BAAG – British & Irish Agencies Afghanistan Group (Author)
On the 20th, US Defence Secretary Mark Esper arrived in Afghanistan in a bid to bring talks with the Taliban back on track after President Donald Trump abruptly broke off negotiations last month. Esper’s trip to Kabul comes amid questions about the United States’ commitments to allies after a sudden withdrawal of US troops from Syria and Trump’s long-time desire to get out of foreign engagements. On the 13th, President Trump tweeted: “The Endless Wars Must End!”.
American military chiefs have reportedly begun contingency plans to evacuate forces in as little as a few weeks in case the US president orders a withdrawal. Military sources have said this is part of “prudent planning” and there is currently no order to withdraw from Afghanistan. Yet the report came as American military officials admitted that they had quietly cut troop numbers by 2,000 in the past year.
On the 27th, Zalmay Khalilzad, the US negotiator for Afghanistan was in Kabul to brief President Ghani and other politicians on peace efforts. The visit comes after a flurry of low-key meetings that he has held, including with the Taliban this month in Pakistan.
Hamdullah Mohib, the National Security Adviser downplayed the meeting between Khalilzad and Ghani. “Khalilzad’s aim in traveling to Kabul was to discuss the two US professors who are in the custody of the Haqqani group [a Taliban sub-group], nothing was discussed about peace during his visit with President Ghani”, he said. On the 31st, Taliban sources said that they were seeking the release of 80 prisoners, including two of their leaders, in a swap with two American professors.
On the 16th, the Independent Election Commission said that they had competed transferring voter information (on 1.8 million voters) from biometric devices to the Commission's data centre. They would also start to invalidate fake votes. On the 27th, Hawa Alam Nuristani, chief of the Commission, said the preliminary presidential election results would be announced on November 14th, a month later the original date.
On the 23rd, acting Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani stepped down after serving the post for four years. He alleged the President Ghani had side-lined his Ministry and treated it as a non-government organisation. Rabbani supported Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, Ghani's opponent, in the last month’s election.
In October, the Afghan government claimed notable victories against the insurgents. On the 8th, the National Directorate of Security said that they had killed Asim Umar, the head of Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent, during a joint US-Afghan military operation in Helmand. At least 40 civilians were reported to have been killed too. On the 12th, security officials said they had retaken control of Dasht-e Archi district of Kunduz. They also said that in the past six months, they had fully expelled Taliban from twelve districts in Ghazni, Badakhshan, Kunduz, Takhar and Faryab.
These and other violent events came with a heavy cost to civilians. On the 9th, the UN said their investigation had revealed the death of 30 civilians in May in Farah and Nimroz in US air strikes on alleged Taliban drug labs. The US said it had targeted Taliban-run methamphetamine labs which helped fund the militant group. But according to the UN, drug labs and associated workers cannot lawfully be designated as targets.
The Taliban continued to target government officials. On the 12th, they killed Raz Mohammad Waziri, the district governor of Jaghatu district in Maidan Wardak, during his visit to Kabul. They also claimed responsibility for the killing of Adil Shah Adil, the provincial prosecutor in the northern province of Parwan.
On the 16th, the UN reported that violence on the Presidential election day last month, perpetrated mostly by the Taliban, left 85 civilians dead and more than 370 wounded. This is a high figure casualty given that only a quarter of the electorate turned out to vote.
On the 18th, a bomb killed at least 62 people during Friday prayers in a mosque in Nangarhar. At least 36 people were wounded. Daesh fighters are suspected of conducting the attack.
Humanitarian & Development
On the 13th, research was published by the Afghanistan Cancer Foundation showing that some 60,000 Afghan women were developing breast cancer each year. Kabul had the highest number of such patients followed by Balkh, Panjshir and Kapisa. Cancer treatment facilities are alarmingly insufficient. In the entire health service, there is only one oncology department with 65 beds at the state-run Jamhuriat Hospital in Kabul. Even that doesn't have chemotherapy or radiation services.
On the 16th, EU officials said more Afghans than Syrians have migrated to the European Union so far in 2019, making them the largest nationality illegally entering the bloc. Since the beginning of the year, nearly 17,000 Afghans have crossed the Aegean sea to reach EU shores. Many Afghans are relocating from Iran partly due to the hardship caused by US sanctions.
On the 26th, the World Bank ranked Afghanistan 173rd in the World Bank’s “Doing Business Report for 2019” and received a score of 44.1. Last year the score was 47.7, and Afghanistan was ranked 167th in the index. The drop in Afghanistan’s position was because the country didn’t have visible achievements in at least seven indexes in the trade and business sectors.
On the 13th, ToloNews found out that the Institute for State Effectiveness, a US-based company founded by President Ghani, had been making a steady profit from government contracts. The Institute’s income had increased threefold every year since 2016. Integrity Watch Afghanistan, an independent watchdog, said there was no clear transparency on how the Institute works with the Afghan government and that their queries about this relationship had remained unanswered. Mohammad Humayon Qayoumi, who had been on the Institutes’ payroll for several years, is the acting Minister of Finance since last year. On the 18th, The Senate’s Complaints Commission referred Qayoumi to the Attorney General's Office.
On the 21st, Minister Qayoumi reportedly asked for an $8 billion loans from several global financial institutions while promoting Afghanistan’s “Self-Reliance Accelerator Package,”. This happened during World Bank's annual meetings in Washington. Critics are worried that without transparency such loans could impoverish Afghanistan for generations.
On the 3rd, the UN said that deteriorating security across Afghanistan in the past four years had led to over 14,000 "grave violations" against children. Nearly 3,500 youngsters had been killed and over 9,000 injured. This represents almost a third of all civilian casualties verified by the UN, and an increase of 82% in child casualties compared with the previous four years.
On the 18th, the UN said an "unprecedented" number of civilians had been killed or wounded in Afghanistan from July to September this year. The report said "anti-government elements" were responsible for more casualties, for the first time, than US and pro-government forces. The figures - 1,174 deaths and 3,139 wounded from July 1 until September 30 - represent a 42% increase over the same period last year. Some 41% of the casualties were women and children.
Afghan strike forces backed by the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) have committed abuses "amounting to war crimes", according to a new report. Human Rights Watch alleges the troops "committed summary executions and other grave abuses without accountability". These include extrajudicial killings, forced disappearances and attacks on healthcare facilities.
People & Culture
In the last five years, WhatsApp has become second only to Facebook as a way for Afghans to communicate. The app has now also fully penetrated the highest echelons of the Afghan government and military. On occasions, like the operation in Bala Murghab, US military commanders are added to WhatsApp groups. While Afghan security ministers might speak with Gen. Austin S. Miller, the top US commander, on WhatsApp, they switch to secure lines for sensitive decisions. Taliban commanders also use WhatsApp and are not worried about its security risks. “It doesn’t require writing skills,” a Taliban commander in Sangin said. “You just send a voice message and wait for the reply when you switch your mobile phone on.”
This report is developed based on media reports. Although BAAG has taken necessary precautions to include only credible sources, it does not take responsibility for incorrect content.