The Conflict at a Glance

Who (are the main combatants): The government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, the country’s military – known as the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) and combatants fighting under NATO are attempting to govern the multiplicity of disparate tribal areas that make up the country. They are opposed by insurgents associated with the Taliban, al-Qaeda, the Islamic State, and other radical armed groups. No government (or invading force) has ever managed to impose central rule over the territory of Afghanistan.

What (started the conflict): This conflict started with the 2001 invasion by the United States, which declared its intent to deny al-Qaeda a safe base of operations in Afghanistan. The most recent ongoing war is the result of the forcible removal of the Taliban in 2002 by the international community (in particular, NATO); international forces were to remain on the ground until the Afghan government had enough strength to maintain power and defend itself from future internal and external adversaries.

The outside imposition of an elected governing apparatus in Kabul has not led to stability or peace in the rural areas of Afghanistan, which are largely governed by tribal customs rather than policies and regulations from the central government. The foreign overthrow, dismantling, and replacement of Afghanistan’s governance structures led to a power vacuum across the country that has been filled by insurgent groups.

When (has fighting occurred): From 2003 to 2014, NATO commanded the UN-mandated International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, which had 130,000 troops at peak deployment in 2012. In 2015, “Operation Resolute Support” replaced ISAF with 13,000 troops, which are still there (NATO). In 2016, the Taliban reportedly controlled between 20 and 50 per cent of the country (New York Times).

Prior to the current iteration of the conflict, Afghanistan had experienced several decades of civil war and unrest. In 1978, Afghanistan’s communist party (People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan or PDPA) led a coup d’état against President Khan, who himself had taken power from the former King, his cousin. In response, guerrilla mujahedeen across the country rose up against the PDPA and government forces. With the Cold War raging, the United States supported the anti-Soviet mujahedeen with weapons and money funneled through Pakistan. This power struggle led to the 1979 Soviet intervention, in which the USSR sent more than 100,000 Soviet soldiers to the country and installed a pro-Soviet government, and to the decade-long Soviet–Afghan War against the mujahedeen (1979–1989). After the Soviet occupation ended in 1989, a civil war began between different ethnic groups, predominantly the Tajik Northern Alliance and Pashtun mujahedeen (Saudi Arabian and U.S.-funded religious fighters) from the South. The mujahedeen broke into several factions, one being the Taliban, which defeated the other fighters and eventually took control of the country.

Where (has the conflict taken place): The conflict has been most violent in the Taliban’s traditional homeland surrounding Kandahar City and in neighbouring Helmand province. However, there has been considerable fighting over the past 50 years in most parts of Afghanistan, including the capital city, Kabul. After being ousted from power, the Taliban based themselves in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) along Afghanistan’s northwestern border. They have also carried out large-scale terrorist attacks in Africa, North America, and Europe. The emergence of the Islamic State as an actor in the conflict has increased violence and tension among insurgent groups.


Type of Conflict
Parties to the Conflict
Status of the Fighting
Number of Deaths
Political Developments
Arms Sources

Economic Factors   


2017 Intensified fighting between government forces and insurgents resulted in many civilian deaths, most from Taliban suicide attacks that specifically targeted civilians. The capital city of Kabul experienced a notable increase in Taliban attacks this year, with the May 31 attack the deadliest since 2001. Also targeted by various insurgent groups were Afghan security forces and institutions, such as the Daud Khan military hospital, and three Shia mosques.

International forces, in particular, the U.S. military, were more active as well. The United States announced its plan to send an additional 3,900 U.S. troops in 2018 to join the almost 11,000 already stationed in Afghanistan (The Washington Post). In April, the United States dropped an 11-ton bomb (the largest non-nuclear bomb it has ever deployed) on eastern Afghanistan, killing at least 90 suspected ISIS militants (The Guardian).

Pro-government forces were also responsible for a fifth of the civilian casualties (UNAMA). The Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) rely on regional militias that are believed to have killed and assaulted civilians (Human Rights Watch). The ANSF continue to face high casualties in combatting the Taliban. From January 1 to May 1, 2,531 Afghan forces were killed and 4,238 wounded; U.S. commanders consider this casualty rate unsustainably high (Reuters). The high numbers are in part due to the use of static checkpoints that make the Afghan forces vulnerable to attack. However, Afghan politicians and commanders insist on these checkpoints as a way to show government presence and action in remote parts of the country.

2016 Heavy fighting continued in northern and southern Afghanistan, including Helmand province. State and insurgent forces jostled for control of several districts of Afghanistan, with insurgents attempting to capture new cities and territory, and security forces attempting to retake the captured areas. Insurgents conducted frequent suicide attacks and bombings, while ANDSF and insurgents exchanged mortar and rocket fire. In mid-May, Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Pakistan near the Afghan border; Haibatullah Akhunzada was named the new leader of the Taliban shortly after. In late October, the U.S. military announced that it had killed two senior al-Qaeda leaders, Faruq al-Qatani and Bilal al-Utabi, in drone strikes in eastern Afghanistan.

In early 2016, delegates from Afghanistan, Pakistan, China, and the United States met twice to discuss an Afghan peace process and mechanisms for reviving talks with the Taliban. Throughout the year tensions increased between executives of Afghanistan’s government, especially President Ghani and CEO Abdullah Abdullah. The two men disagreed on parliamentary elections scheduled for October, the proposed implementation of electoral reforms, and the establishment of the position of Prime Minster. The elections were postponed and rescheduled for July 7, 2018. On July 6, U.S. President Obama announced that the planned reductions of U.S. troops in Afghanistan would be delayed and 8,400 U.S. troops would remain in Afghanistan until early 2017 (Watson Institute). On September 22, the Government of Afghanistan signed a peace deal with the large, but mostly dormant, insurgent group Hezb-i-Islami. Leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar was granted immunity from prosecution for past war crimes. Opium poppy cultivation and drug trafficking continued to finance the operations and personnel costs of the Taliban (The Guardian).

2015 Afghanistan witnessed a record 11,002 civilian casualties in 2015 (UNOCHA, Civilian casualties: a new high in 2015, 1)—the result of intense fighting throughout the country. The Taliban continued to launch attacks on key cities and districts. Particularly heavy fighting afflicted the city of Kunduz and Helmand province as the Afghan forces and their allies resisted the Taliban. The government negotiated with the Taliban in May and July, but heavy fighting, coupled with leadership issues and divisions within the Taliban caused talks to stall. The United States announced that it would halt troop withdrawals until 2016; a number of NATO countries declared that they would maintain an ongoing advisory role (International Crisis Group).

2014 The year saw a 22 per cent increase in civilian casualties over the previous calendar year, with more Afghan civilians killed or injured as a result of ground combat rather than improvised explosive devices for the first time since 2009. Insurgent forces continued attacks on vital districts during much of the year. The Taliban persistently targeted government officials and those associated with presidential elections. In spite of this, on September 21 a new, unified government was sworn in, with AshrafGhani as president and Abdullah Abdullah the new Chief Executive Officer. The government signed the long delayed Bilateral Security Agreement and the NATO Status of Force Agreement on September 30. NATO officially ended its combat mission in Afghanistan at the end of December, with approximately 13,000 NATO and allied troops remaining in Afghanistan largely for capacity-building purposes as part of the new NATO Resolute Support Mission.  U.S. President Barack Obama announced in May that 9, 800 U.S. troops would remain in Afghanistan. Tensions related to the unity government remained, raising concerns over its viability.

2013 Civilians were increasingly targeted by the Taliban as a means of decreasing confidence in the state, with 1,400 deaths occurring during the first half of 2013, 74 percent caused by insurgents. NATO troops continued a transition from a combat to a support role, while the ANDSF assumed more responsibility for security in the country. In 2013 NATO deaths reached a low of 151, while ANDSF deaths increased to 2,767 (from 1,870 in 2012). This trend is expected to continue as NATO troops complete the transition to a  support role by the end of 2014.The Karzai government progressively strengthened ties with the Taliban through prisoner releases, while damaging relations with the United States and its allies, against the will of the Loya Jirga, the largest national meeting of elders and religious figures in the country.

2012 Fewer instances of violence and death were noted in 2012 than in 2011, although reports differ on the number of fatalities. Throughout the year, air strikes and rocket attacks from coalition forces continued. Ongoing insurgent attacks included suicide bombings, roadside bombs and car bombs. Several protests and clashes between civilians and police forces took place. In April representatives of Pakistan, Afghanistan and the United States met to discuss reviving peace talks. Safe passage arrangements to allow the Taliban to attend talks were also explored. 

2011 This year marked the fifth year in a row that civilian casualties increased in the armed conflict in Afghanistan, according to UNAMA. Despite heightening insurgency violence and the rise in civilian fatalities, all international forces, including the United States, maintained plans to withdraw from Afghanistan as soon as possible, with a deadline of 2014. The Afghan government and international partners supported a negotiated peace agreement with the Taliban. The month of May saw 368 civilian deaths, the highest monthly toll recorded. The assassination by the Taliban of public figures – including the mayor of Kandahar; a northern police commander; and president Karzai’s half-brother, Ahmad Wali Karzai, a key southern powerbroker –increased tensions. In December, the Afghan government signed an oil and natural gas exploitation deal with the Chinese National Petroleum Corporation. The deal allows the Chinese company to create and work oil blocks in Sari Pul and Faryab.

2010 The tenth year of the current war in Afghanistan again proved the bloodiest to date for civilians. Approximately 2,700 civilians were killed by all parties in the conflict. The number of international forces in Afghanistan reached 150,000 with the addition of 30,000 more U.S. troops. NATO launched Operation Moshtarak in February to secure government control of Helmand province. In March, the UN Security Council approved Resolution 1917 to renew the mandate of the United Nations Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and extend its operations until March 23, 2011. A joint United States-Pakistan coalition force captured Taliban commander Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, believed to be second-in-command to Mullah Mohammed Omar. In June, NATO and the United States launched a civil and military campaign in Kandahar to emphasize governance reform. U.S. General David Petraeus became commander of ISAF troops in July. The parliamentary elections in September were marred by corruption and insurgency violence; the Taliban killed three election candidates during the campaign. In November, NATO announced it would hand over control of security to Afghan forces at the end of 2014.

2009 This was again the bloodiest year for the conflict in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban, with 2,412 civilians killed. More sophisticated improvised explosive devices proved the biggest killer. It was also a significant year for foreign troop commitments. The United States committed to an initial surge of 17,000 troops and later an additional 30,000. A controversial initiative to arm local civilian forces went ahead with its first pilot project. The Afghan Public Protection Force pilot project began in July in the Jalriz district of Wardak province. The major political development of 2009 was presidential elections in August. Marred by allegations of corruption and Taliban intimidation, official results took months to finalize. After all allegations of fraud were investigated, incumbent Hamid Karzai was the front-runner but did not surpass the necessary threshold of 50 per cent of the popular vote. After a runoff election was announced, Karzai’s opponent, Abdullah Abdullah, withdrew from the race, making Karzai the winner of a second term.

2008 Fighting increased substantially this year as attacks escalated by 31 per cent, resulting again in the highest rates of violence in the operation’s seven-year history. Coalition forces suffered their highest annual combat casualties with nearly 270 soldiers killed. The largest single loss of foreign troops occurred in August when 10 French soldiers were killed in an ambush just outside the capital Kabul. An increase in coalition deaths has been attributed to the sharp rise of the use of roadside bombs, up 31 per cent from the previous year. Civilian fatality estimates range widely, depending on the source. Military estimates tend to be in the hundreds while international bodies and human rights agencies put civilian deaths in the thousands. The UN Assistance Mission to Afghanistan (UNAMA) reported 2,118 civilian casualties during the year, an increase of 39 per cent over 2007. The total 2008 death toll is reported to be more than 6,340, which is close to the approximately 6,500 killed in 2007. Political mediation remained at a standstill as reports of peace talks between the Afghan government and Taliban representatives were later refuted by presumed Taliban leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar. Due to security and logistical instability, presidential elections scheduled for May 2009 were postponed until August 20. The U.S. administration under President Barak Obama has pledged to increase its personnel strength in Afghanistan by a surge of 20,000 to 30,000 soldiers during 2009.

2007 This year saw the worst fighting since the Taliban were removed from power in 2001. Upwards of 6,000 deaths were reported, approximately one third civilian. President Hamid Karzai appealed to both foreign troops and the Taliban to exercise more caution when fighting in civilian-populated areas. Requests for peace talks with the Taliban were dismissed by the group, and kidnappings and suicide attacks reached an all-time high. Opium production was the highest ever recorded, with Afghanistan providing 93 per cent of the world’s opium. The United States committed $2.5-billion to a program to train Afghan police, after the deaths of more than 900 officers were linked to poor training and continuing corruption.

2006 Fighting between the Taliban and Afghan and foreign security forces escalated dramatically, as the number of monthly attacks increased fourfold, resulting in between 3,700 and 4,000 deaths, the highest number of annual deaths since the Taliban was ousted in 2001. NATO deployed more troops and expanded its command to all areas of the country. The Afghanistan Compact, a five-year plan for co-operation between the government, the UN and the international community on issues of security, development and narcotics, was signed by 60 countries and organizations early in the year, though local resentment to foreign forces on the ground continued to rise as issues of poverty and development remain unaddressed.

2005 Fighting escalated dramatically as Taliban and al-Qaeda militants launched numerous attacks on Afghan and foreign forces, which responded with several large-scale military operations. At least 1,200 civilians and combatants were killed this year.

2004 The year was largely free of major fighting, although interfactional clashes, clashes with NATO troops, attacks on NGO workers and attacks on civilians occurred with regularity. At least 250 people were killed. In early January, Afghanistan’s Loya Jirga adopted its first post-conflict constitution and after October elections Hamid Karzai was declared President. His new cabinet included two women. Although the government declared plans to combat and eventually eradicate poppy and opium production, Afghanistan remained a leading supplier.

2003 Despite continued fighting between U.S.-led coalition forces, assisted by the newly formed Afghan army, and Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters, as well as clashes between rival militias in the north, some gains toward stabilizing Afghanistan were made in 2003. Efforts to disarm and reintegrate militia fighters began across the country and the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), which came under NATO control in August, was authorized to expand its operations beyond Kabul. By the end of the year, members of the Loya Jirga (grand council) appeared set to adopt a national constitution, establishing a political system in preparation for 2004 elections. Approximately 1,000 people were killed as a result of the conflict in 2003.

2002 Fighting continued between rival militia leaders in western and eastern Afghanistan. The United States and coalition countries launched a number of missions against the Taliban and al-Qaeda, including Operation Anaconda in southeastern Afghanistan, the largest ground battle of the war. President Hamid Karzai was re-elected by the Loya Jirga (grand council) to serve as leader of the transitional government until the 2004 elections. At least 1,500 people died as a result of the fighting this year, most of them Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters.

2001 Fighting between Taliban and Northern Alliance forces was fierce in early 2001, escalating again after a major U.S.-led bombing campaign against the Taliban began in October. In December, following a rout of Taliban forces, a new interim government was agreed by Northern Alliance factions. The death toll for the year was difficult to assess, but certainly exceeded 1,000.

2000 Taliban forces made considerable territorial gains to extend control over more than 95 per cent of the country. By October, the Taliban had captured the key northern city of Taloqan and a series of northeastern towns, advancing to the border with Tajikistan. It is likely that hundreds of people were killed this year in the continued fighting or as a result of widespread human rights abuses.

1999 Following spring gains, the Taliban used quickly trained Pakistani and other foreign recruits to launch a successful July offensive which was reversed a week later by the Northern Alliance. Fierce fighting left hundreds, likely thousands, of civilians and combatants dead.

1998 The Taliban made major advances against opposition forces, extending control to all but four of Afghanistan’s 32 provinces. Estimates of civilian deaths ranged upward from 3,000, most Hazari residents of the regional centre of Mazar-e-Sharif, reportedly deliberately killed by the Taliban during the recapture of the city in August.

1997 A Taliban militia advance into the northeast early in 1997 ended in major defeat and renewed opposition Alliance forces’ bombing and shelling of the capital, Kabul. Despite higher combatant deaths—some reports list over 3,000— the year ended as it began, with the Taliban controlling two-thirds of the country.

1996 The Taliban militia captured Kabul in September, killing the former communist president. By the end of 1996, the group controlled over two-thirds of the country. Hundreds of civilians and combatants were reported killed in rocket attacks on the capital and clashes in surrounding areas.

1995 By the end of 1995, the Taliban militia had overcome rivals to control more than half of the country and besiege the government-controlled capital, Kabul. Periodic, intense fighting killed thousands, possibly as many as 10,000.

Type of Conflict

State control
Failed state

Parties to the Conflict

1. Government of Afghanistan: The 2014 presidential election brought Ashraf Ghani to power, but runner-up Abdullah Abdullah disputed his victory in the second runoff. An agreement was subsequently reached on a unity government whereby Ghani became President and Abdullah became Chief Executive Officer.

In 2004, Pashtun leader Hamid Karzai was elected president in the country’s first election since the enactment of Afghanistan’s January 2004 constitution. The new constitution established a presidential system of government and guaranteed that all Afghans would be equal before the law. September 2005 saw the first parliamentary elections in more than three decades, and while they did not meet international standards for free and transparent elections, they were generally considered successful by the international community and the people of Afghanistan. In the fall of 2009, Hamid Karzai was re-elected to a second term in a presidential election marred by allegations of fraud. His opponent, Abdullah Abdullah, withdrew from a runoff election necessitated by Karzai’s failure to gain 50 per cent of the popular vote in the first round of voting.

2. The Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF): Created in 2002 after the fall of the Taliban regime. In 2015 it comprised approximately:

  • 173,000 soldiers, airmen, and Ministry of Defence civilians working in the Army;
  • 154,000 policemen and civilians from the Ministry of Interior;
  • Over 28,000 Afghan Local Police (Ministry of the Interior) working at the village level (NATO).

The ANDSF took over all security responsibilities in Afghanistan on January 1, 2015, after the United States officially ended its Operation Enduring Freedom and NATO officially ended its International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission (U.S. Institute of Peace). NATO countries have supported the ANDSF with training and supplies.

3. U.S.-led coalition forces involved in combat mission “Operation Enduring Freedom” (2001-2014) and follow-on missionOperation Freedom’s Sentinel” (2015 to present): “Operation Enduring Freedom” (OEF-Afghanistan) was the operational response of the United States to the parties deemed to be responsible for the September 11, 2001 attacks: Afghanistan’s Taliban government and insurgency groups such as al-Qaeda. The OEF military campaign initially sent 7,000 U.S. and coalition soldiers into Afghanistan to topple the Taliban government. After their success, OEF forces conducted small- and medium-scale operations in an attempt to eliminate Taliban and al-Qaeda forces in Afghanistan. Since handing over Afghan security to the ANDSF at the end of 2014, U.S.-led coalition forces have maintained a limited counterterrorism presence in Afghanistan through “Operation Freedom’s Sentinel” (Department of Defense). Many more U.S. troops have been part of the two NATO missions in Afghanistan.

4. North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO): In August 2003, NATO took control of the UN-mandated International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), which had been created in accordance with the December 2001 Bonn Agreement. Due to persistent insecurity, the NATO-led force gradually expanded in size and scale, reaching 10,000 troops by 2005 and expanding throughout southern Afghanistan. Under Chapter VIII of the UN Charter, their mandate was peace enforcement: protecting the Afghan people, building the capacity of the Afghan National Security Forces, countering insurgency forces, and fostering stronger governance and development. In 2006, NATO took control of all military operations in Afghanistan.

While more than 50 countries contributed troops to the ISAF mission, the United States contributed the vast majority, with the U.K. a distant second. The United States had more than 90,000 troops on the ground in Afghanistan at the peak in 2011 (National Public Radio). By contrast, ISAF had more than 63,600 troops on the ground in 2013, with 43,000 soldiers from the United States and 20,600 from other NATO nations (Brookings Institution):


Country Troops (Peak) Troops (August 2013)*
U.S. 90,000 43,000 (December 2013)
U.K. 9,500 7,000
Canada 2,900 950
Germany 4,909 4,400
France 3,979 266
Australia 1,550 1031
Italy 3,815 2,825
Poland 2,527 1,177
Turkey 1,799 1,036
Spain 1,499 856
Romania 1,726 1,077

*Latest numbers from the Brookings Institution

Countries who contributed smaller numbers of troops to the ISAF/NATO mission included: Albania, Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, El Salvador, Finland, former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Georgia, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Jordan, Republic of Korea, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Mongolia, Montenegro, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden, Tonga, Ukraine and United Arab Emirates.

While NATO’s combat mission officially ended in December 2014, it remains in Afghanistan through “Operation Resolute Support” (January 2015 to present). The mandate of this follow-on mission is to train, advise, and assist Afghan security forces. With approximately 13,000 troops on the ground in 2016, the largest contributors to the mission are:

Country Troops
U.S. 6,839
Georgia 885
Germany 850
Romania 650
Turkey 503
Italy 500
United Kingdom 470
Australia 400


Other troop-contributing countries include: Albania, Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxemburg, Mongolia, Montenegro, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and Ukraine.

5. United States: The United States has been the biggest player in the current conflict since their 2001 invasion of Afghanistan. U.S. forces currently carry out two complementary missions under Operation Freedom’s Sentinel: counterterrorism against al-Qaeda, its affiliates, and ISIL-K in Afghanistan; and support for NATO’s Resolute Support capacity-building effort (2015 to present), which seeks to build the capacity of the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Interior and to strengthen the ANDSF (Global Security). U.S. troops separate from the NATO mission have been authorized to engage in limited combat, which includes counterterrorism operations, the use of drones, and limited close air support for Afghan forces.

6. United Nations: Since 2002, the UN has had a continuous presence in Afghanistan through the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), which was developed as part of the Bonn Process. UNAMA’s integrated two-pronged mission involves both political affairs, and development and humanitarian concerns. UNAMA supports the Afghan government, monitors human rights and the protection of civilians, and promotes good governance and regional cooperation (UNAMA). If requested by the Afghan government, the mission can provide capacity-building and technical assistance.In 2012, the UN Security Council mandated UNAMA to assist in the elections planned for 2014. The Security Council provided the original authorization for ISAF (later under NATO control), although it was never a UN operation. The UN has been an active partner with Afghan authorities, institutions, and civil society, especially women’s organizations.

Since 2014, when the UN Secretary-General called for strong support going into the transition period, the UNAMA mandate has continued to be renewed every March. In 2016, UNAMA had a permanent field presence in 12 provinces across Afghanistan and liaison offices in Islamabad (Pakistan) and Tehran (Iran). It employed more than 1,600 staff, 71 per cent  Afghan nationals (UNAMA). The United Nations Department of Political Affairs supports and directs UNAMA.


7. Pakistan: Since the early 1970s, Pakistan has provided military, economic, and political support to Afghan political actors. When insurgent group Hezb-i Islami failed to seize control of Kabul in the early 1990s, Pakistan shifted its support to the Taliban. After the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001, many of its leaders relocated to Pakistan. NATO officials have accused Pakistan of harbouring Taliban leaders, enabling them to rearm and regroup. Pakistani officials have consistently denied that Pakistan’s intelligence organization, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), supports the Taliban. Evidence suggests that Pakistani volunteers have been involved in the Taliban and that certain members of the Pakistani government and security forces remain sympathetic to the movement. The Pakistani and Afghan governments have had frequent disputes over terrorism, trade, and prisoner releases, which occasionally cause them to close their shared border (Voice of America).

Under former President Hamid Karzai, Afghan-Pakistani relations were generally terse, with a few short periods of warm cooperation (The Guardian). In November 2014, Afghan-Pakistani relations seemed to improve following President Ghani’s visit to the Pakistani army chief in Rawalpindi (The Guardian). Current President Ashraf Ghani’s more conciliatory approach to its neighbour has angered more hawkish figures in Afghan politics (The Guardian).

8. The Taliban: The Taliban, which formed in 1994 during the Afghan civil war, was comprised mainly of Islamic traditionalist “seminary students” or “seminarians” trained in Pakistan. Benefiting from a power vacuum and popular discontent with Mujahideen warlords, the Taliban took control of Kandahar in 1994 and Kabul in 1996. Between 1996 and 2001, the Taliban enacted a strict interpretation of Sharia law, which was denounced by most of the international community. Only Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates recognized the Taliban as Afghanistan’s legitimate government. When the United States toppled the regime in 2001, senior Taliban figures, including Supreme Leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, are believed to have fled the country.

Omar apparently directed the Afghan insurgency from Pakistan until his reported death in 2013 (Al Jazeera). In July 2015, Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour was appointed the Taliban’s Supreme Leader, although some Taliban members opposed him and accused him of being an appointee of Pakistan’s military intelligence agency. In November 2015, a new Taliban splinter group, led by Mullah Mohammad Rasool Akhund, emerged. In May 2016, Akhund was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Pakistan near the Afghan border (BBC News) and replaced by Haibatullah Akhunzada. It has been estimated that there were more than 25,000 Taliban fighters in 2016 (Foreign Policy), with between 200 and 1,000 leaders (Mapping Militant Organizations).

9. Al-Qaeda: In the mid-1990s, Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda moved to Afghanistan after being forced to leave Sudan. By 2003, most of its leaders had been either captured or killed, according to U.S. military sources. However, hundreds and possibly thousands of al-Qaeda fighters are thought to remain in Afghanistan. In 2011, the U.S. government claimed that it had killed Osama bin Laden during a night raid in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad. Senior al-Qaeda leader Farouq al-Qahtani was killed by a U.S. drone strike in northeastern Afghanistan in mid-October 2016 (BBC News).

10. Hezb-i Islami/Islamic Party of Afghanistan: This Pashtun-dominated force was the most radical of the seven main mujahedeen factions fighting the Soviets in the 1980s (Institute for the Study of War). Operating primarily in southeast Afghanistan, the group was created in 1977, but fractured into several factions in 1979. The two main factions came to be known by the names of their leaders: Hezb-i-Islami Gulbuddin Hekmatyar (HIG) and Hezb-i-Islami Maulawi Khalis. After 2001, HIG allegedly joined forces with bitter rivals, the Taliban, to counter U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan. Its leader, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, was a leading insurgent commander against the Soviet-backed government in the 1980s and early 1990s and received financial and military support from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United States. In 2004, a number of former HIG commanders came together to form an Afghan political party under the name Hezb-i-Islami (Institute for the Study of War). They promote a strict interpretation of Islam.

11. The Haqqani Network: During the 1980s, Mujahideen commander Jalaluddin Haqqani received CIA and ISI weapons and supplies worth millions of dollars to fight the Soviets (US News). Haqqani established the Haqqani Network in 1976 and pledged allegiance to the Taliban in 1996. Following the 2001 U.S. invasion, the Haqqani Network harboured al-Qaeda members at its base in the North Waziristan region of Pakistan and launched terrorist attacks into Afghanistan. The Haqqani Network became a wing of the post-2001 Taliban insurgency, posing a major challenge to Afghan security forces. While operations traditionally focused on the eastern provinces of Paktia, Khost, and Paktika, the network expanded toward Kabul in 2005 and 2006 (Foreign Policy Journal and Institute for the Study of War). Officially subsumed under the Taliban, the network maintains ties with other extremist groups, including al-Qaeda, as well as the Pakistani security establishment (Institute for the Study of War). After a long period of ill health, Jalaluddin Haqqani allegedly died in July 2015, although his family refuted reports of his death (Reuters).

12. Islamic State: Islamic State first appeared in Afghanistan in mid-2014, making some initial gains (U.S. Institute of Peace). By May 2016, however, its hold on territory had decreased significantly. IS struggled to retain a foothold in the country in the face of offensives by the Afghan military, Taliban, and private militias; and drone and air strikes by the U.S. military (Middle East Institute). IS fighters are largely Taliban defectors and foreigners (Middle East Institute). IS views Afghanistan as a province in a future Islamist caliphate. Unlike the Taliban, which adhere to the Hannafi school of Sunni Islam, Islamic State promotes the spread of a Salafist interpretation of Sunni Islam.


Status of Fighting

2017 On January 10, 2017, 30 people were killed by Taliban militants in a twin bombing attack on a bus containing government personnel (The Guardian). On February 7, at least 20 people were killed in a suicide bombing near Afghanistan’s Supreme Court (The Guardian).

On March 8, insurgents attacked the Daud Khan military hospital in Kabul. According to reports, the gunmen dressed as doctors and shot patients in their beds (Human Rights Watch), killing 26 and wounding 22 (UNAMA). Daesh/ISIL-KP claimed responsibility.

On April 21, at least 140 Afghan soldiers were killed by Taliban suicide bombers at an army base in Mazar-i-Sharif (The Guardian). On May 3, a suicide bomber used a car to strike a U.S. military convoy in Kabul, killing eight civilians (The Guardian). ISIS later claimed responsibility for the attack. On June 18, five suicide bombers targeted police headquarters in Gardez, eastern Afghanistan (The Guardian). Between two and five policemen were killed and 30 people, most  civilians, were wounded.

On May 31, Afghanistan experienced one of the deadliest attacks in more than a decade and the deadliest ever in the city of Kabul. A truck bomb attack killed 150 people and wounded hundreds more in the city’s diplomatic quarter. While no group claimed responsibility for the attack, the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani network is suspected (The Guardian). Kabul also experienced other suicide attacks.

On August 6, 50 Afghan villagers were killed by Taliban and Islamic State insurgents in the province of Sar-e Pul (The Guardian). On October 17, a wave of attacks on security forces by the Taliban killed more than 70 people (The Washington Post). Major attacks were carried out on police compounds in Kabul, Gardez in Paktia province, Ghazni province. On October 19, 43 Afghan soldiers were killed by Taliban suicide bombers in Kandahar (The Guardian).

Suspected Taliban bombers targeted a bus transporting judicial personnel when the roads were at their busiest. On December 25, a suicide bomber killed six civilians near an Afghan intelligence agency. On December 28, a news agency, a Shia cultural centre, security forces, and medical services were hit by three explosions, killing at least 41 people (The Guardian).

 Shia mosques were heavily attacked in three separate attacks. On June 15, a gunman and a suicide bomber attacked the al-Zahra mosque in Kabul (The Guardian). Four people died, including three civilians. No one claimed responsibility and the Taliban denied any involvement. On August 1,two assailants fired guns and threw grenades into a Shia mosque in Herat, killing 29 (The Guardian). On October 20, a Shia and a Sunni mosque were simultaneously attacked, killing 39 in the first and 33 in the second (The Guardian). 

2016 This year witnessed an intensification in fighting, as well as the spread of violence, with 33 of 34 provinces experiencing some ground fighting (UNOCHA). Between January 4 and 6, according to Helmand’s police chief, state forces killed approximately 120 Taliban insurgents in Marjah. On January 20, seven journalists were killed in a Taliban suicide car-bomb attack in Kabul. On January 13, Islamic State claimed responsibility for a suicide attack on the Pakistani consulate in Jalalabad, which killed seven police officers. On January 21, the United States announced that its military had been authorized to target the Islamic State in Afghanistan. On February 27, suicide bombings occurred in the Kumar province and in Kabul, killing at least 26 people, with the Taliban claiming responsibility for the latter attack. Several police officers and Afghan soldiers were also killed that month. Firefights continued ahead of proposed talks between the Government and the Taliban in early March. On April 12, the Taliban launched “Operation Omeri,” and on April 19, detonated a car bomb and attacked the National Directorate of Security office, killing 64. This was the deadliest insurgent attack on Kabul since 2001. On May 7, officials said that security forces had killed at least 28 Taliban in a major offensive in Ghaziabad district, Kunar province; on May 22, security forces killed the Taliban’s shadow governor in Helmand.

The Islamic State claimed responsibility for suicide attacks on July 23 on ethnic Hazara protesters in Kabul, which killed at least 80 people and marked its first apparent attack in Kabul. On the Shia holy day Ashura, IS conducted two attacks on the Hazara community, with 18 civilians killed at a shrine in Kabul. In the northern Balkh province, an IED blast killed at least 15 civilians outside a mosque.

On September 6, the Taliban stormed the office of CARE International, holding at least 40 hostages and killing one civilian. Afghan security forces rescued hostages and killed all three gunmen. In October, 100 Afghan soldiers were killed fighting the Taliban for control of Kunduz city in Helmand. On November 10, the German consulate in Mazar-i-Sharif was bombed, killing at least four people and wounding more than 100. The Taliban claimed the attack was in retaliation for NATO’s November 3 airstrike in Kunduz that killed more than 30 civilians, half of them children. In November, two U.S. soldiers, two U.S. civilian consultants, 36 civilians, approximately seven Islamic State members, one Islamic State senior leader, one prominent Taliban leader, and two other Taliban militants were killed. In December, five Afghan security guards, 13 Taliban militants, two civilians, at least one policeman, and 12 suspected Islamic State militants were killed in various attacks and clashes.

2015 On January 1 NATO forces concluded their International Security Assistance Force mission and Afghan National Security Forces assumed complete responsibility for all combat missions in Afghanistan. NATO and U.S. forces remained in advisory and support roles. Afghan government forces and their allies faced Taliban attacks in strategic districts. Militant groups gained support from foreign fighters who crossed the border from Pakistan into northern Afghanistan. The Taliban twice captured the city of Kunduz in late April and late September, only to see Afghan government forces retake the city both times. In December heavy fighting broke out in Helmand province; British troops were deployed to the region in an advisory role on December 22 and U.S. airstrikes were launched on the Taliban-controlled Sangin district the following day.

The Islamic State became a significant player in Afghanistan. Groups affiliated with the Islamic State targeted the Hazaras, a Shi’ite minority. In November Hazaras carried out a country-wide protest, demanding better security and justice for kidnappings and killings perpetrated by militants. Taliban clashes with the Islamic State in eastern Afghanistan started in June. In early November dissension in Taliban ranks resulted in 100 casualties (International Crisis Group).

2014 Insurgent forces continued attacks on key districts for much of the year, with Afghan security forces suffering increasingly higher casualties on the ground. Civilians bore the brunt of this violence, with the United Nations recording a 22 per cent rise in civilian casualties over 2013. The Taliban intensified attacks on officials and workers associated with presidential elections; it vowed in a March 11 statement to “use all force” to impede the vote and “target all workers, activists, callers, security apparatus and offices.” Election workers were kidnapped; campaign rallies and candidate offices were attacked. Taliban forces failed to achieve tactical objectives; heavy fighting surrounding Sangin in June resulted in no major advances. Most of the attacks in Kabul were also repelled by Afghan security forces.

The United Nations accused police forces in Kandahar of abusing their power, with numerous reports of torture, summary executions and forcible disappearances during the year. Police reportedly kept at least four hidden detention centres that could not be accessed by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). On August 23, General Murad Ali Murad, commander of the Afghanistan National Army’s infantry, called for harsh treatment of captured insurgents, saying that they should be given “no quarter.” Human Rights Watch decried this as a violation of international humanitarian law.

2013 NATO troops continued to wind down their combat role throughout Afghanistan, aiming to complete the transition to a supportive role by the end of 2014. The ANDSF controlled 24 (of 34) provinces and 87 per cent of the population. The shift in 2013 from NATO-led ISAF troops to ANDSF to maintain security in Afghanistan continued to have a significant impact on the conflict. Civilian-targeted killings by the Taliban and ANDSF casualties increased. Insurgents continued to employ IED strikes and ambushes, while attacks by Taliban who had infiltrated security forces declined. ANDSF and NATO forces increased the frequency and severity of targeted killings in Afghanistan with drone strikes.

2012 Civilian and combatant casualties declined in 2012. The United States Congressional Research Service reports that civilian casualties dropped 15 per cent in 2012 through the end of June, compared with the same period in 2011. International and pro-government forces were responsible for about 10 per cent of these casualties, while improvised explosive devices (IEDs), also known as roadside bombs, accounted for about 33 per cent of civilian deaths and injuries.

Air strikes and rocket attacks by coalition forces continued in 2012. Ongoing insurgent attacks included suicide bombings, roadside bombs and car bombs. Several protests and clashes took place between civilians and police forces. In February scores were killed in protests that erupted across the country following reports that coalition troops had burned dozens of copies of the Qur’an and other religious materials. In April the Taliban announced the launch of its annual “Spring Offensive” in the provinces of Kabul, Nangaharm, Logar and Paktika. Also in April, 16 people were abducted in a Taliban attack on an Afghan police post. Violence escalated in June, with the highest number of fatalities recorded in 2012 according to the International Crisis Group. In the spring, a NATO airstrike killed as many as 18 civilians celebrating a wedding in Logar. President Karzai condemned the strike and NATO commander General Allen visited the area to apologize. In July an independent Human Rights Commission expressed concern over civilian casualties in the northern provinces.

Major opposition leaders killed in 2012 included Badruddin Haqqani, brother of Sirajuddin Haqqani, the leader of the Haqqani Network and Makhdum Nusrat, the leader of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. 

2011 Armed conflict between the Taliban and insurgents continued to escalate and civilian casualties rose in 2011. UNAMA reported 1,462 conflict-related civilian deaths in the first six months of the year, a 15 per cent increase over 2010. Suicide bombers, roadside bombs and sectarian clashes caused most civilian and militant deaths in 2011. The month of May saw 368 civilian deaths, the highest monthly toll recorded. The assassination by the Taliban of public figures—including the mayor of Kandahar; a northern police commander; and President Karzai’s half-brother, Ahmad Wali Karzai, a key southern powerbroker—increased tensions.

2010 In January, a suicide bomber posing as a double agent killed seven CIA officers near U.S. Forward Operating Base Chapman near Khost. Taliban insurgents carried out major attacks on civilians and government buildings in Kabul in January, killing 12 people. In February NATO launched Operation Moshtarak with more than 15,000 NATO and Afghan troops to secure government control of Helmand province in the south. Their focus was on the district of Marjah, the centre of opium production. The operation displaced many civilians displaced and increased insurgent activity in the area. According to the UN, 70 civilians were killed in Marjah between February and April. Also in February, Taliban military commander Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar was captured in Pakistan. In June, NATO and the United States launched a civil and military campaign in Kandahar to emphasize governance reform. U.S. General David Petraeus became commander of ISAF troops in July. In August, Dutch troops resigned their NATO duties in Afghanistan. During the election campaign, the Taliban killed three election candidates: Sayedullah Sayed, Najibullah Gulisanti and Haji Abdul Manan Noorzai. In November, NATO announced it would hand over control of security to Afghan forces at the end of 2014. Nevertheless, the Obama administration deployed an extra 30,000 troops. Aid agencies said the rising number of armed groups hired by the government to counter insurgents posed a threat to civilians and humanitarian workers.

2009 This year saw an increase in international commitments to send more troops to Afghanistan. In early January, Macedonia sent 150 troops to Kabul. In February, U.S. President Barack Obama ordered that an additional 17,000 troops be sent to Afghanistan. In December, Obama ordered a “surge” of 30,000 U.S. troops and secured an additional pledge of 7,000 troops from NATO. Afghanistan’s interior minister estimated that between 10,000 and 15,000 Taliban were fighting in the country. One controversial initiative that gained momentum was the U.S.-backed plan to form local civilian forces to act as public guards to provide backup for Western forces. Increasingly sophisticated roadside bombs and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) caused 75 per cent of all casualties to coalition forces. Coinciding with the arrival of additional U.S. and NATO troops, insurgent violence accelerated to 5,222 incidents between January and May, compared with 3,283 during the same period in 2008—an increase of 59 per cent. IEDs made July the deadliest month of the eight-year war for foreign troops, with 47 killed. In July, top U.S. commander Lieutenant-General Stanley McChrystal made the protection of civilians a central tenet of his approach to fighting the Taliban. The United Nations Refugee Agency reported that 413,890 individuals were internally displaced by the end of 2009. The year also proved the deadliest for Afghan children since 2001. According to Afghan Rights Monitor 1,050 children died in attacks between January and December.

2008 Reports of violent attacks rose sharply in 2008, resulting in the highest rates of violence recorded since U.S.-led forces invaded Afghanistan. The number of roadside bombs reached an all-time high, up 31 per cent. A failed assassination attempt on President Hamid Karzai in April led observers to believe insurgents remain committed to high-priority targets. Insurgent surface-to-air attacks were also up by 67 per cent, putting coalition forces, reliant on air transport, at more serious risk.

2007 This year saw record-high numbers of both military and civilian casualties as fighting intensified in southern Afghanistan. A reported 54 per cent of Afghanistan had a permanent presence of Taliban fighters. More than 140 Taliban suicide bombings were recorded, while kidnappings of foreigners became their new bargaining tool. The Taliban kidnapped more than 20 South Korean mine-clearing workers, threatening to kill them unless all foreign troops left Afghanistan. Similar threats were made when a German photographer was kidnapped. The United States committed thousands of additional troops in an attempt to reduce the growing violence. Of particular concern to the Afghan government was the increase in civilian deaths as a result of U.S. and NATO combat operations. Tens of thousands of civilians were also displaced.

2006 Violence continued to escalate after the Taliban announced a new spring offensive in March, resulting in the bloodiest year since the Taliban was ousted in 2001. The number of monthly attacks by Taliban militants rose to 600—a fourfold increase from the average of 130 attacks per month in 2005—as suicide bombings and clashes between militants and Afghan and foreign security forces continued to rise. Most fighting occurred in the southern provinces, but also in the east. A new U.S. mission called Operation Mountain Fury was launched in response to a perceived increase in military activity in the east after militants signed a peace accord with the Pakistani government. Control of military operations continued to be transferred to NATO, as the NATO force increased to 30,000 and NATO extended its command to include the entire country by year’s end. With the approach of winter at the end of the year, the intensity of fighting subsided.

2005 Fighting escalated significantly as the Taliban increased attacks on Afghan, U.S. and NATO-led ISAF troops, employing tactics that included improvised explosive devices (IEDs), suicide bombings, and rocket attacks. International and Afghan troops responded with large military operations, including airstrikes. In December, NATO leaders agreed to send an additional 6,000 troops to Afghanistan’s southern provinces. Separate U.S. forces continued to operate mainly in east Afghanistan where Taliban forces were most active.

2004 Sporadic inter-factional clashes, clashes with NATO troops, attacks on NGO workers and attacks on civilians occurred with regularity. The year appeared to be largely free of major violence, although little information was available from some conflict areas. Despite some signs of improvement, the security situation in Afghanistan remained unstable.

2003 Fighting continued unabated across Afghanistan. In the south, the conflict intensified when U.S.-led forces conducted major operations against Taliban and al-Qaeda forces. Taliban fighters joined members of the Hizb-i-Islami movement against the newly formed Afghan National Army (ANAZ) and the U.S.-led coalition. The Taliban also targeted Afghan “collaborators,” civilians, members of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and non-military international workers. Incidents of factional fighting between ethnically based militias, primarily in northern Afghanistan, also persisted.

2002 Fighting between feuding militia leaders continued. Despite efforts by the United States, the Northern Alliance and the coalition forces to eliminate al-Qaeda, a report by a UN Security Council panel of experts indicated that al-Qaeda had constructed new training camps throughout Afghanistan.

2001 Fighting between Northern Alliance and Taliban forces was fierce during Taliban offensives in early and mid-2001. In September, Northern Alliance leader Ahmed Massoud was assassinated. In October, after the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington, the United States began a major bombing campaign to oust the Taliban regime from Kabul and to capture Osama bin Laden (who the Taliban refused to surrender), while providing military support to the Northern Alliance. In heavy fighting from late September to November, Northern Alliance troops routed the Taliban and took Kabul. In December, following a series of battles, the Taliban were forced out of Kandahar.

2000 The Taliban made considerable territorial gains after June, extending control to more than 95 per cent of the country. By September, Taliban forces had cut opposition supply lines (controlled by Northern Alliance leader Ahmed Massoud) and captured the key northern city of Taloqan. By the end of October, Taliban captured a series of northeastern towns, advancing to the border with Tajikistan. Meanwhile, neighbouring Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgystan faced violent uprisings from rebels they suspected were linked to the Taliban. In October, Russia indicated that it intended to take steps to prevent the spread of fighting to the territory of the former Soviet Union.

1999 After recapturing a regional centre in the spring, the Taliban used quickly trained Pakistani and other foreign recruits to launch a July offensive to push opposition forces out of the area north of Kabul. Fierce fighting resulted in rapid Taliban gains, which were reversed a week later by the Northern Alliance after heavy Taliban casualties.

1998 The Taliban made major advances against opposition Northern Alliance forces in 1998, capturing the regional centre of Mazar-i-Sharif in August and extending control to all but four of Afghanistan’s 32 provinces.

1997 A Taliban advance into the northeast early in the year ended in a major defeat in the regional centre of Mazar-i-Sharif in May. By July, Northern Alliance forces led by Ahmed Massoud again were within kilometres of Kabul, bombing and shelling the city. Fighting continued elsewhere, and the year ended as it began, with the Taliban controlling about two-thirds of the country, including Kabul.

1996 The Taliban continued their advance in 1996 and, against little resistance, captured Kabul in September, where they killed the former communist president, Mohammed Najibullah. By year’s end, the Taliban controlled about two-thirds of the country, despite the opposition of all other major protagonists under an alliance struck in October.

1995 The dominant factor in the conflict in 1995 was the dramatic advance of the Taliban militia. By year’s end, the Taliban had captured more than half of Afghanistan, including strategically important Herat province in October, and were laying siege to the capital, Kabul. With Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Hizb-e Islami troops forced from the south of Kabul by the Taliban in February, troops loyal to the government of President Burhannudin Rabbani attacked Hizbe Wahadat and Taliban opponents and forced them from Kabul and its immediate surroundings in March. During this period of intense fighting the Taliban killed Hizbe Wahadat leader Abdul Ali Mazari. The subsequent few months of relative peace in Kabul ended in September with renewed Taliban attacks, including air bombings in November and December.


Number of Deaths and Displacement

TotalFrom 2001-2016, 111,442 individuals died as a result of the conflict (CNN). This figure includes 42,100 Taliban and other militants; 31,419 Afghan civilians; 30,470 Afghan military and police; 3,453 U.S. and coalition troops; and 3, 946 individuals, such as humanitarians, contractors, and journalists.

2017 The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan reported 3,438 civilian deaths in 2017, a nine percent decrease from the previous year. However, civilian casualties caused by suicide and other insurgent attacks increased by 17 per cent over 2016 figures (UNAMA). With 7,015 civilians injured, civilian casualties in 2017 totaled 10,453.

In 2017 alone, an estimated 438,000 people were displaced as a direct result of the conflict (UNOCHA), adding to a total of 1.7-million  displaced people (Human Rights Watch). According to the UNHCR, almost 2.5-million registered refugees hail from Afghanistan, making it the second largest refugee population worldwide.

2016 According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 3,498 civilians were killed while 7,920 were injured over the course of the year (UNOCHA). Afghan forces reported 5,523 fatalities in the first eight months of 2016 (Voice of America). The death rate for police was significantly higher than for soldiers in the Afghan army, with reports indicating that the Taliban was deliberately targeting police officers (Council on Foreign Relations). Between January 1 and October 31, nine U.S. troops were killed in Afghanistan (The Brookings Institution, Afghanistan Index, October 31, 2016, 9).

Refugees and IDPs: Conflict displaced 652,000 individuals, while 620,000 returned to Afghanistan from Pakistan due to the deterioration in protection (UNOCHA).

2015 The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported a four per cent increase in civilian casualties, with 3,545 killed and 7,457 injured (UNOCHA, Civilian casualties: a new high in 2015, 1). The Brookings Institution recorded 7,000 deaths of Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police personnel (The Brookings Institution, Afghanistan Index, March 31, 2016, 12). The website recorded 27 coalition troop fatalities (

Refugees and IDPs: According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there were 2,632,594 refugees and 106,972 asylum seekers originating from Afghanistan in June 2015 (UNHCR). The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre reported at least 847,872 internally displaced persons in Afghanistan in July 2015 (Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre).

2014 The United Nations reported a 22-per cent increase in civilian casualties over 2013, with 3,699 civilians killed and 6,849 injured. For the first time since 2009, more Afghan civilians were killed or injured as a result of ground combat rather than by improvised explosive devices (IEDs). News media reported 4,600 dead Afghan soldiers and police. According to there were 75 coalition troop fatalities in 2014.

Refugees and IDPs: According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there were 2,690,775 refugees and 75,414 asylum seekers originating from Afghanistan as of July 2014. Between January and September 2014, there were 387,154 deportations and returns of undocumented Afghans staying in other countries; 13,845 Afghan refugees returned voluntarily in the same period. This marks a 59-per cent drop in the rate of voluntary returns from 34,108 voluntary returns in 2013. Since 2002, close to 6 million refugees have returned to Afghanistan. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) further reported that there were 722,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Afghanistan as of August 2014. There were 105,800 new displaced persons this year due to conflict.

2013 As NATO forces transitioned from combat they experienced fewer fatalities: 151 in 2013, instead of the nearly 400 in 2012. ANDSF troops, taking on 95 per cent of conventional combat operations, saw an increase in combat-related casualties: 2,767 deaths compared to 1,870 in 2012, according to The Guardian. Between 10,000 and 12,000 Taliban insurgents died, were captured, or were injured in 2013. The number of civilian casualties also increased; according to UNAMA, as of July 2013, 1,379 had been killed and 2,533 injured, 74 per cent by anti-government and anti-ISAF forces, such as the Taliban. Civilians who worked for or showed support for the government were more frequently targeted by the Taliban.

Refugees and IDPs: Increased uncertainty among the civilian population following the withdrawal of NATO troops resulted in an anticipated increase in the number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in 2013. Currently there are 600,000 IDPs and 2.5 million refugees as a result of the conflict. An international conference in Geneva in May 2012 brought the governments of Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan together with the UNHCR and donors to endorse a Solutions Strategy for Afghan refugees. The proposed strategy aims to pursue voluntary repatriation, sustainable reintegration and assistance to host countries. The lack of security within Afghanistan is seen as the main cause for the displacement of so many Afghans.

2012 There are conflicting reports of the number of fatalities in 2012. International Crisis Group reported more than 587 civilian and combatant deaths. The 85 combatant deaths included U.S., NATO and Afghan forces. There were more than 17 “insurgent” deaths, including suicide bombers, and more than 396 deaths classified as civilian. Of the total number of deaths in 2012, 46 were indirect deaths, mainly the result of protests. The United States Congressional Research Service (CRS) reported fatalities as follows: 306 U.S. as of December 6, 2012; 88 coalition partners; 1,145 Afghan civilians as of the end of June; 173 ANA members; and 349 ANP and other paramilitary deaths. The total number of deaths for 2012 was 2,061. reports 402 coalition fatalities in 2012, including 310 U.S. troops, 44 U.K. and 48 from other countries.

2011 UNAMA documented 3,021 civilian deaths in 2011, with 77 per cent of civilian deaths attributed to anti-government elements and 14 per cent to pro-Government forces – Afghan National Security Forces and international forces. and various media sources reported 566 coalition forces killed.

2010 The Afghanistan Conflict Monitor (Human Security Report Project) reported an estimated 3,458 conflict-related deaths this year. Of this total, 2,777 were civilians, an increase of 15 per cent from 2009. In addition, 708 coalition forces were killed. The year saw a 105 per cent increase in targeted killings of government officials, aid workers and Afghan civilians deemed to support NATO and Afghan forces. The number of internally displaced people reached 320,000.

2009 At the end of June, reports revealed that civilian deaths resulting from armed hostilities had increased 24 per cent compared with the same time in 2008. From January until May 2009, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) recorded 800 civilian casualties. May was the deadliest month for civilians with 261 killed. By year’s end, UNAMA reported that 2,412 civilians were killed in 2009, 773 by improvised explosive devices. In July, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Lieutenant-General Stanley McChrystal, issued a new directive aimed at avoiding civilian casualties. The tally of U.S. soldiers killed in Afghanistan in 2009 was 318, more than twice the 2008 total. According to, 520 foreign troops died. The 2009 Human Rights Report from the U.S. Department of State reported that 1,448 ANA members and 1,954 government employees, primarily police, died as a result of the insurgency.

2008 Due to increased violence in 2008, coalition forces suffered their highest combat casualties since the start of the mission in 2001. The death toll of foreign troops in Afghanistan rose sharply to 270, almost half U.S. soldiers. Civilian fatality estimates ranged widely. Military estimates tended to be in the hundreds while international bodies and human rights agencies put civilian deaths in the thousands. The United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan (UNAMA) reported 2,118 civilian casualties during the year, an increase of 39 per cent over 2007. The overall 2008 death toll was reported to be more than 6,340, similar to the approximately 6,500 killed in 2007.

2007 According to media reports, between 5,000 and 6,500 people were killed in 2007. Approximately 2,000 were civilian deaths caused by NATO and foreign troops as well as insurgents. An escalation in suicide attacks and the Taliban’s use of civilian dwellings for protection were largely responsible for the increase in civilian deaths.

2006 An estimated 3,700 to 4,000 people were killed this year. Of these deaths, NATO reports that approximately 1,000 militants were killed while more than 100 foreign troops died. Between 70 and 100 people continue to die monthly from landmines. The death toll in 2006 was by far the highest the country has seen since the U.S.-led ousting of the Taliban in 2001.

2005 More than 1,200 people, including nearly 100 U.S. soldiers, were killed as violence escalated dramatically after a renewed Taliban and al-Qaeda insurgency. Hundreds of civilians, including aid workers, were killed.

2004 At least 250 people—a mixture of NATO soldiers, international aid workers, civilians and combatants—were reported killed this year in Afghanistan. Because of inconsistent casualty reports, the lack of any domestic media and the remote location of many conflicts, an accurate count is not possible.

2003 Independent media reported approximately 1,000 people killed in the conflict in 2003. Most fatalities were caused by fighting between Taliban fighters and Afghan and U.S.-led coalition forces, and included at least 100 civilian deaths. Factional fighting in northern Afghanistan accounted for approximately 200 deaths.

2002 At least 1,500 people were killed in the fighting this year. Most were Taliban and al-Qaeda soldiers, but civilians were also killed by fighting between rival factions and between the coalition forces and Taliban and al-Qaeda combatants.

2001 At least 1,000 conflict-related deaths occurred during the year. Prior to the beginning of the U.S. bombing campaign, there were reports of at least 300 deaths. After the bombing began, estimates of civilian deaths ranged from 600 to 5,000. It is likely that hundreds of Taliban soldiers were also killed.

2000 It is probable that hundreds died this year in the continued fighting or as a result of widespread human rights abuses.

1999 Spring and summer fighting killed hundreds or thousands of civilians and combatants.

1998 With estimates ranging upward of 3,000, there was a sharp increase in civilian deaths in 1998. Most who died were Hazari residents of Mazar-e-Sharif, reportedly deliberately killed by the Taliban during its recapture of the city. Opposition rocket attacks killed nearly 200 people in Kabul in September.

1997 There were reports of as many as 3,000 Taliban killed during and after a May battle.

1996 Rocket attacks and troop clashes killed hundreds in 1996. In addition, malnutrition and disease arising from war shortages may have killed 250,000 children.

1995 “Since April 1992 when mujahedeen groups seized power, over 25,000 people have been killed in Kabul alone in attacks by rival factions apparently aimed deliberately and arbitrarily against residential areas” (Amnesty International release, November 29, 1995).

1994 “This year alone, 8,000 Kabulis have been killed and 100,000 more have been injured. The Red Cross estimates that more people are dying here than in any other war in the world, yet the country’s plight has been all but forgotten, particularly by the UN which pulled out in January” (The Observer, November, 20, 1994).


Political Developments

2017 In addition to the state’s continued repression of freedom of expression, police also used excessive force on civilians in 2017. Following the May 31 Kabul attack, civilians gathered to protest the lack of security and ask for certain government officials (including the president) to step down (The Guardian). Police officers fired into the crowd after a few participants threw stones at them, and nine protestors died (The Guardian/Human Rights Watch). Partly due to the lack of investigation into police actions, a sit-in was later held (Amnesty International). Police forcibly broke up this demonstration as well. One civilian was killed and five others were reported to have been arbitrarily arrested, questioned, and kept overnight at a private location (Amnesty International).

In July, the Afghan government advised revisions to the laws on associations, strikes, and demonstrations, limiting civilian organization of demonstrations and strikes and thereby freedom of expression (Amnesty International). The Law on Gatherings, Demonstrations and Strikes would bar “influential people” from “politically intervening” in any type of demonstration (Human Rights Watch). At end of 2017, the law was still pending. With torture on conflict-related arrestees the highest since 2010, the Afghan government has made some attempt to address the problem. In March, the government introduced new anti-torture legislation that did not include compensation or restitution for victims of torture by the state (Human Rights Watch/Amnesty International). It also created a new torture monitoring body, the Commission Against Torture. No senior officials have been accused of torture since its formation (Human Rights Watch).

2016 In January and February delegates from Afghanistan, Pakistan, China, and the United States met twice to discuss a peace process and mechanisms for reviving talks with the Taliban. This came on the heels of the late December 2015 meeting between President Ghani and Pakistani army chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa. On February 9, President Ghani approved a media law promoting freedom of speech, but prohibiting content contrary to Islam, offensive to other religions, or defamatory in nature. Later that month, five International Committee of the Red Cross staff were kidnapped in the Ghazni province and released three days later.

On May 21, Emir of the Taliban Mullah Akhtar Mansour was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Pakistan near the Afghan border.  Four days later, Haibatullah Akhunzada was named the Taliban’s new leader and expressed his interest in peace talks with CEO Abdullah Abdullah. On July 6, U.S. President Obama announced that 8,400 U.S. troops would remain in Afghanistan until early 2017 to conduct airstrikes and direct combat against the Taliban.

Throughout the year, tensions increased in the Afghan parliament. President Ghani and CEO Abdullah Abdullah disagreed on parliamentary elections scheduled for October, electoral reforms, and the establishment of the position of Prime Minster. On August 11, Abdullah denounced Ghani as unfit to govern. On September 22, the Government of Afghanistan signed a peace deal with the large but mostly dormant insurgent group Hezb-i-Islami, headed by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar (BBC News, Aljazeera). The signed deal granted Hekmatyar, known as the “Butcher of Kabul,” immunity from war crimes committed in the 1990s and allowed him to return from exile if he renounced violence (The Guardian). Hundreds of Afghans protested the deal. The elections were ultimately postponed and have been rescheduled for July 7, 2018 (Reuters).

In mid-December Afghanistan’s Attorney General opened an investigation into Abdul Rashid Dostum. Afghanistan’s first Vice-President was accused of having tortured and sexually assaulted a relative of the former governor of Jawzjan province. Dostum denied these allegations, which fueled further tensions between him and President Ghani (International Crisis Group). Late that month, representatives from Russia, China, and Pakistan met to discuss the Islamic State threat in Afghanistan; Kabul protested Afghanistan’s exclusion from the meeting.

2015 In January the Afghan National Assembly approved a list of eight nominees for key cabinet positions. The lower house of the Afghan parliament confirmed the candidates only on April 18, after months of paralysis in key ministries. The Afghan National Assembly failed to accept any of the candidates put forward by the Afghan President for the post of Defence Minister.

On May 2-3 a delegation of Taliban leaders and Afghan government representatives met informally. The two sides met again in Pakistan in early July. Although on July 15 the Taliban declared that Mullah Mohammed Omar approved of the negotiations, after the Afghan government alleged that Omar had died in 2013, the Taliban refused to participate in a second round of peace talks.

In September the Afghan government blamed Pakistan, a broker in Taliban-Afghan peace talks, for a wave of insurgent violence in Kabul. Not until November 30 did Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Afghan Prime Minister Ashraf Ghani meet to discuss renewing peace talks with the Taliban. The following day the two leaders agreed to resume talks; the head of the Pakistan Army visited Afghanistan on December 27 to revive discussions.

2014 January was marked by international political pressure on President Karzai to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with the United States; tensions between the two countries rose further when Karzai stated that he would not sign a deal unless peace talks with the Taliban resumed. On May 27, U.S. President Obama announced that U.S. troops would remain in Afghanistan past the official end of the combat mission, with plans to withdraw most troops by 2016.

Much of the news focused on the elections. The first round of elections in April gave candidate Abdullah Abdullah 45 per cent of the votes and rival Ashraf Ghani 31.6 per cent. Western observers assessed the likely impact of fraud at between eight and nine per cent of votes—an improvement from the 25 per cent of fraudulent votes cast in 2009. A runoff was scheduled for June 14. Leaked, unconfirmed results of the second round of voting suggested that Ghani had won 59 per cent of the vote and Abdullah 41 per cent, leading to a political crisis. Abdullah rejected the results, alleging that one million fraudulent ballots had been counted. The Independent Election Commissioner of Afghanistan’s executive director, Zia-ul-Haq Amarkhil, resigned the same month. On July 11 and 12, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with both candidates, helping them come to an agreement on a technical framework for auditing all ballot boxes, with the audit beginning July 17. When the findings seemed to confirm Ghani’s victory, Abdullah abandoned the process. An agreement was reached for a national unity government, with members of the losing team guaranteed key positions in the government. September 21 saw the formation of a new, unified government, with Ghani as president and Abdullah in the new position of Chief Executive Officer. Intergovernmental tensions persisted, raising concerns over the regime’s viability.

On September 30, the new government signed the BSA and the NATO Status of Force Agreement (SOFA). The BSA created a legal framework for the presence of U.S. troops in Afghanistan after the official end of combat operations, while SOFA provided a legal framework for remaining NATO troops. President Obama announced in May that 9,800 U.S. troops would remain in Afghanistan, some of whom would be included in the new NATO mission. NATO will maintain a force of 13, 195 troops under its Resolute Support Mission to provide training, advice, and other assistance to Afghan security institutions. Additional U.S. troops are authorized to engage in limited combat, which includes counter-terrorism operations, the use of drones, and limited close air support for Afghan forces.

2013 In December 2013, the Karzai government released dozens of Taliban prisoners as part of continued negotiations, while the Pakistani government released Afghan prisoners as a goodwill gesture towards the Karzai government. Negotiations between the Taliban and Afghan government advanced, with the Taliban opening a political office in Qatar in 2013. The Taliban interest in negotiating a peace deal with the Afghan government stemmed from fears of a reconstituted Northern Alliance, which had fought against the Taliban during the civil war of the 1990s, largely supported by NATO countries.

While the Loya Jirga (National Council) agreed to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement with the United States, President Karzai refused, further weakening relationships with the West while improving them with the Taliban. The government’s promotion of laws that harmed advancements in women’s rights in the country, such as reinstating the death penalty by stoning for adultery, also weakened relations with the West.

2012 In February, President Karzai met with Iranian and Pakistani officials to discuss peace prospects and the plight of Afghan refugees. In March U.S.-Afghan relations deteriorated after U.S. soldier Robert Bales shot 17 villagers, including nine children in Kandahar’s Panjawi district. Following the massacre, the Afghani government accused the United States of hindering the investigation into the incident. In April representatives of Pakistan, Afghanistan and the United States met to discuss reviving peace talks. Safe passage arrangements to allow the Taliban to attend talks were also explored. However, there were reports of skepticism about the validity of the reconciliation efforts – especially after the Taliban’s assassination in 2011 of former president Burhanuddin Rabbani, who led Afghanistan’s High Peace Council. In July international donors pledged U.S. $16-billion in aid, to be delivered over four years to the Afghani government. The aid is conditional on reform and counter-corruption efforts. The donors called on the government to set an election date by early 2013. Karzai responded by issuing a decree listing reforms intended to tackle corruption. The government announced in October a planned presidential election for April 2014.

At the end of 2012, U.K. Prime Minister Cameron declared that his country would withdraw 3,800 troops by the end of 2013. President Karzai welcomed the move and stated that Afghan security forces would be ready to take over operations from NATO. He also stated that the transition is essential to Afghanistan’s development as a sovereign nation-state. Reports circulated that the transition was sparking concerns for many Afghans. There are persistent fears that the international community will abandon Afghanistan and allow it to return to protracted warfare. BBC News reports, however, that there may be “renewed hope the Taliban may be more willing to negotiate in 2013.” In December, the U.S. Army announced that it will seek the death penalty in the case against Robert Bales for the March 2012 Panjawi massacre.

2011 Despite heightened insurgency violence and rising civilian casualties, all foreign coalition powers, including the United States, maintained plans to withdraw from Afghanistan as soon as possible, with a deadline of 2014. The Afghan government and international partners supported a negotiated peace agreement with the Taliban, but any real movement toward negotiations met with obstacles, including the slaying of a key government negotiator by the Taliban. As well, non-Pashtun communities raised concerns about negotiating with the Taliban. The NATO mission aimed to train 134,000 police and 171,600 soldiers by October 2011 to replace foreign forces. But the effort was hindered by attrition, insurgent infiltration and illiteracy and substance abuse among recruits. The Afghan government’s weak rule of law and large-scale corruption did not bode well for the post-2014 era.

2010 In March, President Hamid Karzai publicly confirmed that in 2009 his government had quietly enacted into law a blanket pardon for war crimes and crimes against humanity that took place before 2001. The National Stability and Reconciliation Law was enacted in spite of Karzai’s earlier promises that he would not sign the measure when it was passed by parliament in 2007. The Afghan government also attempted to foster negotiated settlements with the Taliban and Hizb-e Islami. In June, 1,500 Afghan elders, politicians and civil society representatives came together for a National Consultative Peace Jirga (council) in Kabul. In July, 90,000 secret military files released by Wikileaks revealed that coalition forces had killed hundreds of civilians in unreported attacks. The files further revealed that Taliban attacks had increased and that the Taliban might be receiving support from Iran and Pakistan. Parliamentary elections took place in September, marred by widespread fraud and Taliban violence. In October, Karzai was criticized by the international community for appointing a High Peace Council that included warlords charged with war crimes. The call to prosecute the Taliban for war crimes intensified this year following the release of a UNAMA report citing a sharp increase in civilian deaths caused by Taliban attacks. In November, the Afghan government banned 150 NGOs for non-transparent reporting procedures, in an attempt to tackle corruption in the country.

2009 In late March, the UN Security Council unanimously voted to extend the UN mission in Afghanistan until March 23, 2010. The major political story of 2009 was Afghanistan’s presidential elections. The race involved more than 41 presidential candidates, including two women; 3,000 competed for provincial council seats. Violence surged in advance of the August 20 elections. Intimidation tactics by the Taliban included threats to cut off any fingers that bore the ink used to mark voters’ hands. On election day, 26 people, including civilians, soldiers and policemen, were killed in more than 130 attacks. Preliminary results gave the incumbent, Hamid Karzai, 54 per cent of the vote and his main challenger, Abdullah Abdullah, 28.3 per cent. However, according to the Electoral Complaints Commission, the voting was marred by fraud. The commission ordered a partial recount and audit, resulting in the dismissal of one-third of Karzai’s votes and putting him under the required threshold of 50 per cent. As a result, a runoff election was called. However, citing poor prospects of a fair election, Abdullah withdrew from the runoff.

2008 Late 2008 and early 2009 saw a shift in U.S. policy. The newly formed Obama administration pledged to increase its efforts in Afghanistan with a surge in personnel of between 20,000 and 30,000 troops. Security and logistical problems in 2008 caused presidential elections to be postponed from May 2009 to August 20. Corruption in the Afghan government remained a problem. An increase in the number of civilian casualties during the year resulted in instability and wavering support for coalition forces. Reports of peace talks between alleged Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar and the Afghan government were refuted by Omar. The two sides remained unable to agree on conditions for the talks.

2007 President Hamid Karzai spent the year pleading with foreign troops to exercise more caution with respect to civilian casualties and appealing to Taliban leaders to open up discussions about their continuing insurgency. The Peace Convoy was created by provincial governors, tribal chiefs and lawmakers to pursue the inclusion of Taliban members in the government as a way to encourage their participation in peace talks. Police corruption remained rampant. The U.S. military began a $2.5-billion (U.S.) overhaul of the police force in an effort to improve the quality of officers and lower the number of police killed because of inadequate training. Increased fighting led to the closure of numerous schools. In May, top Taliban operational commander Mullah Dadullah was killed. Conflict arose between Afghanistan and Iran as the latter began to forcefully deport tens of thousands of Afghan refugees back over the border. In response, Afghanistan’s parliament ousted foreign minister Rangeen Dadfar Spanta, citing his gross mishandling of the situation. Iran agreed to slow deportation.

2006 Following the formal end of the Bonn Process in 2005, the Afghanistan Compact was introduced as a result of collaboration by the government of Afghanistan, the UN and members of the international community. The compact set out a framework for co-operation over the next five years on issues of security, governance, counter-narcotics and development, and was promised $10-billion (U.S.) by the 60 countries and organizations that signed the compact. NATO-led ISAF continued to deploy more troops and took over the command from U.S.-led coalition forces in the south and the east, expanding military control over the entire country by the end of July. NATO commander Lieutenant-General David Richards pledged to be more “people friendly” in the wake of rising local resentment to U.S.-led offensives. In September, pro-Taliban militants and the Pakistani government signed a peace accord in which militants agreed to stop attacking Pakistan’s semi-autonomous region of North Waziristan and eastern Afghanistan, in return for an end to Pakistan’s military campaign in the region.

2005 Afghanistan’s first parliamentary elections were held on a non-party basis in September, after months of delay and escalating violence. Includes among the newly elected Parliamentarians were former warlords, former Taliban officials, women activists and former officials of the old communist regime. The UN Security Council extended the mandate of NATO-led ISAF for another year. Earlier, ISAF had begun expanding operations to western Afghanistan in an effort to cover half the country. NATO and UN officials expressed concern over Afghanistan’s thriving opium production, saying it threatened Afghanistan’s future stability and the democratic process. Over 415,000 Afghan refugees returned this year.

2004 In January, Afghanistan’s Loya Jirga (grand council) adopted its first post-conflict constitution, setting the stage for elections later in the year. In November, interim president Hamid Karzai was declared the winner of presidential elections. His new cabinet included two women. A major UN program achieved half its goal of 4,000 demobilized child soldiers in 15 provinces. A disarmament program backed by the UN reportedly disarmed tens of thousands of ex-combatants in its goal to disarm 100,000 fighters.

2003 Combatant demobilization and disarmament began in Kabul and northern Afghanistan where rival warlords retained private militias. Both the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), which came under NATO control in August, and the United Nations—through the UN Development Programme—assisted with disarmament programs. In December, after weeks of negotiations, the Loya Jirga (grand council) appeared close to adopting Afghanistan’s new constitution, which would reinforce the power of the presidency, enshrine Afghanistan’s status as an Islamic state and result in a call for elections in 2004. The ISAF mandate expanded in October when the UN Security Council authorized a move beyond Kabul to help the Afghan Transitional Authority maintain security across the country. An October ceasefire signed by the two most powerful warlords in the north, Abdul Rashid Dostum and Atta Mohammad, failed when factional violence in the city of Mazar-i-Sharif resumed in November. The arrest in Pakistan of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, a high-ranking al-Qaeda leader, was declared a significant advance in the U.S.-led “war on terror.”

2002 President Hamid Karzai was re-elected by the Loya Jirga (National Council) to serve as interim leader of Afghanistan until the 2004 elections. However, as demonstrated by an attempt on his life in September, Karzai’s leadership was not universally accepted and the transitional government claimed little authority outside Kabul. The transitional government made several attempts to end fighting between feuding militia leaders and brokered a ceasefire between rival factions in the north. Programs were initiated to disarm militias throughout Afghanistan and several donor countries pledged to rebuild an army that would operate under the control of the central government.

2001 With the fall of Kabul in November, and after tortuous negotiations, a December agreement among Afghan factions created an interim government in Kabul under Hamid Karzai.

2000 Controlling 95 per cent of the country, the Taliban demanded Afghanistan’s UN seat, still held by the ousted government of President Berhanuddin Rabbani (exiled in Tajikistan). The United States opposed the demand, saying the Taliban must first make significant policy changes. Meanwhile, “the UN Security Council expressed concern over the growing spread of the Afghan conflict beyond the country’s borders and its destabilizing effect on neighbouring countries.” There were reports that the sweeping Taliban offensive threatened to unleash a refugee crisis throughout central Asia.

1999 UN-brokered peace efforts in the spring and July talks involving the Six-Plus-Two group (states bordering Afghanistan plus Russia and the United States) were unsuccessful and the UN Special Envoy resigned in the fall. In October, the UN imposed sanctions aimed at freezing Taliban assets and travel.

1998 Following an April ceasefire obtained by a U.S. envoy, peace talks between the Taliban and the Northern Alliance, sponsored by the UN and the Organization of Islamic Conference, collapsed in early May. UN talks among neighbouring states were held in September. In response to Taliban killings of nine Iranian diplomats in August, Iran held military exercises and massed 200,000 troops on its border with Afghanistan.

1997 Despite intense effort, UN peace initiatives failed again in 1997. By year’s end, three Arab states had recognized the Taliban as the legal Afghanistan government.

1996 Peace initiatives begun by Iran in late 1995, by the United States in the spring and by the UN through its special mission in Afghanistan, had little effect on the conflict in 1996. Neighbouring countries, including Pakistan, Uzbekistan and Iran, as well as more distant countries (India, Russia and the United States), continued to play out the “great game” in Afghanistan by covertly backing the faction of their choice.

1995 After talks with all parties, the UN Secretary-General’s special peace envoy Mahmood Mestiri, with the support of a European Union mission [Jane’s Defence Weekly, 11 February 1995, p. 22], proposed a handover of power from Burhannudin Rabbani to a ruling council. First postponed, the handover then fell through and the UN peace process was suspended by March. Peace efforts by Russia and Saudi Arabia during the year also yielded no results.



In 1978 mujahedeen (Muslim holy warriors), with arms and funds from the United States, Saudi Arabia, China, and Pakistan, began attacks on the communist government of the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan. In 1979 the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan to bolster the government.

In 1989, after 10 years of Soviet occupation, the United States, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the Soviet Union signed peace accords in Geneva, guaranteeing Afghan independence and the withdrawal of 100,000 Soviet troops. After the Soviet withdrawal, mujahedeen continued their resistance to the Soviet-backed regime of communist president Mohammed Najibullah, who had been elected in 1986.

In 1992 the body of mujahedeen, beginning to fracture as warlords fought over the future of Afghanistan, ousted Najibullah and formed a largely Islamic state with Burhannudin Rabbani as president.

In mid-1994 a newly formed Islamic militia, the Taliban, led by Mohammed Omar, rose to power promising peace. Most Afghans, exhausted by years of drought, famine, and war, supported the Taliban’s upholding of traditional Islamic values and cracking down on crime. In 1996 the Taliban captured Kabul and publicly executed Najibullah. They established the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, based on a strict interpretation of sharia law. By 1998 the Taliban controlled 90 per cent of the country.

In January 2001 the United Nations imposed trade and economic sanctions on Afghanistan when the Taliban refused to surrender Osama bin Laden (a mujahedeen leader) for his involvement in the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam.

Following the attacks on the United States in September 2001 and the Taliban’s continuing refusal to hand over bin Laden, a U.S.-led coalition invaded Afghanistan and dislodged the Taliban from power. A Northern Alliance of mujahedeen groups opposed to the Taliban regained control of Kabul in late 2001 after an intense U.S. bombing campaign.

The UN established the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) in March 2002.

By 2003 two foreign forces were operating in Afghanistan: a U.S.-led coalition and the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) authorized by the UN Security Council.

In 2006 NATO took full control of military operations in Afghanistan, although 7,000 U.S. troops remained under U.S. control to search out Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters. Interim President Hamid Karzai was elected President of Afghanistan in October 2004. In September 2005 the first parliamentary elections in more than three decades were held.

In 2009 the United States increased troop strength in Afghanistan by approximately 30,000. However, the Taliban’s powerbase remained deeply rooted, Afghanistan’s borders were insecure and the Karzai government was weak and corrupt.

In 2014 presidential elections were held and a successful transition of power occurred with a unified government under President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah taking power.

In September 2014 the Afghan government signed the Bilateral Security Agreement, which created a framework for the presence of U.S. troops in Afghanistan after the official end of U.S. military operations. U.S. President Obama announced in May 2014 that 9,800 U.S. troops would remain, some to be included in the NATO mission. Additional U.S. troops were authorized to continue limited combat operations, including counterterrorism missions, drone strikes, and limited close air support for Afghan forces.

In December 2014 the NATO combat mission in Afghanistan officially ended. NATO maintained a presence in the country through the Resolute Support Mission, which included approximately 13,000 troops, beginning in 2015. The mission’s mandate was to train, advise, and assist Afghan security forces.

Intense fighting in 2015 caused the United States to preserve troop levels at 9,800 soldiers until 2016 (International Crisis Group, 2 November 2015). At the 2016 NATO Summit in Warsaw, member countries agreed to continue the Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan beyond 2016. Member countries will provide some $1-billion annually in support until 2020 (Reuters). The United States will also keep some 8,400 troops stationed in the country until 2017.


Arms Sources

Afghanistan was awash in weapons from past wars and more recent arms smuggling operations. Although gun owners had to be licensed, many households possessed illegal AK-47s. Most AK-47s were of Soviet origin, but Chinese, Egyptian, Bulgarian, and newer Russian models were also available. Most weapons were obtained through black markets in Pakistan’s tribal areas. Dealers estimated that at least one-third of these weapons came from Afghan military deserters.

Some U.S. weapons intended for coalition troops in Afghanistan ended up in Taliban hands. Weapons and military supplies such as vision goggles, lasers, silencers, jackets and flashlights were either snatched during raids or seized in attacks on NATO convoys passing through Pakistan. The U.S. M-4 rifle often found its way to the Taliban.

It was also discovered that U.S. military officials had failed to keep complete records of 87,000 rifles, pistols, mortars, and other weapons—one-third of all light arms—sent to Afghan soldiers and police officers between December 2004 and June 2008. No reliable records were kept for another 135,000 weapons donated by 21 other countries, including Hungary, Egypt, Slovenia, and Romania.

There were reports of weapons stockpiled by Afghan civilians. The price of black market weapons more than doubled in 2012 as fear grew that violence would escalate after international troops withdrew. Because most weapons were smuggled from Pakistan, patrols of the Afghan-Pakistani border by NATO forces further raised prices on the black market, with the price of an AK-47 increasing from $600 to $1,500. According to, the annual value of small arms and ammunition imports to Afghanistan in 2011 was approximately $64,016,650, with total defence expenditures set at $1.82-billion in a government budget of $2.49-billion. According to Military Balance, 28 transportation aircraft and six training aircraft were delivered to Afghanistan in 2011. The United States began a major withdrawal of military equipment.

The government of Afghanistan received military equipment and training primarily from the United States, but also from France, Germany, India, Pakistan, Russia, Albania, and Bulgaria, among others. In 2009 the Afghan air force received 19 N26, N16, and N32 airplanes from Italy. The UAE provided 10 helicopters for the Afghan air force. In 2013 Afghanistan imported weapons from the United States, Russia, Switzerland, and India according to data provided by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

Prior to 2001 the Taliban received volunteers and equipment from Pakistan, funds from Saudi Arabia, and aircraft from Ukraine and Belarus. Later the UN Security Council passed several resolutions imposing embargoes on the delivery of arms and funds to the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and associated individuals and entities. These embargoes had some impact in Afghanistan, but were often violated.

In 2007 an increased flow of weapons from Iran to Afghanistan had devastating results for NATO and foreign troops. While Iran denied providing Afghan insurgents with weapons, Iranian-made rockets, sophisticated bombs, and, most dangerously, EFPs (explosively formed projectiles that can pierce military armour) apparently found their way to militants.

The Taliban increased its use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs), which caused nearly half of all foreign military deaths in Afghanistan, according to NATO officials. IEDs were often hidden behind boulders, on cultivated land, and on the sides of roads. According to UNAMA, in 2009 IEDs killed 773 civilians, 32 per cent of all civilians killed. IEDs impeded the movement of humanitarian workers. In 2010 the government banned the import of ammonium nitrate fertilizer because it was used in 85 per cent of discovered IEDs. But illegal imports continued. According to NATO, Pakistan, China, and Iran were the main providers of ammonium nitrate.

Demobilization: Three UN-backed programs, costing donors hundreds of millions of dollars, were established to collect weapons and disband militia forces:

  • Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) (completed)
  • Disbandment of Illegal Armed Groups (DIAGs) (Integrated into United Nations Afghanistan Peace and Reintegration Program).
  • Afghanistan Peace and Reintegration Program (Continued in 2016).

To fight the Taliban insurgency in southern, eastern, and southeastern Afghanistan, the Afghan government recruited unemployed youth. These community police forces were given weapons, a salary, and a uniform, although it was feared that the initiative would reinforce local warlords and undermine DDR efforts. In 2011, to combat the insurgency, the government of Afghanistan continued to arm and provide money to northern militias that were implicated in killings, rape, and forcible collection of illegal taxes.

According to The Military Balance, the Afghan National Government’s defence budget was $3.29-billion in 2014, $3.23-billion in 2015 and $2.58-billion in 2016 (The Military Balance, 2016, 231; 2017, 269). The United States and Brazil supplied the Afghan government with weapons in 2015 (The Military Balance, 2016, 299). In previous years Italy, the Czech Republic, and Canada supplied weapons to the Afghan National Army (The Military Balance, 2011, 283).

In 2016, the United States provided the Afghan Air Force (AAF) with A-29 Super Tocano aircraft to improve the close-air support capabilities. The aircraft are provided as part of a $427-million United States funded Light Air Support program that will see some 20 A-29s delivered to the AAF by 2018. In 2016, India provided the Afghan forces with four Russian Mi-25 attack helicopters to use against insurgents (The Tribune). In early 2016, Russia announced that it would also ship small arms to Afghanistan (The Washington Post).  In August, the U.S. State Department approved a possible $60-million sale of military equipment to Afghanistan, including 4,891 MI6A4 5.56mm rifles, 485 M240B 7.62mm machine guns, and 800 M5 0.50 caliber machine guns (DSCA).

In August 2017, the United States announced an increase of almost 4,000 in the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, as well as its plan to send additional tactical advisers and trainers and increase the number of air and artillery strikes (The Military Report, The Guardian. NATO then agreed to send approximately 3,000 troops to help train Afghan soldiers and complement the American strategy, with deployment expected for the beginning of 2018 (Reuters).


Economic factors

Cultivating poppy, exporting opium, and mining emeralds provided income to combatants. In response to U.S.-led eradication projects, the Taliban forged new relationships with drug dealers and warlords to help protect opium crops, the revenues from which bought weapons and vehicles, paid new recruits and even compensated families of suicide bombers.

Faced with increasing isolation, a deteriorating economy and greater poverty, the Taliban found maintaining control over the population increasingly difficult even before the U.S.-led attacks of 2001. But later unpopular U.S. efforts to eradicate opium production made Taliban recruitment easier in refugee camps and areas where opium crops had been bulldozed. A number of reports suggested that foreign military operations were failing to “win the hearts and minds” of the local population; efforts focused too much on military pursuits (or unpopular policies of opium eradication) and not enough on reconstruction. More money was generated through the illicit drug trade than through lawful economic activities.

According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), 2013 saw the largest increase in opium production to date. With approximately 209,000 acres under cultivation and 5,500 tons harvested, opium production increased by 49 per cent over 2012 (4 per cent of national GDP). Nine provinces produced 89 per cent of the opium; the two biggest producers were Helmand and Kandahar, the traditional homeland of the Taliban. In October 2016, the UNODC reported that opium production had risen 43 per cent (to 4,800 tons) above 2015 levels. The area used for poppy cultivation also increased by 10 per cent. The largest yield increase occurred in the western (37 per cent increase) and southern regions (36 per cent increase).

Experts worried that without another viable source of income, farmers would remain unwilling to stop planting opium, which would continue to fuel conflict.

Corruption watchdog Transparency International ranked Afghanistan the world’s third-most corrupt state in 2010. Law enforcement mechanisms were too weak to effectively combat corruption and the drug trade. While reconstruction and development plans were successful in much of the country, the south remained impoverished and kept Afghanistan among the bottom five countries on the United Nations Human Development Index.

An increased commitment to the Afghanistan Compact was seen as a way to speed up progress in both economic and government development. Afghan officials noted that the high level of dependency on foreign donors made economic efforts unsustainable, by undermining the authority of the Afghan government.

In December 2011 the Afghan government signed an oil and natural gas exploitation deal with the Chinese National Petroleum Corporation. The deal allowed the Chinese company to create and work oil blocks in Sari Pul and Faryab. The value of the agreement was estimated to be $700-million, according to Wahidullah Sharani, the Afghan minister of Mines.

According to the World Bank Afghanistan Economic Update of 2013, 2012 oil developments in Amu Darya provided a large boost to the economy, adding an expected $250-million annually for the next 25 years. Increasing tensions with Pakistan negatively impacted exports and trade during 2012, exasperating its trade deficit, which stood at 47 per cent of GDP.

In 2012 mining developments and increased trade resulted in real GDP growth of an estimated 11.8 per cent (up from 7.3 per cent in 2011) and had the potential to create between 100,000 and 125,000 jobs over 10 years. Internet and Communications Technologies growth rates doubled from 2011; Afghanistan had 2.4-million internet users in 2013, compared to fewer than 1-million in 2011, according to the World Bank.

The World Bank reported that political and security transitions negatively affected the Afghan economy. The GDP growth rate was 2 per cent in 2013, 1.3 per cent in 2014, and 1.9 per cent in 2015 (World Bank; World Bank, Afghanistan Country Snapshot October 2015, 2).

With uncertain economic prospects, Afghanistan continued to rely heavily on external donor assistance. At a September 5, 2015 meeting, senior officials from donor countries pledged continued support for Afghanistan if the country made a series of key reforms. On October 4 and 5, 2016, President Ghani and CEO Abdullah met with donors from more than 70 countries at the Brussels Conference on Afghanistan. Donors pledged more than $15.2-billion in aid to support Afghanistan’s development through 2020.

In 2017, Afghanistan’s growth rate was only slightly better than that for the 2014-2016 period (The World Factbook). The World Bank projected Afghanistan’s economic growth for 2017 would be 2.6 per cent, while growth in 2016 was 2.2 percent. Afghanistan is expected to remain largely dependent on international donor support for years to come.


map: CIA Factbook

Click to Share