Afghan Violence Remained High as U.S. Started Withdrawing Troops
(Bloomberg) -- Attacks against Afghanistan’s security forces and civilian casualties remained high in the last quarter despite a U.S.-forged peace agreement with the Taliban meant to bring an end to America’s longest war.
Violence in Afghanistan remained above average for most of the three months ending June 30, the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, or Sigar, said in a report published late Thursday. It cited Afghanistan’s National Security Council, which said that during a one-week period in June there were 422 Taliban attacks in 32 provinces killing 291 Afghan security personnel and wounding 550 others.
Although U.S. soldiers have been spared, Afghan civilians haven’t.
The Sigar study said Resolute Support, the NATO-led mission backing the Afghan security forces, reported 59% more civilian casualties in Afghanistan for the quarter compared with the previous three-month period, and an 18% increase compared with the same time last year.
Violence remains stubbornly high despite the February peace agreement between the U.S. and Taliban forces, a deal meant to foster talks between the insurgent group and the Afghan government and wind down a nearly 19-year-old conflict that began soon after the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks. The U.S. has already withdrawn thousands of troops this year following the peace deal, bringing President Donald Trump one step closer to fulfilling his campaign pledge to get America out of its “endless wars.”
Approximately 8,500 U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan, down from a peak of about 100,000 in 2010. Since the peace agreement was signed, five bases formerly occupied by the U.S. have been transferred to Afghan forces, Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said in a statement on July 14.
The deal hasn’t gone smoothly, however. Taliban-Afghan negotiations were supposed to have begun by March 10, but were long delayed. The talks were premised on President Ashraf Ghani’s government releasing as many as 5,000 Taliban prisoners in exchange for 1,000 Afghan soldiers.
After some initial political squabbling, Kabul has since freed about 4,400 prisoners and the Taliban 861, U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad said July 24 during an event organized by the U.S. Institute of Peace.
Ghani offered a note of optimism this week as he welcomed a Taliban announcement declaring a three-day cease-fire during the current Eid al-Adha festival. Ghani expects to begin peace talks with the group within a week, his spokesman, Sediq Sediqqi, said on Twitter.
Shortly after Ghani’s remarks, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed confirmed the cease-fire in a statement but warned that any attacks “must be met with a strong response.”
Despite the signs of progress toward intra-Afghan peace talks, the country’s economic problems persist, threatening to undermine efforts to bring stability to the country.
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, Sigar reported. According to Save the Children, 7.3 million Afghan children will face food shortages due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Sigar said.
“For peace to be sustained, economic development is also not only important, but perhaps necessary,” Khalilzad said during the event with the U.S. Institute of Peace.
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