) but are willing to tolerate the Afghan drug gangs if the export of the drugs can be better regulated to avoid Russia and Iran. That rarely works well but Russia, Iran and Pakistan are willing to try but understand that the American in particular and the West in general would never go along. Meanwhile Western nations are the main source of foreign aid that keeps the Afghan government going.