Expected Council Action
In June, the Council will hold its quarterly debate on Afghanistan, during which it will consider the Secretary-General’s report on the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA). The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan and head of UNAMA, Tadamichi Yamamoto, is expected to brief.
UNAMA’s mandate expires on 17 March 2018.
Key Recent Developments
With no reliable agreement on the peace process and an ongoing Taliban offensive, the insurgency continues to take a heavy toll on the civilian population and Afghan security forces. During the first four months of 2017, UNAMA documented 2,181 civilian casualties, of which 715 were fatal. This casualty count is slightly lower compared with the same period last year. However, there has been a 21 percent increase in child deaths during the same period, with 283 fatalities in total, while more than 700 children have been injured. After a 14 May explosion in Laghman province that killed five children, Yamamoto again called on all parties to the conflict to take necessary precautions to avoid harming civilians and children in particular.
With NATO assistance, Afghan security forces have continued to counter the activities of the Taliban, Al-Qaida, and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in the eastern parts of the country. The US Central Command announced on 13 April that US forces had dropped the most powerful non-nuclear bomb (GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast) ever used in military operations in Afghanistan. The bomb targeted a series of underground tunnels used by ISIL fighters in Achin district in Nangarhar province. The strike was aimed at minimizing the risk to Afghan and US forces conducting clearing operations in the area. According to Afghan officials, the strike killed at least 36 ISIL fighters and did not cause any civilian casualties. On 7 May, the US military confirmed that the leader of the ISIL branch in Afghanistan was killed in a joint US-Afghan military operation conducted in April in Nangarhar province.
In late April, the Taliban announced the start of the annual spring offensive, vowing attacks on the government and foreign forces in Afghanistan. During the past few months, the Taliban has claimed responsibility for a series of deadly attacks throughout the country. On 21 April, Taliban fighters wearing Afghan military uniforms attacked the military base Camp Shaheen in northern Balkh province, reportedly killing more than 140 and wounding more than 100 Afghan soldiers. Approximately ten Taliban fighters, some of whom activated suicide bombs, infiltrated the base and shot at the soldiers. Following several hours of fighting, Afghan forces retook control of the base. Five attackers were killed and one was arrested.
In May, Taliban and ISIL fighters intensified their attacks, targeting Afghan security forces and civilians throughout the country. On 21 May, Taliban fighters launched multiple rocket attacks on Afghan police forces in Zabul province, killing at least 20 policemen. In a separate incident in Kabul the same day, a German aid worker and a local security guard working for the Swedish aid organisation Operation Mercy were killed and a Finnish woman working for the organisation was kidnapped. On 19 May, 11 people, including five children, were killed by a roadside bomb in Logar province. The same day in Kapisa province, at least ten policemen were killed in two separate attacks by the Taliban. ISIL claimed responsibility for a deadly attack on the national radio and TV station in Jalalabad on 17 May, which resulted in at least six dead and more than 16 injured, among whom were some of the TV station’s staff.
On 22 May, Russia requested a meeting under “any other business” to raise the issue of alleged activity by unmarked helicopters over Afghan airspace and asked that the Secretariat provide more information on this.
While there has been no substantial progress in reconciliation efforts with the Taliban, the government has continued to engage with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, leader of the Hezb-i-Islami militant group, with whom it reached a reconciliation agreement in the fall of 2016. On 29 April, Hekmatyar made his first public appearance in Afghanistan after 20 years of hiding when he spoke at a rally for his supporters in Laghman province. He called on the Taliban and other opposition groups to join the reconciliation efforts. Hekmatyar repeated that message on 4 May during a ceremony hosted by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in the presidential palace in Kabul. On 16 May, Yamamoto hosted a meeting with Hekmatyar as a part of UNAMA’s role in supporting Afghan efforts towards peace and reconciliation. Yamamoto expressed appreciation for Hekmatyar’s commitment to achieve peace through negotiations and his call for all parties to join in the reconciliation.
In addition to extending the UNAMA’s mandate for another year, resolution 2344, which was adopted in March, requested the Secretary-General to conduct a strategic review of the mission with the aim of examining mandated tasks, priorities, and related resources. In May, the review team headed by Under-Secretary-General Ján Kubiš visited Afghanistan and held meetings with national and international stakeholders. During his meeting with Kubiš in Kabul on 9 May, Ghani said that Afghanistan still needs the cooperation of the UN but its current status of mission and assistance should change fundamentally to improve effectiveness. The final report of the strategic review is due in July.
In other developments, Afghan and Pakistani military forces exchanged fire in early May on the border between the two countries. Each side accused the other of provoking the confrontation. Causalities, including fatalities, were reported though the exact numbers seem to be disputed.
Human Rights-Related Developments
On 24 April, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and UNAMA released a joint report on Afghanistan’s treatment of conflict-related detainees, covering the period from 1 January 2015 to 31 December 2016,. The report noted that despite “genuine efforts” by the government to address concerns over the treatment of detainees, including taking steps to implement its 2015 National Plan on the Elimination of Torture, detainees continue to face torture and ill-treatment, and a lack of accountability for such acts persists.
During its 35th session in June, the Human Rights Council is set to consider the report of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons, Chaloka Beyani, following his visit to Afghanistan from 11 to 20 October 2016 (A/HRC/35/27/Add.3). The report concludes that internal displacement has become a “regular occurrence or a permanent feature” of life for many Afghanis, with more than 600,000 displaced in 2016. With the trend worsening, the report calls for a more effective government-led response and for the international community to remain focused on providing support and assistance, noting that a serious escalation of the conflict and the displacement crisis would overwhelm the collective capacity to respond.
The principal issue for the Council is how to address the worsening security situation, including its damaging impact on Afghanistan’s stability and the toll the conflict is taking on the civilian population.
A related issue is how to generate momentum for reconciliation efforts, given the continued heavy fighting between the insurgents and government forces.
The link between the insurgents and drug production and trafficking and illicit exploitation of natural resources is another ongoing issue.
Rising cross-border tensions between Afghanistan and Pakistan is also an issue for the Council.
The Council could adopt a resolution or presidential statement that:
- deplores the high number of civilian casualties and demands that all sides avoid killing and injuring civilians, recalling that targeting civilians is a war crime;
- underscores the need for the international community, and particularly neighbouring countries, to continue to support and cooperate with Afghanistan;
- emphasises the importance of development assistance in promoting Afghanistan’s stability; and
- calls for accountability for alleged crimes committed.
The Council could also decide to visit Afghanistan to show its support for counter-insurgency, reconciliation, and anti-corruption efforts and to learn how it could further assist efforts on the ground.
Council members remain concerned about the deteriorating security environment and in particular its impact on the civilian population. Furthermore, there are concerns regarding the lack of progress in the peace process. Several Council members, most notably France, Egypt, Russia and Kazakhstan, continue to raise concerns regarding the connection between the insurgency and drug production and trafficking. During the past several meetings, Russia has warned that ISIL continues to pose a serious threat that should not be downplayed. Kazakhstan and Russia have also emphasised the role of regional organisations, such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the Collective Security Treaty Organization, in addressing the situation in Afghanistan.
Japan is the penholder on Afghanistan, and Kazakhstan chairs the 1988 Afghanistan Sanctions Committee.
UN Documents on Afghanistan
|Security Council Resolution|
|17 March 2017 S/RES/2344||The Council renewed the mandate of UNAMA until 17 March 2018.|
|3 March 2017 S/2017/189||This was the Secretary-General’s report on UNAMA.|