Afghanistan is a country located in the region of Southern Asia. The turn of the year 2014/2015 marked a turning point in Afghanistan’s modern history. The country’s own government and military then assumed responsibility for security after Afghanistan for 13 years had been protected from mainly the Taliban by at most over 140,000 foreign soldiers. With a handful of years of perspective on the change of power, it is clear that Afghanistan is far from standing on its own.
The Kabul government is almost paralyzed by internal divisions and outside the provinces, Taliban and other resistance groups have strengthened their positions.
- Countryaah: Country facts and history of Afghanistan, including state flag, location map, demographics, GDP data, currency code, and business statistics.
The US and NATO led forces that have been in Afghanistan since the beginning of the 2000s (see Modern History) left the country in large part by the end of 2014. Only 9,800 US soldiers would remain in support of the Afghans. Half of them would be taken home in 2015, the rest in 2016. The NATO-led ISA force was replaced with a smaller NATO (Operation Resolute Support) mission, with the mission of training, training and assisting Afghan soldiers.
Since 2015, the security situation has deteriorated and the government has lost control of much of the country to the Taliban. (Kabul is estimated to rule over about two-thirds of the population). The army and police forces suffer constant losses, and fighting and assaults require many civilian casualties. According to a 2018 study at Brown University in the United States, nearly 39,000 civilians had been killed in direct combat since the US invasion in 2001. In fact, the Afghan defense is still dependent on US support.
Already in the fall of 2015, US President Barack Obama realized that the Afghan defense was unable to protect the country on its own. He therefore slowed the American retreat. Donald Trump, who became US president in January 2017, decided in August of the same year to expand the US troops presence in Afghanistan by 3,000 men. A little over a year later, in December 2018, however, Trump made a complete reversal and decided to call home about half of the approximately 14,000 US soldiers who remained in Afghanistan. It is still unclear when – and whether – the retreat will begin.
Weak political results
During the last mandate period of 2014, the Kabul government has been characterized by internal power struggles and a lack of manpower. The 2014 presidential election was characterized by systematic, gross cheating. In the first round of elections in April, Tajik Abdullah Abdullah, former Foreign Minister, received the most votes but was forced into a second round in June where he met the Pashtun Ashraf Ghani, former finance minister. According to preliminary results, Ghani then prevailed, which Abdullah refused to accept.
Only in September did they agree to basically share power. Ghani was appointed president and Abdullah was given a newly created post corresponding to the prime minister. No official vote figures were published, which gave reason to believe that the result was based on a political settlement under pressure from the US primarily.
Disagreement between Ghani and Abdullah, coupled with opposition from Parliament, took almost six months to set up a unifying government. Subsequently, the concrete results have been few. A success for Ghani came in 2017 when the government succeeded in concluding a peace agreement with a faction of the Islamist group Hezb-i Islami, but all attempts to speak with the Taliban have so far failed. The same year, Ghani acted against his Vice President Dostum after it was revealed that his militia had beaten a political opponent. Dostum was forced to flee to Turkey.
The parliamentary elections that would have been held by June 2015 could only be held in the fall of 2018. Despite concerns about a number of shortcomings in the preparations, as well as for the poor security situation, the authorities maintained that the elections would be held in October. The Taliban movement swore to sabotage the electoral process, which they felt was only used to trick Afghans into serving “malicious foreign interests”. Hundreds of people were killed in election-related violence, including at least ten candidates. At least three suicide attacks were carried out with dozens of deaths as a result. In Kandahar, the election was postponed a week after the provincial police chief was murdered by one of the governor’s bodyguards, according to the Taliban on their behalf. Even in Ghazni, a high level of violence led to the postponement of the elections.
Election days were marked by widespread violence, technical problems and administrative chaos. According to the UN mission in Afghanistan (Unama), 56 people were killed and 379 injured in the three days. Voting lengths were in many cases incomplete, sometimes they were completely missing. There were also major problems with getting the biometric credentials (such as fingerprints) to work. Almost 150 polling stations could not be kept open at all due to security threats. Despite all the problems and risks, just over four million Afghans out of nearly nine million were eligible to vote, according to the Election Commission.
The vote counted out at the time. Only at the end of April 2019 did most of the newly elected members take their seats in parliament. The six-year delay helped to postpone the presidential election scheduled for April 20, 2019, to September the same year.
The armed resistance
On paper, the state has about 312,000 soldiers and police officers (2018; 9,000 fewer than the year before), but neither the army nor the police capacity is particularly high, mainly due to poor education, and fighting morale is questioned. The losses are great and many soldiers desert. There has also been evidence that the security forces have been infiltrated by Taliban, estimated to have around 60,000 militiamen. From the turn of the year 2014/2015 until November 2018, around 30,000 Afghan soldiers and police, mainly Taliban militia, were killed, according to the Kabul government. During the same period, 58 American soldiers were killed, according to the same source. Since 2001, 2,400 Americans have been killed in the conflict in Afghanistan. According to Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Center (JTIC), the number of terrorist acts in Afghanistan increased by one-third in 2018 compared to the previous year,
In addition to the Taliban, the state is threatened by the militant Islamist network Haqqani, which emerged during the war against the Soviet Union in the 1980s. Haqqani is considered to have close ties to both the Taliban and the al-Qaeda terrorist network. The Sunni Extreme Islamic State (IS) has also been in the country since 2015, mainly in the east, and has carried out terrorist attacks in Kabul and elsewhere. IS initially targeted its attacks against the Shiite minority Hazarese, but is now also attacking government forces and Taliban. In addition, Uzbek Islamists with ties to the Taliban are active in the northern provinces.
The violence harms the lives of thousands of civilians every year (around 3,500 annually since 2015) and forces the Afghans to live in insecurity and poverty. About a third of the population is in need of humanitarian aid. Millions live as refugees, domestically or abroad (see Population and Languages).
According to the UN, the armed conflict claimed 3,804 civilian casualties in 2018 and 7,199 civilians were injured in the fighting that year. This was 11 percent more than 2017 and a higher figure than any other year since 2009 when comparable statistics began to be entered. The rising numbers were partly due to the fact that the resistance groups, mainly the Taliban and IS, carried out more suicide attacks and other acts, and partly that US and Afghan forces intensified their air strikes against the resistance brackets. At least 65 suicides were carried out during the year, most of them hit Kabul. Resistance groups killed more than 2,200 civilians in the country in 2018.
In 2019, the number of civil war victims dropped by 5 percent, according to the UN mission Unama. The number of dead civilians was 3,404 and the number of injured 6,989. The decrease was considered to be due to the fact that IS had been largely crushed in the eastern part of the country, and the violence on their part decreased significantly.
Talk about peace
Try to talk if an end to the conflict is in progress. The United States is holding talks with the Taliban, which, however, require all foreign troops to leave the country before regular peace talks can begin. The Taliban refuse to talk to the Afghan government which they regard as “illegitimate” and only want to speak directly with the “occupying power”, that is, the United States. The three countries that recognized the Taliban regime in 1996 are present at the discussions: Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (see Foreign Policy and Defense).
In September 2019, the talks were a setback when US President Donald Trump canceled a secret meeting that would have taken place at Camp David in the US the following day between himself and the Taliban’s representatives, as well as with President Ghani (really two separate meetings). Trump reacted strongly to the fact that the Taliban carried out a series of acts of violence in Afghanistan with the aim of strengthening their negotiating position in the peace talks and that an American soldier was killed in one of the attacks. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the rounds of talks were suspended until further notice. The United States called the envoy Khalilzad, who for one year led the talks between the United States and the Taliban. Trump described the talks with the Taliban as “dead”. In early December 2019, talks between the US and the Taliban resumed.
Agreement between the United States and the Taliban
In February 2020, success was achieved when the US and the Taliban signed a treaty in Qatar, which was to lay the groundwork for regular peace talks. With representatives from some 30 countries on site in Doha, the two parties signed a complicated agreement, which says roughly that the US and its allies should withdraw their forces from the country within 14 months in exchange for the Taliban launching negotiations with the Afghan the government of Kabul, and guarantees never to make Afghanistan a sanctuary for international terrorist networks such as al-Qaeda or extreme Islamist groups such as the Islamic State (IS) so that they can attack Western interests from there. The Taliban also promise not to “recruit, train and fund” such movements or members of them.
The agreement between the US and the Taliban also provides for a prisoner exchange: 5,000 Taliban and 1,000 on the Afghan government side are to be released by March 10. The government of Kabul is not a party to the agreement, but has representatives in place in Doha. The agreement stipulates that talks between the Taliban and all “Afghan parties” will begin on March 10. An armistice will be discussed in the forthcoming negotiations. The United States also promises to “review” the sanctions targeted at Taliban leaders and members. The goal is for these sanctions to be lifted by 27 August 2020.
The outside world is supportive
The outside world continues to support Afghanistan. In 2015, the Afghan conflict was said to have cost the United States more money than the entire Marshall Plan for the reconstruction of Western Europe after World War II. At a donor conference in October 2016, the outside world pledged a total of $ 15.2 billion for the country’s reconstruction by 2020. But tough demands were placed on the Afghan authorities to implement reforms that have not yet been implemented. Donor countries want to see a tougher fight against corruption and less waste of money, new political reforms and stronger respect for human rights.
President Ghani is re-elected
At the end of September, presidential elections were held, despite the electoral movement being characterized by a wave of violence from the Taliban in order to sabotage the process. According to Unama, 85 people were killed and 373 injured during the election period between June 8 and September 30. More than every third victim was a child. The attacks mainly used rockets, grenades and home-made explosive charges against polling stations, including school buildings. The figures were an improvement over the 2018 parliamentary elections, when 226 people were killed and 781 injured.
Even on Election Day on September 28, a number of attacks were carried out (the sources varied between about 70 and around 400) with 28 civilian casualties and 249 injured as a result.
The electoral authority estimated that turnout was low, perhaps around 25 percent. Among the candidates, Ghani and Abdullah emerged as clear favorites.
On December 22, 2019, the electoral authority reported a preliminary result of the presidential election. This happened almost three months after the election was held and just over two months later than promised. The result gave President Ghani over 50 percent of the vote, which would mean he is re-elected already in the first round of elections if the result stands. However, he received less than 12,000 votes, and several of the opposing candidates rejected the result, on the grounds that the electoral authority did not take into account their complaints about the voting and the electoral process.
The electoral authority then ordered that over 200,000 votes be examined and that recalculation would take place in 600 polling stations. Only in February 2020 did the Electoral Authority announce the final result. It confirmed that President Ghani was re-elected for a second term, with 50.64 percent of the vote. Abdullah, who got 39.52 percent, immediately questioned the election results and said he would form his own government. He called the election result a “coup against democracy”. The Taliban movement also rejected Ghani’s election victory, calling it “illegal”.
Double presidential ceremonies
On March 9, 2020, Ashraf Ghani swore the presidency for a second term at a ceremony in Kabul. On the same day, Abdullah Abdullah was installed as president at another ceremony in the capital. Abdullah still refused to admit being defeated, saying he would form a shadow government alongside Ghana’s ministry.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo did not congratulate Ghani on the election victory, but he stressed that the United States strongly opposed Abdullah’s parallel ceremony. Abdullah said he would send his own delegation to talks with the Taliban.
Grim numbers over the 2010s
More than 100,000 civilian Afghans were killed or injured in the 2010 armed conflict, according to the UN. At the start of 2020, fierce fighting was going on in the country while negotiations between the US and the Taliban continued, but with no visible results.
In 2019, US fighter aircraft released more bombs (7,423 individual bombs) across Afghanistan than any other year in the 2010s, according to the US Air Force. That’s a significantly higher number than the amount of bombs dropped across the country during President Barack Obama’s “surge” in 2009, when 4,147 bombs were dropped. Aerial bombings have increased since Donald Trump became US President in 2016. During the first half of 2019, 717 civilians were killed by the government side, including US aviation, according to the UN. This is an increase of 31 percent compared to the same period in 2018. Most were killed by American or Afghan aircraft that supported Afghan ground troops.
The peace process is stalled
Shortly after the agreement was signed in Doha, Ghani announced that he was awaiting the exchange of prisoners until talks with the Taliban began. The Taliban pointed out that the Doha Agreement stipulates that prisoner exchanges should take place before the talks begin. In this situation, the Taliban interrupted the partial ceasefire. US troop retreat was canceled at the end of March due to corona pandemic. When the talks between Kabul and the Taliban had not yet begun at the end of the month, the United States chose to withdraw $ 1 billion in aid to Afghanistan.
In April, May and June a new wave of violence swept across Afghanistan. It replaced a calmer period that began after the Doha agreement between the United States and the Taliban. The escalation of violence occurred at the same time as Afghanistan was increasingly hit by the corona pandemic. According to the Doha agreement, the exchange of catches between the Taliban and the Kabul government would now be fully implemented and negotiations on a ceasefire would have begun. None of this had been realized. The Taliban attacked Afghan military bases and police posts with hundreds of dead as a result. They had previously expressed strong dissatisfaction that their fighters were still being attacked by both US and Afghan forces, and that all 5,000 Taliban prisoners had not yet been released.
Power sharing agreement
Under strong pressure from the United States, President Ghani and his political rival Abdullah signed a power-sharing agreement in May 2020 after several months of fighting. Through the settlement, Abdullah became head of the High Council for National Reconciliation, whose task is to lead future peace talks with the Taliban. Abdullah may appoint the other members of the Council, who, together with Abdullah, will take office in the government of Ghana. That means Abdullah will appoint half of the prime ministers.
Read more about the events in the Calendar.
Read more about the conflict in Afghanistan here.
READING TIP – read more about Afghanistan in UI’s web magazine Foreign Magazine:
Afghanistan’s vulnerable journalists live dangerously (2018-06-11)
DEEP on Afghanistan is also in World Politics Day Issues
Afghanistan and the Taliban: Peace at What Price? (# 5 2019)
FACTS – POLITICS
Da Afghanistan islami jomhoriyat (pashto) / Jamhoriye eslami-ye Afghanistan (dari) / Islamic Republic of Afghanistan
republic, unitary state
Head of State
President Ashraf Ghani (2014–)
Head of government
negotiations on the post are ongoing
Most important parties with mandates in the last election
Political parties are of little importance and must not stand in elections
Main parties with mandates in the second most recent elections
Political parties are of little importance and must not stand in elections
38% in the June 2014 presidential election, 32% in the April 2014 presidential election; According to the Afghan Election Commission, almost half of the voters participated in the 2018 parliamentary elections
presidential and parliamentary elections 2025
Isaf takes control
The UN Security Council approves of Isaf extending its operations across the country. The situation is not at all under control.
NATO takes over
The Western military alliance NATO takes command of the international force Isaf, whose mission is to create security in the country.
“The battles over”
US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld explains the fighting largely over: “Afghanistan is entering a period of stability”.
Karzai is elected president
A traditional council meeting, Loya Jirga, appoints Hamid Karzai as provisional president for two years.
The former king comes home
Ex-King Zahir returns after 29 years of country escape.
The schools are opened
Thousands of schools reopened and received about 1.8 million children.
New army is created
Training begins by soldiers for a new Afghan army.
International strength arrives
The first Isaf soldiers come to Kabul.
Karzai provisional leader
At a UN-led conference in Bonn, Pashtun Hamid Karzai is elected leader of a transitional regime. Two weeks later, the UN Security Council approves the establishment of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), an international force of approximately 4,500 men.
The Taliban are giving up
The Taliban withdraw from their unofficial capital, Kandahar, and disappear among the mountains and the desert.
The Taliban are retiring
The Taliban are starting to push back. On November 9, Mazar-i-Sharif falls and three days later the Taliban leave Kabul.
US-led alliance starts war
A US-led alliance is starting to bomb targets in Afghanistan with a view to overthrowing the Taliban regime. Soldiers from the UK and Canada, among others, participate in the operation. The US intelligence service CIA starts a collaboration with the Northern Alliance.
The resistance leader is killed
Northern Alliance leader Ahmed Shah Massoud is murdered by two Arab men who are likely to belong to al-Qaeda. Two days later, al-Qaeda attacks in New York and Washington. The UN Security Council approves military efforts against the Taliban.
Buddha statues are destroyed
The Taliban destroy the 1,500-year-old Buddha statues in Bamiyan; it is a protest against “idolatry” but also a protest against the West’s isolation of the regime.