Opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan rose 7% from 209,000 hectares in 2013 to 224,000 hectares, according to the 2014 Afghanistan Opium Survey (PDF) released Nov. 12 by the Afghan Ministry of Counter Narcotics and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). Opium production may increase 17%, with yields estimated to reach 6,400 tons in 2014 compared to the previous year's total of 5,500. These increases come after record highs were marked in 2013, when cultivation rose 36% and production by almost a half over 2012.
The top international commander in Afghanistan, US Army Gen. John Campbell, is assessing whether more coalition troops should remain in the country beyond the Obama administration's current plans for a "complete withdrawal" in 2016. In a phone interview from Kabul with Foreign Policy (Nov. 3), Campbell said he was "beginning now to take a hard look" at what effect delays in concluding a US-Afghanistan bilateral security agreement have had on the preparedness of the Afghan military in the face of a resurgent Taliban. "Do I come back and do I alert my leadership and say we are coming down to this number, we need to hold a little bit longer to take advantage of some of the things that President [Ashraf] Ghani has put in place and we need more NATO forces in certain locations for longer?" Campbell said. "I've got to do that analysis and we're just starting that now."
Afghanistan's electoral dispute was officially resolved Sept. 21, after months of wrangling. Under the deal, Ashraf Ghani becomes president while runner-up Abdullah Abdullah is to nominate a "chief executive officer" (likely himself) with powers similar to those of prime minister. (BBC News) AP reports that the Obama administration hopes to follow this up with a new secuirty deal that will allow some 10,000 US troops to remain in Afghanistan next year after all "combat forces" are supposedly withdrawn at the end of 2014. The outgoing Hamid Karzai had punted on such an arrangement. The deal may be a win for Washington, but not so much for Afghans. Patricia Gossman blogs for Human Rights Watch:
A new law designed to regulate Afghanistan's nascent mining sector could increase corruption, lead to forced displacements and even allow armed groups to take control of the sector, transparency groups have warned. The law, passed by parliament earlier this month, is likely to lead to the signing of several key deals to extract the country’s newfound minerals—estimated to be worth as much as $3 trillion. Yet the transparency organization Global Witness warned that the law "does not include basic safeguards against corruption and conflict." Government officials deny the claim, saying that further protections are to be written in later. Afghanistan's discovery of huge reserves of key minerals in recent years has raised hopes of a bounty of deals that could potentially help the country’s economy grow, and stabilize the country, following the pullout of US troops at the end of 2014. Yet the bids have been delayed by what were perceived as an unfriendly legal framework for business. Sayed Hashemi, legal director at the Afghan Ministry of Mines and Petroleum, said a previous law signed in 2010 was seen as too tough on companies as it did not allow them to turn exploration licenses into exploitation. "No investor was interested to come into Afghanistan," he told IRIN. Hashemi said the new law is intended to make investing easier.
Ground combat engagements have surpassed improvised explosive devices (IEDs) as the most common cause of conflict-related civilian deaths and injuries in Afghanistan, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) reported (PDF) July 9. The report states that in the first six months of 2014, 1,901 civilian casualties, including 474 deaths, were attributed to ground engagements, accounting for 39% of all civilian deaths and injuries in that period. IEDs, previously the most common cause of civilian injuries, caused 1,463 civilian casualties in the same period. "The fight is increasingly taking place in communities, public places and near the homes of ordinary Afghans," said director of human rights for UNAMA, Georgette Gagnon. "More efforts are needed to protect civilians from the harms of conflict and to ensure accountability for those deliberately and indiscriminately killing them." The report laid out an action plan for "Afghan Government Forces" and "International Military Forces" as well as "Anti-Government Elements" to reduce civilian casualties.
The European Union (EU) on July 3 called on Afghanistan to conduct a more extensive investigation into vote-rigging in their presidential election. The following day the Independent Election Commission (IEC) supervising the race postponed the release of the preliminary results of the election while it recounts votes from nearly 2,000 polling sites. Candidates Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani both have claimed victory after the outcome of the June 14 run-off election. EU Election Assessment Team chief observer Thijs Berman told reporters, "If you would use these factors as well and investigate all polling stations...on the basis of these factors you may well end up concluding that over 6,000 polling stations in the country need a thorough investigation."
Six suspected militants were killed in a presumed US drone strike on Miranshah Tehsil in North Waziristan, Pakistan, June 18. This time, the drone attack comes amid Pakistani air-strikes on militant strongholds in the region—causing 150,000 to flee their homes in recent days. A camp for displaced people has been set up near Bannu, on the border with Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, but it lacks food, water and electricity. The Pakistan Army has mobilized tanks and troops, in addition to fighter jets, and is expected to begin a new, more intense phase of what has been dubbed "Operation Zarb-e-Azb" after a three-day window to allow civilians to leave the area ends. Chinese authoriites claim that Uighur members of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) are among the militants killed in the Pakistani air-strikes. (Newsweek Pakistan, June 20; CNN, BBC News, June 19; Xinhua, June 15)
US drone strikes on two targets in North Waziristan June 12, ending a nearly six-month halt in the Pakistan drone campaign. The strikes killed at least 16 presumed militants in the villages of Dargah Mandi and Danda Darpa Khel, both outisde the tribal districts' main town of Miramshah. Dargah Mandi is said to be a stronghold of the Haqqani Network. Four of the six killed there were said to be Uzbeks. The strikes came just days after the Taliban launched a deadly attack on Karachi airport that killed 37 people. That attack ended a tentative peace process with the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan, who in 2007 launched an insurgency that has claimed thousands of lives. (Dawn, June 12; Long War Journal, June 11)