During a year in which it conducted a presidential election, Afghanistan continued to confront the challenges of building a stable, democratic government in the face of a sophisticated, multi-faceted insurgency that primarily relied on asymmetric tactics. The insurgency targeted coalition forces, the United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan (UNAMA), international non-governmental organizations (NGOs), foreign diplomatic missions, Afghan government officials and security forces, and Afghan civilians.

Separate but intertwined and affiliated extremist organizations led by Mullah Omar (Taliban), Sirajuddin Haqqani (Haqqani Network), and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar (Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin – HIG) increased their use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and coordinated attacks using multiple suicide bombers, resulting in an increase from 2008 in overall casualties. The Taliban, in particular, stepped up the pace of its attacks and simultaneously increased its shadow government presence throughout the country. Al-Qa'ida (AQ) and the Taliban senior leadership maintained an operational relationship, but AQ's direct influence in Afghanistan has diminished over the past year due to effective counterterrorism operations.

With support from the international civilian and military community, the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan worked to build and strengthen its national security forces and establish effective law-enforcement mechanisms and improved governance to increase stability and counter Taliban presence and influence.

The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) led the coalition forces' counterinsurgency campaign, using a combination of counterinsurgency means and methods, including synchronized use of combat (air and ground forces) and non-combat means (building civil governance and aiding reconstruction and development in conjunction with UNAMA) to fight extremism. Over the summer, General Stanley A. McChrystal issued a tactical directive which sought to reduce civilian casualties caused by military actions. A UN report on the protection of civilians in Afghanistan showed a 14 percent increase in civilian deaths compared to 2008, but credited ISAF with a 28 percent reduction in civilian deaths from pro-government forces.

The Commander, U.S. Central Command, maintained command and control of U.S. forces operating in Afghanistan. United States forces targeted insurgent leaders, facilitators, improvised explosive device (IED) networks, the narcotics-insurgent nexus, and insurgent training and logistics centers with the objective of eliminating terrorists and facilitating reconstruction and development. The Afghan National Army (ANA), and to a lesser extent, the Afghan National Police (ANP), continued to lead in the majority of counterterrorism operations, in close cooperation with coalition forces. The Afghan National Security Force (ANSF) continued to work in close partnership with ISAF to develop the capability necessary to assume the lead in security across Afghanistan and take a greater role in planning and execution operations. Partly in response to their growing inability to prevail against coalition and ANSF forces in conventional encounters, insurgents increasingly resorted to asymmetrical tactics to intimidate ordinary Afghans. These tactics included increasingly sophisticated IEDs placed along key travel arteries, assassination attempts against Afghan government officials, and the use of suicide bombers and direct fire attacks in population centers where Afghan civilians are used as shields.

Integrated civilian-military counterinsurgency approaches in the eastern part of the country have continued to yield some successes. Nonetheless, the anti-government insurgency remained a capable, determined, and resilient threat to stability and to the expansion of government authority, particularly in the south and east. The insurgency continued to suffer heavy combat losses, including among senior leaders, but its ability to recruit soldiers remained undiminished. Taliban information operations were aggressive and sophisticated, including, for example, Mullah Omar's injunctions on the Taliban website for Taliban fighters to avoid harming civilians and monitor local communities regarding their satisfaction with Taliban shadow government officials' performance.

Despite increased efforts by the international community against funding flows, streams of Taliban financing from abroad, along with funds gained from narcotics trafficking and kidnapping, criminal enterprises, and taxing the local population, have allowed the insurgency to strengthen its military and technical capabilities. Narcotics trafficking in particular remained an important financing mechanism of terrorist/insurgent operations.

In addition to targeting Afghan and coalition military forces, insurgents and criminals attacked Afghan government officials and civil servants, Afghan police and army forces and recruits, humanitarian actors, and civilians. Foreign civilians, including diplomats, were deliberately targeted. Two high-profile terrorist attacks against foreign diplomats in Kabul City this year included the October 8 suicide car bombing of the Indian Embassy that killed at least 17 and the October 28 attack on a UNAMA guesthouse that killed five UN employees and three other Afghans. The Taliban claimed responsibility for both attacks.

Throughout the year, insurgents targeted NGOs, Afghan journalists, government workers, UN workers, and recipients of NGO assistance. They targeted teachers, pupils (especially girls), and schools. Attacks on girls schools in the east and south increased. Taliban militants were suspected in late April and early May of using an unidentified gas to sicken girls and teachers at two schools in the town of Charikar in Parwan Province and one school in Mahmud Raqi, a small town north of Kabul. Insurgents coupled threats and attacks against NGOs with continued targeting of Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs), de-mining teams, construction crews working on roads and other infrastructure projects. Additionally, insurgents continued to kidnap foreigners and Afghans. While insurgents conducted most abductions for ransom, presumably as a means of raising money to support their operations, they have also sought to use victims to negotiate with Afghanistan's government and the international community.

Taliban militants made a concentrated effort to thwart the August 20 Presidential and Provincial elections by intimidating voters and attacking election officials. There were more than 1,000 insurgent attacks in August, approximately 20% of which occurred on Election Day. Although there were few resulting casualties, voter turnout was notably lower than for the 2004 election, and, in some areas in the south and east, turnout was effectively shut down altogether as a result of Taliban intimidation.

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