The top leaders of the Taliban group and the notorious Haqqani terrorist network are still freely operating from their safe havens in Pakistan, Pentagon said in its latest report to the US Congress.
Pentagon has presented a security update titled “Enhancing Security and Stability in Afghanistan- December 2016”, to the US Congress. It offers no new insights in to the Afghan situation and tells the same old story of the limitations of Afghan forces and Pakistan’s failure to rein in the Haqqani Network, also known as the Afghan Taliban which operates from its safe heavens on Pak soil.
“Afghan-oriented militant groups, including Taliban and Haqqani Network senior leadership, retained safe havens inside Pakistani territory,” the report said, and remarked that sustained Pakistani efforts to disrupt active Haqqani Network threats were not observed during the reporting period. So do more mantra is repeated with Pakistan. “The United States continues to be clear with Pakistan about steps it should take to improve the security environment and deny safe havens to terrorist and extremist groups”.
It went on add that although al Qaeda’s core leadership in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region has been degraded, elements continue to seek safe haven on both sides of the border to regenerate and conduct attack planning. “The continued development of an al Qaeda affiliate in the region, al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), highlights the dynamic nature of the region’s terrorist and militant landscape, posing risks to the mission and to U.S. interests”.
ISIL – Khorasan (ISIL-K) continues to focus on establishing itself in Nangarhar Province in the east, although ASSF counterterrorism operations and ANDSF clearing operations – with USFOR-A enabling support – have diminished ISIL-K’s ability to build a base of support. In addition, ISIL-K’s aggressive targeting of Taliban elements in the area and its use of harsh tactics similar to ISIL’s core in Iraq and Syria, have alienated the group from the local population. Notwithstanding diminished operational capacity of ISIL-K, U.S. and Afghan forces remain focused against the group, the report stated noting that despite an increasingly offensive-oriented strategy, the Afghan National Army’s (ANA) offensive manoeuvre capability is “still limited”.
EXCERPTS FROM THE 7-PAGE SUMMARY OF THE REPORT
The Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) have shown promising but inconsistent progress as they near the end of their third year in the lead for security of their country and the second year maintaining full security responsibility with limited U.S. or coalition support on the battlefield.
During the June 1 to November 30, 2016, reporting period, the ANDSF effectively executed their 2016 summer campaign plan, Operation Shafaq; capability gaps in key areas such as intelligence, aviation, and logistics are improving but still hinder effectiveness. The ANDSF retained control of major population areas and quickly responded to and reversed any Taliban gains.
The United States currently maintains a force posture of up to 9,800 military personnel in Afghanistan. Based on an assessment of the security conditions and the strength of Afghan forces, President Obama announced on July 6, 2016, that the United States will draw down to approximately 8,400 military personnel by January 2017, rather than to 5,500 military personnel as he previously announced in October 2015.
The force presence of 8,400 military personnel will allow United States Forces – Afghanistan (USFOR-A) to continue to conduct two well-defined and complementary missions: supporting counter-terrorism operations against the remnants of al Qaeda, its associates, and other terrorist groups such as the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) affiliate in the Afghanistan and Pakistan region, ISIL – Khorasan (ISIL-K); and training, advising, and assisting the ANDSF through the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)-led Resolute Support (RS) mission.
The ANDSF continue to face a resilient insurgency and a myriad of terrorist and criminal networks; however, the Afghan Government remains in control of all major population centers and key lines of communication. The Taliban did not achieve any of the stated campaign objectives of its 2016 summer campaign, Operation Omari.
Taliban territorial gains during this reporting period were fleeting, as the ANDSF consistently retook district centers and population areas within days of a loss. Although security conditions vary across the provinces, the Taliban have exploited their localized and temporary successes by portraying these events as major strategic shifts through the use of social media and other public information campaigns.
Consistent with historical trends, overall levels of violence increased during the traditional 2016 spring and summer fighting season with a brief lull during Ramadan (June 5 to July 6, 2016).
Reported casualties for both the ANDSF and the Taliban continued their upward trend from the previous two reporting periods. The increase in ANDSF casualties can be attributed, in part, to an increase in the number of insurgent attacks on fixed ANDSF positions including inadequately protected checkpoints. Insurgent fighting in urban areas and continued use of high-profile attacks contributed to the trend of high civilian casualties seen in the last several reporting periods. Women and children also continue to be affected disproportionately by the conflict.
The ANDSF largely repelled insurgent attacks in Helmand Province and several attempts to isolate Kunduz City in July, August, and October 2016. Although the ANDSF experienced minor setbacks during these and other insurgent offensives, they frequently regained lost terrain.
Between June and August 2016, violence in Nangarhar Province was higher than usual, primarily due to Afghan Special Security Forces (ASSF) and coalition efforts to disrupt and degrade ISIL-K. The number of high-profile attacks in Kabul was lower than during the same time period last year; however, insurgents did perpetrate several attacks that garnered public attention, including attacks on the American University of Kabul in August and on the Ministry of Defense (MoD) headquarters in September 2016.
MULLAH MANSOUR’S DEATH
Following the May 21, 2016, death of Mullah Mansour, the Taliban quickly appointed Mullah Haybatalluh Akhundzada as their leader. Since then, the Taliban have largely coalesced around Haybatalluh with limited public fracturing or dissension. Haybatallah’s appointment has not had a major effect – either positive or negative – on the Taliban’s operational effectiveness.
Although al Qaeda’s core leadership in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region has been degraded, elements continue to seek safe haven on both sides of the border to regenerate and conduct attack planning. The continued development of an al Qaeda affiliate in the region, al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), highlights the dynamic nature of the region’s terrorist and militant landscape, posing risks to the mission and to U.S. interests.
ISIL-K continues to focus on establishing itself in Nangarhar Province in the east, although ASSF counterterrorism operations and ANDSF clearing operations – with USFOR-A enabling support – have diminished ISIL-K’s ability to build a base of support. In addition, ISIL-K’s aggressive targeting of Taliban elements in the area and its use of harsh tactics similar to ISIL’s core in Iraq and Syria, have alienated the group from the local population. Although ISIL-K’s operational capacity has diminished, U.S. and Afghan forces remain focused against the group.
Consistent mid-level military-to-military dialogue between Afghanistan and Pakistan on specific issues, such as the shared threat from ISIL-K, and occasional discussions at higher levels of the military and government early in the reporting period, were encouraging.
At the same time, militant groups, including Taliban and Haqqani senior leadership, retained safe havens inside Pakistani territory. Sustained Pakistani efforts to disrupt active Haqqani Network threats were not observed during the reporting period. The United States continues to be clear with Pakistan about steps it should take to improve the security environment and deny safe havens to terrorist and extremist groups.
Cross-border firing incidents in June and July 2016 at the Torkham Gate border crossing have also complicated efforts to increase Afghanistan-Pakistan cooperation on both peace and reconciliation and counterterrorism issues.
The ANDSF effectively executed their 2016 spring and summer campaign plan and largely maintained their commitment to implementing key reforms and operational imperatives as part of a sustainable security strategy to allocate forces across the country more effectively. This progress was most evident in late August and October 2016 when the ANDSF repelled several major Taliban attacks against provincial capitals in several parts of the country, quickly retaking lost territory from the Taliban.
Although the ANDSF denied the insurgency any strategic successes, the ANDSF have also demonstrated the need for continued U.S. and coalition support to address persistent capability gaps and deficiencies.
Despite an increasingly offensive-oriented strategy, the Afghan National Army’s (ANA) offensive manoeuvre capability is still limited. The ANDSF also lack a mature operational readiness cycle to ensure forces are well-rested and well-trained before returning to combat.
During Operation Shafaq, corruption and the ANDSF’s limited logistics and personnel management capabilities hindered their ability to make lasting gains in reducing insurgent influence in various parts of the country.
ANDSF capabilities in aviation, logistics, combined arms operations and conducting offensive clearing operations continue to improve, but the ANDSF require further development before they can consistently pressure the insurgency. ANA-ANP coordination for planning processes and for major, offensive cross-pillar operations have also showed modest improvement. ANA corps are better utilizing their organic indirect fires, including mortars and D-30 howitzers, and increasingly integrating ground-based fires with aerial fires from the Afghan Air Force (AAF).
The Afghan National Police (ANP) are becoming more effective at exercising command and control over ANP pillars within their regions, but areas such as personnel accountability remain key deficiencies. Ministry of Interior (MoI) reforms also continued to help address Afghan Local Police (ALP) personnel accountability and effectiveness shortcomings. In addition, ANP and ALP personnel continue to abandon static checkpoints more frequently than ANA personnel due to leadership deficiencies and threats of Taliban attacks on vulnerable checkpoints.
The ASSF remain the most capable element of the Afghan forces and one of the best special operations forces in the region. Although U.S. forces often provide enabling support to the ASSF for counterterrorism operations, the ASSF are capable of conducting independent operations using their organic intelligence and aviation assets. Because of ASSF proficiency, the ANDSF frequently misuses ASSF elements for more conventional missions, which degrades the ASSF’s operational readiness.
RS continues to develop the MoD’s and MoI’s capacity and capability to support the ANDSF. Although both ministries have shown steady, demonstrable progress in improving their ability to manage complex processes like procurement and budgeting, their support to the ANDSF in other areas such as logistics, maintenance, and personnel management remains deficient. Inefficient inventory management and supply distribution processes degrades the operational readiness of both ANA and ANP units. RS advisors are assisting the MoD and the MoI to develop plans to regenerate ANDSF combat and policing capability as the MoD and the MoI transition from the 2016 summer to the 2016-2017 winter campaign plan. Although still in its nascent stages, RS is working closely with the MoD and the MoI to establish and implement an operational readiness cycle within each ministry.
Since moving into its new headquarters building in Kabul early in 2016, the MoD continues to improve internal synchronization and coordination. The MoD and General Staff (GS) leadership were committed to executing Operation Shafaq effectively and largely adhered to the campaign plan. In addition, MoD-level support to strategic communication efforts for the campaign and in response to major events demonstrated growing capacity in this area. Despite modest progress, the MoD’s use of systems and processes to prosecute allegations of gross violations of human rights (GVHR) and investigations and reporting processes for instances of corruption remains problematic and insufficient given the number of allegations.
Although the MoI re-established the ANP zone headquarters to address command and control issues within the ANP, the MoI has not sufficiently empowered, supplied, or staffed all of the zone headquarters. As a result, each ANP zone headquarters varies in effectiveness.
Despite the MoI establishing a number of initiatives to address corruption within its own ranks more effectively, such as the Transparency and Accountability in Law Enforcement Committee and improving the MoI Inspector General (IG) fuel and ammunition inspection programs, progress remains limited.
Conversely, the MoI has made more progress in its execution of anti- and counter-corruption policing activities through the Major Crimes Task Force (MCTF), which has proven itself to be an effective investigations body.
The Operations Coordination Centers at the regional (OCC-R) and provincial (OCC-P) level continue to be underutilized as cross-pillar coordination mechanisms. However, MoD-MoI and ANAANP coordination on intelligence has improved as the MoD, the MoI, and the ANDSF continue to capitalize on the growing capability of Afghan intelligence organizations including the Nasrat
(A national-level intelligence fusion center).
At the tactical level, ANA and ANP coordination continues to suffer due to poor communication among lower level commanders, mistrust between pillars, informal relationships based off of political patronage or local power dynamics, and insufficient ANA support to ANP checkpoints or positions that come under insurgent attack.
Although the Afghan Government faced many political challenges throughout this reporting period, the United States and the international community continue to view the Afghan Government as a credible partner capable of providing leadership on key issues and implementing needed reforms to enhance the effectiveness and sustainability of the Afghan security institutions.
The United States, its NATO Allies, and its operational partners remain committed to partnership with the Afghan government and will continue to support the Afghan people as the United States pursues its national security interests in regional stability and counterterrorism, with the ultimate goal of a sovereign, secure, stable, and unified Afghanistan.