Unending Violence, Elusive Peace

Afghanistan struggles for stability in the face of a splintered Taliban and a growing Islamic State

by Animesh Roul

The suicide attacks keep coming. A spate of violent incidents since the beginning of the year has pushed Afghanistan further into turmoil and despair. The security situation deteriorated with the announcement of the death of the Afghan Taliban’s long-standing and reclusive leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar. A leadership struggle began, and the Taliban upped its indiscriminate violence in a bid to remain relevant as the Islamic State made its appearance on the stage. The subsequent announcement of a new leader has both divided the organization and provided renewed thrust to the Taliban’s militant insurgency.

The incidence of violence is trending upwards, with the suffering of civilians reached a record high in the first six months of the year. The casualties came from suicide strikes, targeted killings, and bombings and shootouts at residential or government complexes. According to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, the civilian fatality figures reached 1,592 in the first half of 2015, as well as over 3,300 injured.

The government, under Ashraf Ghani successfully completed one year in office on September 21. Efforts had been underway to negotiate with the Taliban leadership, with the assistance of Pakistan, but the outcome has been thrown into uncertainty. Already challenged by the withdrawal of US-NATO forces, the government must now face the Taliban’s new leadership in addition to unpredictable factionalism among the militants and the rise of the Islamic State in the region.

After the announcement of the Taliban’s new leader, the violence increased. Although the news of the death of supreme Taliban leader Mullah Omar, who was also head of the former Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, came two years after his passing, it triggered pitched battles between competing groups of Taliban and a barrage of suicide attacks against security forces across the country.

Reinforcing the Rage

August 7 was one of the bloodiest days since the new government took over in Afghanistan, with the Taliban unleashing coordinated attacks against the army, police, and the U.S. Special Forces in Kabul. Over 50 people were killed. These violent attacks were more than a lethal show of force: they signaled the renewed unity of the Taliban in the aftermath of their leadership struggle.

The suicide attacks at the Kabul Police Academy and a nearby army complex alone killed 42 people and injured over 300. Taliban militants also targeted Camp Integrity, which houses U.S. and coalition troops who help train Afghan forces; nine were killed and over 20 injured. Camp Integrity is run by U.S security contractor Academi, formerly Blackwater. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for both the police academy and Camp Integrity attacks, but refrained from claiming responsibility for the vehicle-borne IED attack on the army complex in central Kabul.

On the following day, Taliban militants …

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