Small Wars Journal


Will a Prisoner Swap with the Taliban Push the Afghan Peace Process Forward?

It’s been over two months since President Trump announced a halt to U.S.-Taliban peace talks. In a move that could revive the moribund peace process, the Afghan government and Taliban completed a prisoner exchange that had been announced last week but then delayed. An American and Australian professor held by the Taliban were freed in return for three senior Taliban figures. Meanwhile, Afghanistan’s September 28 presidential election remains undecided, further complicating peace efforts.

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Doomed from the Skies, Damned on the Ground

Every U.S. airstrike resulting in civilian casualties nullifies the eighteen-year long endeavors of reconstruction and nation building aimed at winning the hearts and minds of Afghans in the perpetual War on Terror. The airstrikes have alarmingly augmented the xenophobia of Afghans towards the foreign troops and especially those of the United States.

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Money Laundering, Terrorist Financing, and Hawala’s Damage to the Afghan Economy

Killing terrorists is not all about kinetic strikes, area clearances, and pinpoint raids. Terrorist organizations must be pressured in every aspect of their organization’s lifeblood. Attacking their coffers, often referred to as “counter-threat financing,” or CTF, is a key aspect of hurting terrorists from growing future capabilities and preventing future high-profile attacks.

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The Forgotten War? US 2020 Debates Largely Ignore Afghanistan

The 2020 presidential candidates Afghan policy stance will surely be focused on short term political gains over the long-term prosperity of Afghanistan. Ultimately, Afghanistan has run its course politically and many would argue there exists no US policy that can “win” in Afghanistan and “win” politically at home in the US. The question each candidate should be asked next is what does your withdrawal look like?

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Playing Capture the Flag: Advising Our Way to More Enduring Effects in Afghanistan

In order to advise our way to a more sustainable partner, we must continue to address one of the main issues plaguing our Afghan partners in their fight against the Taliban. It is frustrating to watch the ongoing adult version of “capture the flag” play out on the battlefield in Afghanistan.

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The Loss of South Vietnam and the Coming Loss of Afghanistan

Unlike conventional wars, which in Vietnam we called the “War of the Big Battalions”, small wars, or what back then we called “the other war”, integrate the military with the cultural and the political. Thus, small wars are hard to win with kinetic engagements and firepower alone. The complex reality of small wars also implies that they can be lost for cultural or political reasons even if single military engagements are won handily again and again.

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MacArthur, Eisenhower, and the Lost Lessons of Building Partnership Capacity

Douglas MacArthur and Dwight Eisenhower justifiably have become legends for their accomplishments while commander World War II’s Pacific and Northern European campaigns. Yet even with renewed focus on great power conflicts, future commanders are more likely to face missions similar to what these officers faced in the Philippines prior to the war than the continent-wide conventional campaigns they are better known far.

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SIGAR's 44th Quarterly Report to Congress

SIGAR's 44th Quarterly Report to Congress


On Thursday, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) released its forty-fourth Quarterly Report to Congress.

Key Points

-- For the fourth consecutive quarter, ANDSF strength is reported at the lowest level since the Resolute Support mission began in January 2015. This quarter's ANDSF strength decreased by 41,777 personnel since approximately the same period in 2018. According to CSTC-A, the decline was due to ANDSF switching their reporting of personnel strength to the number enrolled in the Afghan Personnel and Pay System (APPS) rather than the number reported on-hand by ANDSF components.

-- This quarter's ANDSF assigned strength is 77.4% (79,535 personnel short of its authorized strength), a nearly 10 percentage-point decline from last quarter.

-- Resolute Support reported 6,445 enemy-initiated attacks (EIA) this quarter (March 1 - May 31), a 9% increase from the preceding three months (December 1, 2018 - February 28), but a 10% decrease from the same period last year.

-- Of the 6,445 EIA reported this quarter, roughly 43% were "effective" enemy-initiated attacks (EEIA) that resulted in ANDSF, Coalition, or civilian casualties. This is a 17% increase compared to the preceding three months (December 1, 2018 - February 28), but a 7% decrease compared to the same period last year.

-- ACLED, the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, reported a 66% increase in incidents in Afghanistan this quarter (March 1 - May 31) compared to the same period in 2018. These incidents include violent and nonviolent activity of all parties to the conflict. Violent activity made up 98% of recorded incidents.

-- Resolute Support reported this quarter that casualty rates for the ANDSF are the same as they were in the same quarter one year ago.

-- SIGAR analysis of Afghan government education enrollment data confirms that no girls were enrolled in grade 12 in 85% of districts in Helmand Province in 2018.

-- Girls' education lags across much of southern Afghanistan. All seven provinces where no females were enrolled in at least 50% of districts were located in Afghanistan's South or Southeast regions. Nearly 2.6 million girls are out of school in Afghanistan, according to the Afghan government.

-- The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) reported that the number of attacks against schools in Afghanistan tripled in 2018 - to 192, up from 68 in 2017. The report also noted more than 1,000 Afghan schools were closed at the end of 2018 due to ongoing conflict and approximately 500,000 children "were denied their right to education." High levels of school closures continued in 2019.

-- According to CSTC-A, the Afghan Ministry of Interior's Criminal Investigative Directorate (MOI CID) has undertaken no investigations or other actions to counter corruption. CSTC-A stated their belief that MOI CID leadership participates in, rather than disrupts, corruption.

-- The Afghan government recovers less than 1% (0.2%) of financial penalties issued by the Anti-Corruption Justice Center (ACJC) and struggles to execute warrants and summonses.

-- In cases involving prominent figures, the UN says the Afghan criminal justice system "looks like a system promoting impunity." According to the UN, there are numerous incidents when the police failed to make arrests and the AGO failed to issue charges. Further, suspects have been released prior to trial and orders to not leave the country were not enforced.

-- According to data from the Department of Defense, nine ANDSF personnel went absent without leave (AWOL) while in the United States between January 1 and July 1. Thirty-nine ANDSF personnel went AWOL in the United States between January and December 2018.

Full Report:
Quarterly Report by Section:

Unintended Consequences of the Message Surrounding US Withdrawal from Afghanistan and Syria

This study determines what trends, if any, may be associated with the announcements of US troop withdrawals in both Syria and Afghanistan on December 19 and 20, respectively. It examines the extent to which linkages exist between the unintended consequences and the announcement of the US military’s withdrawal by examining activities and commentary associated with the Taliban, the SDF, and the Daesh.

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