In September 2019, a car bombing that killed 12 people in Kabul, the Afghan capital, led U.S. Presence Trump to call off talks with the Taliban. Another car packed with explosives drove to a private security guard’s convoy in Kabul in November, 2019, leaving 12 people, including children, dead and 20 others wounded. With overall waning combat in the Afghan war, Kabul and other major Afghan cities have gone through significantly less violence since then, but Afghan villages have not seen a decrease: they have been burning in war.
Ferocious Levels Of Violence In Rural Afghanistan
On February 7, the Afghan intelligence agency announced they had killed at least 21 Taliban fighters and number of Tahreek-e-Taliban Pakistani fighters in Lal Por district of eastern Nangarhar province. The Taliban claimed also claimed an attack on Afghan security outposts in Shur Tapa district of northern Balkh province left 30 government forces killed and wounded.
U.S. diplomats and Taliban representatives have been talking about “reduction of violence” in areas like Shur Tapa and Lal Por districts that experienced widespread combat between the Afghan government and the Taliban, where scores of personals from both sides are killed and wounded, trapping civilians in the middle.
“[The Afghan government and the Taliban] continued their fighting in countryside, where it attracts less public attention and the government and the Taliban can make more damage to each other,” said Mohammad Arif Rahmani, a member of the Afghan Parliament’s national security committee.
“I think, meanwhile, reduction of violence in cities could be seen as a green light by the Taliban for a political settlement.”
What About The Afghan Ceasefire?
The Afghan government and U.S. diplomats demanded ceasefire to move forward peace talks with the Taliban. In January, the Taliban had offered a 10-day “reduction of violence”, which the U.S. found inadequate. The Afghan government—which has been excluded from U.S.-Taliban talks—rejected the “reduction of violence,” calling it meaningless.
The Afghan government has been calling for nothing less than a comprehensive ceasefire. The government feared that a reduction of violence would only apply to major Afghan cities, leaving the countryside in the ragging war, even when the United States signs a deal with the Taliban.
“We’re working on a peace and reconciliation plan, putting the commas in the right place, getting the sentence right,” said U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during his visit to Central Asia at a press conference. “…what we are demanding now is demonstrable evidence of their will and capacity to reduce violence, to take down the threat, so the inter-Afghan talks…will have a less violent context.”
The Taliban’s Reaction
The spokesperson for the Taliban, Zabihullah Mujaheed, said in a Twitter post that the group wants a resolution. “Negotiation process has been harmed by Trump’s tweet, numerous US demands, and quarrel between U.S. and Kabul officials,” said Mujaheed. “[Secretary Pompeo] should refrain from blame-shifting.”
For weeks now, U.S.-Taliban talks have been focused on the reduction of violence and ceasefire: what the reduction of violence means and where it will be implemented. The talks aim to reach an agreement over U.S. troop gradual withdrawal and beginning of talks between the government and the Taliban along with other Afghans on future of power-sharing in the country.
After talks with the Taliban representatives in Doha, Qatar in January 2020, U.S. peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad visited Pakistan and Afghanistan. The U.S. embassy in Kabul said in a statement that Khalilzad met with leaders of the government and Afghan politicians. “In all meetings, Ambassador Khalilzad emphasized Afghans should continue to focus on bringing together the inclusive Islamic Republic negotiating team and preparing for intra-Afghan negotiations,” the statement added.
Fighting Continues During Peace Talks—Especially In Afghan Countryside
Simultaneous with the peace talks since the renewed push by U.S. diplomats and Taliban in November 2019, there has been widespread combat continued across the countryside of the country. According to U.S. watchdog SIGAR, The Taliban and other anti-government conducted 8,204 attacks on Afghan security forces during the last three months of 2019, with 38% successful operations that killed Afghan forces and captured their posts.
Airstrikes—which have been the main leverage of the government and U.S. forces in Afghanistan—routinely target Taliban forces on an unprecedented level. In 2019, U.S. Air Forces Central Command said that American aircrafts dropped 7,423 munitions in the country. U.S.-led troops flew nearly 8,800 operations in 2019, during which over a quarter of operations carried out strikes.
Afghan Civilians Are Caught In The Middle
In the middle of U.S.-backed government forces and Taliban fighters, Afghan civilians are caught, losing children, women, and men in a record number. Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission said in a statement that 27 civilians including 17 children were killed 24 others were wounded in pro-government airstrikes in only January of 2020.
“This is horrific and unacceptable. Civilian casualties must stop,” said Shahrzad Akbar, the chairperson of the Afghan Human Rights Commission. “This should make us all pause, especially those ordering airstrikes.”
What Happens Now?
With the war raging in the countryside, the peace talks have stagnated. The continuous repositioning of the United States, the Afghan government and the Taliban have raised fears of the breakdown of the fragile negotiations at a time that U.S. president Trump stated again he wanted U.S. troops back home in his State of Union to the U.S. Congress. Many people fear the U.S. would withdraw without a deal with the Taliban, leaving the country in a civil war.
“The calmness in Afghan cities could be silence before a storm,” said MP Rahmani, referring to the coming Spring Season which is generally a time of increased combat. “We might face severe and brutal war in the coming Spring Season.”