In a surprise announcement, the Taliban announced a 3-day ceasefire with Afghan security forces to honor Eid celebrations commemorating the end of Ramadan. On Thursday, June 7, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani proposed a ceasefire, then later extended it until June 27th to move forward in the peace process with the Taliban. The U.S. welcomed the agreement and promised to abide by its terms not to target the Taliban.
Neither al-Qaeda nor the Islamic State were included in the ceasefire so international and Afghan operations against them continued. Two days later, on June 9th, the Taliban committed to a 3-day ceasefire to officially occur between Friday, June 15th and Sunday, June 17th.
In the week before the ceasefire was to take place, the Taliban and Islamic State conducted dozens of attacks throughout Afghanistan killing a total of 215 and wounding at least 202. Taliban fighters conducted 6 total ambushes on military and police checkpoints in several Northern provinces of Afghanistan, killing 65 in three separate attacks on June 9th and 25 on June 11th.
Taliban IED attacks also killed 12 and wounded 36 in Ghazni and Nangarhar. During the Taliban-Afghan government ceasefire, the Islamic State conducted 4 suicide bombings, killing a total of 85 police, Taliban, and civilians while wounding 141 in Nangarhar province.
Most notably, Taliban fighters overran security forces in Faryab province and captured the Kohistan district after killing the district governor and 13 soldiers. Over the past two years, possession of Kohistan has switched between the Taliban and government forces multiple times.
Since the ceasefire ended, the Taliban has carried out more than a dozen attacks, killing at least 70. At least 3 separate Taliban assaults in Baghdis province in Western Afghanistan killed 46 Afghan soldiers. In one of the attacks in Baghdis the Taliban killed 16 and abducted 13 engineers and 20 guards. An attack on an election facility killed 7 in Nimroz province.
The 3-day ceasefire presented some unique scenes, with Taliban fighters and Afghan Security Forces embracing and taking photographs with each other. Taliban members were also invited into government offices to eat and celebrate with government workers. In Kabul, fighters were required to store their weapons, but in other provinces they openly carried rocket launchers and grenades. There is a chance some fighters are using the opportunity to hide among the civilian population within government-controlled areas, planning to eventually carry out attacks on government installations.
After the post-ceasefire attacks, Afghan officials accused the Taliban of using the ceasefire to conduct scouting operations and plan future attacks. Reports on Sunday, June 24th, a week after the ceasefire ended, reveal that the Taliban defied the truce and carried out attacks on security checkpoints in Kunduz province. A spokesman for the Afghan defense minister also revealed that the Taliban violated the ceasefire by killing 12 Afghan soldiers in different parts of the country.
On Sunday, the Taliban overran 13 checkpoints, took over 80 Afghan police hostage in Wardak province, and attempted an assassination on a provincial governor. Afghan officials later claimed some of the local police were colluding with the Taliban, enabling them to take over many checkpoints with little resistance.
Taliban leadership has long claimed they will meet with the Afghan government to discuss a peaceful political solution, but only after U.S. and NATO forces leave. After NATO officially ended its military mission in 2014 in favor of an advisory role, the Taliban has contested more than half of Afghanistan’s districts. Afghan security forces still aren’t ready to provide necessary security needs to civilians and prevent the Taliban from overrunning their security. A full U.S. and NATO withdrawal would likely mean an eventual Taliban takeover. Taliban rejection of the ceasefire and resumption of attacks hours after the ceasefire ended reveals their resolution claims to be false. The Taliban has rejected peace talks in the past, recently accusing the Afghan government of acting as puppets for the U.S.
Despite the efforts of the Taliban to undermine peace efforts, the Afghan government is still trying to bring them to negotiate. Even after dozens of attacks since the ceasefire officially ended, Afghan security forces in many provinces have unilaterally extended their ceasefire and are instead only taking defensive measures.
While U.S. officials expressed optimism that a peace deal is within reach, the U.S. military must maintain pressure on the Taliban, because of its ties with al-Qaeda, which still arms, finances, and trains Taliban fighters to oppose the Afghan government and international forces.
Under the Trump administration, the U.S. military has increased its involvement in Afghanistan. Thousands of additional troops have been sent to help Afghan Security Forces. The U.S. has also increased the number of airstrikes and loosened rules of engagement. With potential threats posed by the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and Islamic State, the U.S. military will maintain a presence to train and advise local forces to provide their own security and prevent another terror state from forming in Afghanistan. After years of international training and support, the Afghan military still does not have enough capability to prevent the Taliban from taking over most districts.
To hold back the Taliban, Afghan forces depend on U.S. air support and intelligence operations. Removing the U.S. from the equation gives Taliban fighters an advantage on the ground. Taliban requests for the government to continue freeing Taliban prisoners and a full withdrawal of international forces are a high demand. It suggests they desire to rebuild their ranks and continue to overwhelm Afghan security forces, and it indicates that international forces must maintain their presence for several years before Afghans will be capable of providing their own security.