Overview: The United States partnered with Afghanistan on a bilateral counterterrorism effort through Operation Freedom’s Sentinel. The U.S. military, along with 37 other Defeat-ISIS Coalition nations, supported the ANDSF through NATO-led Resolute Support’s “Train, Advise, and Assist” mission. In 2020 the Taliban and the affiliated HQN continued attacks targeting Afghan civilians and government officials. Drawing largely from information compiled in 2019, the UN Security Council reported on May 27 that relations between al-Qa’ida and the Taliban remained close. ISIS-K continued to perpetrate high-profile attacks against civilians, journalists, religious minorities, and members of the international community. The attack trend in 2020 remained high, apart from a seven-day period before the signing of the U.S.-Taliban Agreement and three-day ceasefires for Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Qurban. ISIS-K, elements of al-Qa’ida (including affiliate AQIS), and terrorist groups targeting Pakistan, such as TTP, continued to use the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region as a safe haven.
2020 Terrorist Incidents: Attacks attributed to insurgent and terrorist activity continued at high levels in 2020. Militants conducted high-profile complex attacks involving multiple attackers, vehicle-borne IEDs (VBIEDs), and magnetically attached IEDs (or MAIEDs) to target ANDSF, government buildings, public infrastructure, and other civilian targets. However, attacks against provincial capitals and district centers declined. In addition, direct targeting of U.S. interests dropped significantly in 2020 owing to stipulations within the U.S.-Taliban agreement that prohibited Taliban attacks on foreigners. At year’s end, no U.S. servicemember had been killed on the battlefield since the February 29 signing of the agreement and announcement of the U.S.-Afghanistan Joint Declaration. Terrorist groups continued to torture, recruit, and use child soldiers and target attacks against religious minority groups and journalists. According to Resolute Support Mission reporting, between January 1 and September 30, insurgent and terrorist attacks were responsible for killing 1,818 civilians and wounding 3,488. Significant terrorist incidents in 2020 included the following:
- On March 7, after attacking a progovernment militia outpost in Herat province, the Taliban kidnapped and killed seven civilians.
- On March 6, at least 32 civilians were killed when gunmen attacked an event in Kabul attended by opposition leader Abdullah Abdullah.
- On March 25, ISIS-K gunmen attacked a Sikh temple in Kabul, killing 25 and injuring 11.
- On May 12, three ISIS-K gunmen killed 24 persons, including mothers and babies, and injured at least 20 in a complex attack involving gunmen and grenades at a Médecins Sans Frontières hospital maternity ward in a predominantly Shia neighborhood of Kabul.
- Two gunmen attacked Kabul University on November 2, killing 20 persons and wounding 28. ISIS-K took responsibility for the attack.
- On December 26, armed men killed women’s rights activist Freshta Kohistani and her brother in Kapisa province. The government arrested two Taliban members in connection with the murders.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: The Afghan Attorney General’s Office investigated and prosecuted violations of the laws prohibiting membership in terrorist or insurgent groups, violent acts committed against the state, hostage taking, murder, and the use of explosives against military forces and state infrastructure. General Command of Police Special Units continued to respond to militant attacks throughout Afghanistan. In October, President Ashraf Ghani tasked First Vice President Saleh with oversight of Kabul security, later adding 10 provinces under the government’s “Security Charter” plan, launched in July in an effort to strengthen security and combat crime by building cooperation between Afghans and their security forces. Afghanistan’s Security Charter was modeled on the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)-funded Citizen’s Charter, which seeks to make service delivery more effective and citizen-centric.
Afghanistan continued to face significant challenges in protecting its borders, particularly those with Pakistan and Iran. Resource constraints, lack of training, corruption, and the COVID-19 pandemic impeded Afghan law enforcement and border security efforts. Afghan and Pakistani officials met August 31 under the bilateral Afghanistan-Pakistan Action Plan for Peace and Security (APAPPS) to discuss cross-border violence, potential intelligence sharing, and increased regional cooperation. President Ghani and Prime Minister Khan reaffirmed their commitment to APAPPS during Khan’s November 19 visit to Kabul.
Afghanistan continued to process traveler arrivals and departures at major points of entry using the U.S.-provided Personal Identification Secure Comparison and Evaluation System (PISCES), a border security management system.
The Afghan government achieved some success in tracking and arresting terrorist suspects. On November 14 the National Directorate of Security announced the arrest of the alleged architect of the November Kabul University attack. On November 30, Afghan officials arrested two suspected would-be suicide bombers, one with links to the Taliban and the other to ISIS-K, before they reached their target in Nangahar province. OFS and ANDSF operations in January successfully denied ISIS-K the ability to regain a regional headquarters in Kunar province.
On December 10 the Ministry of Interior announced it had arrested the suspected killers of two prominent Afghan journalists: Ilyas Dayee, who died in a targeted bomb blast in Helmand province on November 12 after being threatened by the Taliban, and female news anchor Enikas Malala Maiwand, who was gunned down in an ISIS-K-claimed attack in Nangahar province on December 10. ANDSF benefited from Resolute Support’s Train, Advise, and Assist capacity-building efforts.
Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Afghanistan is a member of the Asia/Pacific Group on Money Laundering (APG). In line with FATF recommendations, Afghanistan’s Financial Intelligence Unit, the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Center of Afghanistan, conducted a national money laundering and terrorist financing risk assessment in 2020.
Afghan Peace Process: Under the February 29 U.S.-Taliban Agreement, the Taliban committed to taking specific steps to prevent any group or individual, including al-Qa’ida, from using Afghan soil to threaten the security of the United States and its allies, including preventing any such group or individual from recruiting, training, and fundraising, and not hosting them or facilitating their entry into areas of Afghanistan controlled by the Taliban. The Taliban also committed to entering into intra-Afghan negotiations to determine the date and modalities of a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire and to reaching an agreement over the future political roadmap of Afghanistan. As part of the U.S.-Afghanistan Joint Declaration, announced on February 29, Afghanistan also reaffirmed its ongoing commitment to prevent any terrorist groups or individuals, including al-Qaida and ISIS-K, from using Afghan soil to threaten the security of the United States, its allies, or any other country. As confidence-building measures before the launch of peace negotiations, the Afghan government released 5,000 Taliban prisoners and the Taliban released 1,005 Afghans it had held hostage. Negotiations commenced in Doha, Qatar, on September 12.
Countering Violent Extremism: The Ministry of Hajj and Religious Affairs prioritized the countering of violent extremist theology throughout Afghanistan and educating imams to ensure they have a full understanding of Islam, reject extremism, and embrace tolerance.
International and Regional Cooperation: In May Foreign Minister Haneef Atmar participated in a trilateral meeting with Uzbekistan and the United States and discussed security cooperation, cross-border threats, and terrorism. In October, Atmar participated in a trilateral meeting with Turkmenistan and the United States and discussed improving security cooperation and information sharing.