Overview: With the conclusion of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission on December 31, 2014, Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) assumed full responsibility for the security and defense of Afghanistan. The United States remained committed to sustained political, diplomatic, and economic engagement in Afghanistan and retained the capacity to conduct counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan; however, the majority of these operations were carried out in conjunction with, or solely by, Afghan units. The United States also continued to support the professionalization and modernization of the ANDSF. The military component of U.S. assistance to the ANDSF transitioned to NATO's non-combat Resolute Support Mission (RSM) and U.S. Forces Afghanistan (USFOR-A) on January 1, 2015. RSM focused on building the capabilities of the Afghan forces at the regional (Corps) level and above through its train, advise, and assist mission and USFOR-A retained U.S. counterterrorism functions, as outlined in the Security and Defense Cooperation Agreement between the Governments of Afghanistan and the United States, also known as the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA).

In 2015, the ANDSF faced a challenging first year of fighting without the support of internationally-led combat operations. ANDSF operations centered on the provinces of Kunduz, Badakhshan, Zabul, Ghazni, and Helmand. Taliban insurgents amassed in larger numbers and attacked multiple district centers throughout the country, particularly in the provinces of Nangarhar, Helmand, and Kunduz. Several districts remained contested at year's end although all major population centers and critical infrastructure remained under government control. The Haqqani Network (HQN), a semi-autonomous faction of the Taliban, continued to plan and conduct high profile attacks and assassinations against U.S., Coalition, and Afghan interests, particularly in Kabul and other key government centers. While al-Qa'ida (AQ) has been severely degraded in the region, its regional affiliate, al-Qa'ida in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), continued to operate in Afghanistan. Notably, AQIS members were active at a large training camp in a remote area of Kandahar Province. On October 11, U.S. and Afghan forces conducted a coordinated joint operation that successfully destroyed the AQIS training camp and a related facility, and killed dozens of AQ-linked trainees.

President Ghani identified establishing a peace process as a top priority of his administration and pursued engagement with the Taliban. The Afghan government had its first direct meeting with the Taliban on July 7 in Murree, Pakistan; however, these talks were suspended shortly after the revelation in late July that Taliban leader Mullah Omar had died in 2013. On December 9, following meetings on the sidelines of the Heart of Asia summit, Afghanistan, China, Pakistan, and the United States committed to seeking the resumption of talks as soon as possible.

On January 26, 2015, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) publicly announced the establishment of an affiliate, ISIL-Khorasan (ISIL-K), in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Since its inception, ISIL-K has been mostly active in the eastern parts of Afghanistan. By the end of 2015, the group had established a foothold in the southern districts of Nangarhar Province, where ISIL-K fighters had reportedly shut down schools. In 2015, the ANDSF conducted several successful operations against ISIL-K bases in southern Nangarhar. Repeated heavy fighting between the Taliban and ISIL-K was reported in the province as well.

In early December 2015, local media reported that a new ISIL-K radio station, "Voice of the Caliphate," began operating out of Nangarhar Province, making evening broadcasts in the Pashto language via a mobile transmitter. The Afghan government shut down the radio station on December 23, taking action under the Afghan Law on Fighting Crimes Against Internal and External Threats. On December 26, however, local media reported that ISIL-K radio was back on the air after changing frequencies. At the close of the year, the Afghan government was considering a range of options to shut down the station's operations.

ISIL-K's Salafist ideology may resonate with fringe elements of terrorist groups in Afghanistan, but the majority of Afghanistan-based terrorists resisted fully aligning themselves with the group and the Taliban were overtly hostile to the ISIL affiliate. One exception was the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, which publicly announced termination of its long-time alliance with the Taliban to align with ISIL-K.

Based on Afghan media commentary, it appears that the Afghan people have developed a deep disdain for ISIL-K's extreme violence. Some Afghans have responded to ISIL-K atrocities through grassroots, civilian-organized militias that have emerged to combat ISIL-K. At times, these militias have partnered with Afghan security forces.

2015 Terrorist Incidents: In 2015, Afghanistan remained an area of active hostilities, and various groups used terrorist tactics to pursue their goals. Methods used included suicide bombers, vehicle-born improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs), ambushes, kidnappings, beheadings, and targeted assassinations.

Anti-government groups across Afghanistan aimed to expand their territorial influence, disrupt civil governance, and create a public perception of instability, as ISAF combat operations ended and Afghan forces assumed full responsibility for the security of their country. Attacks diverged from the historic seasonal pattern of higher activity in the spring and summer as terrorist groups – the Taliban in particular – conducted attacks on the ANDSF throughout the fall and early winter of 2015, especially in the less weather-affected southern province of Helmand. Attackers continued to use large VBIEDs and complex attacks involving multiple attackers laden with suicide vests working in teams. These incidents increasingly targeted ANDSF, Afghan government buildings, and soft foreign civilian targets, as the overall number of potential foreign military targets decreased due to a drawdown in the international military presence. Terrorist activity expanded from areas in the south and east of Afghanistan to areas in the north; Helmand and Kunduz were the main focus of attacks at the end of 2015. Helmand, Kandahar, Nangarhar, Ghazni, Kunar, and Kunduz represented the most violent provinces for ANDSF and civilians.

The following list details only a small fraction of the hundreds of incidents that occurred during 2015:

  • On March 19, the Taliban carried out a suicide attack targeting and killing the provincial chief of police (PCoP) of Uruzgan Province. The suicide bomber was wearing a burqa and detonated his vest as he approached the PCoP on the streets of Kabul.

  • On June 9, in an insider attack, five Afghan policemen were shot and killed by fellow policemen in southern Kandahar Province. The incident took place at a security check point in Khakriz District. The provincial governor's spokesperson confirmed the insider attack.

  • On June 22, a Taliban suicide bomber and six gunmen attacked the Parliament building in Kabul as lawmakers met to consider the appointment of a new defense minister. A Taliban fighter detonated a car loaded with explosives outside the Parliament gates, and six gunmen attempted to enter the building. One civilian was killed and approximately 30 civilians were wounded in the attack.

  • On July 22, a suicide motorcyclist detonated his explosives in the middle of a market in the Alamar District of Faryab Province. Twenty people were killed in the attack, including an Afghan National Army soldier, and more than 30 people, including two ANDSF personnel, were injured.

  • On August 7, terrorists launched three attacks in Kabul. In the first attack at 1:00 a.m., a massive VBIED in a truck driven by a suicide attacker detonated in the center of Kabul, killing 15 people and wounding more than 240 civilians. In the second attack, a Taliban suicide bomber killed 26 police cadets and wounded another 27 when he blew himself up outside the gates of a police academy. The bomber was dressed in police uniform and detonated his explosive vest after approaching a group of cadets who were standing outside the academy. In a separate Taliban attack, one RSM service member and eight Afghan contractors were killed.

  • On August 8, at least 22 members of a reportedly pro-government militia were killed in an explosion in northern Kunduz Province.

  • On August 10, ISIL-K released a video of the executions of 10 village elders in Nangarhar Province. ISIL-K forced the men to sit on IEDs and detonated them.

  • On September 28, in a complex coordinated attack, Taliban insurgents captured Kunduz City, Afghanistan's sixth largest city. Following several days of fighting, the ANDSF recaptured the city. As a result of the attacks, an estimated 50 individuals were killed and 600 were injured.

  • On December 8, a Taliban assault near Kandahar Airfield resulted in the deaths of 36 civilians and 15 Afghan soldiers. Another 35 were injured, including 21 ANDSF personnel and 14 civilians. During the attack, Taliban fighters temporarily occupied a neighborhood bazaar, school, and an apartment complex.

Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: The Afghan Attorney General's Office (AGO) investigates and prosecutes violations of the laws on Crimes against the Internal and External Security of the State (1976 and 1987), the Law on Combat Against Terrorist Offenses (2008), and the Law of Firearms, Ammunition, and Explosives (2005). The AGO also investigates and prosecutes violations of laws that prohibit membership in terrorist or insurgent groups, as well as laws that forbid violent acts committed against the state, hostage-taking, murder, and the use of explosives against military forces and state infrastructure. The Law on the Structure and Jurisdiction of the Attorney General's Office, enacted in October 2013, codified the structure and funding of the existing Anti-Terrorism Protection Directorate (ATPD) in the AGO. The ATPD permits the investigation and prosecution of terrorist and national security cases in accordance with internationally accepted methods and evidentiary rules.

The Justice Center in Parwan (JCIP), adjacent to Bagram Air Field, continued to adjudicate cases of individuals detained by Afghan security forces and accused of terrorism and other national security threat crimes. In July, the Office of the National Security Council issued a directive ordering any person detained on one of seven specified criteria be sent to the JCIP for prosecution. Those seven criteria include suspects captured on the field of battle; individuals accused of terrorist crimes; influential and prominent members of the Taliban; and commanders of terrorist groups. In September, President Ghani issued by presidential decree Annex 1 to the Afghan Criminal Procedure Code that expanded the AGO's authority to investigate and prosecute terrorist crimes; prohibited persons sentenced for terrorist crimes from receiving a parole or pardon; and designated the JCIP as the country's counterterrorism court with nationwide jurisdiction. Its docket regularly includes cases against those implicated in terrorist attacks on U.S. military personnel and U.S. military and civilian installations in Afghanistan. Between January and October of 2015, the JCIP adjudicated 214 primary court cases (compared to 533 in 2014), and 451 appellate court cases (compared to 1,153 in 2014).

Because of its operational structure and the continuous support and assistance it received from the international community, the ANDSF demonstrated the capacity to conduct counterterrorism operations in 2015. The Afghan and U.S. governments investigated a variety of criminal acts, including kidnappings and conspiracies to commit terrorist acts. Occasionally, U.S. law enforcement bodies assisted the Ministry of Interior, the National Directorate of Security, and other Afghan authorities to take action to disrupt and dismantle terrorist operations and prosecute terrorist suspects. The ANDSF continued to receive train, advise, and assist (TAA) support from the international community in 2015. The Department of State continued to deliver Antiterrorism Assistance (ATA) training to Afghan security forces in 2015, with a focus on building security force capacity to engage in effective tactical counterterrorism operations.

Afghanistan continued to process traveler arrivals and departures at major points of entry using the Personal Identification Secure Comparison and Evaluation System (PISCES). In 2015, the PISCES program was expanded to new Points of Entry to meet Afghanistan's border security requirements. Moreover, Afghan Border Police (ABP) officers completed more in-depth training on developing and maintaining a national screening list and efforts were under way at year's end to leverage PISCES reporting capabilities for use in counterterrorism and criminal investigations.

Despite advances in capability, the ANDSF continued to face significant challenges in successfully securing the country's porous land borders, particularly those with Pakistan and Iran. The ABP, part of the policing wing of the ANDSF, numbers more than 23,000 officers and has the lead on border security. Its numbers and weaponry are insufficient to successfully execute its mission, particularly in the border areas where border police face difficult terrain, resupply, and coordination issues with the Afghan National Army, and heavily armed anti-government groups that attack them in force.

The Afghan government faces several significant obstacles to more effective law enforcement and border security. After decades of war and poor or fragmented governance in many rural areas, the ANDSF is working with international actors to build capacity. While Afghanistan has made progress since 2001, complex organizational structures, weak inter-ministerial coordination, rampant corruption, lack of territorial control (particularly in the border regions with Pakistan), and de facto safe havens for terrorist groups operating on its soil remained ongoing challenges.

Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Since April 2006, Afghanistan has been a member of the Asia/Pacific Group (APG) on Money Laundering, a Financial Action Task Force (FATF)-style regional body. Its financial intelligence unit, the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Center of Afghanistan (FinTRACA), is a member of the Egmont Group. In June 2014, the FATF strongly warned Afghanistan to comply with the government's June 2012 commitment to implement an action plan agreed upon with FATF to address identified deficiencies by October 2014, or run the risk of being placed on the list of "high-risk and non-cooperative jurisdictions." The FATF action plan outlined a number of areas that the government needed to address to bring Afghanistan into compliance with international standards, including enactment of amended anti-money laundering/countering the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) legislation. In 2014, the Afghan government took initial steps to address deficiencies in its AML/CFT regime, including publishing its since-enacted AML and CFT statutes. In March 2015, Afghanistan amended its AML and CFT laws to become more compliant with the FATF recommendations. Since June, Afghanistan has taken further steps towards improving its AML/CFT regime, which included issuing an appropriate regulation for the financial sector and cross-border declaration regulations for the physical transportation of cash and of negotiable instruments. However, questions persist regarding UNSCR implementation and the FATF has determined that certain strategic deficiencies remain and recommended that Afghanistan address its remaining deficiencies and continue the process of implementing its action plan.

Afghan officials indicated that because AQ, the Taliban, and terrorist organizations related to the Central Asian Republics transfer their assets from person to person or through informal banking systems, it is very difficult to track, freeze, and confiscate their assets. When transactions have come to the Afghan government's attention, either via FinTRACA or reports from the Afghan security agencies, the government has reportedly acted promptly not only to freeze but also to confiscate those assets.

Money Service Providers (MSP) in Afghanistan are required to register with and provide currency transaction reports to FinTRACA. These reports include monthly data on volumes and numbers of transactions, detailing whether transactions are inbound or outbound, foreign or domestic, and in local or foreign currency. Oversight is weak but improving, with the period between 2014 and April 2015 seeing an increase in the number of on-site inspections of money service providers; a total of 149 MSPs were fined approximately $51,724 for non-compliance during that time period. Capacity issues at the FIU due to personnel shortages and lack of training continued to hamper full oversight of this sector.

The amended CFT law considers non-profit organizations as legal entities and requires them to file suspicious transaction reports. The Afghan government distributed UN sanctions lists to financial institutions via secure e-mail.

For further information on money laundering and financial crimes, see the 2016 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), Volume II, Money Laundering and Financial Crimes: http://www.state.gov/j/inl/rls/nrcrpt/index.htm.

Countering Violent Extremism: The Afghan government does not have a comprehensive formal national countering violent extremism (CVE) strategy, but has begun the process to develop one. The Office of the National Security Council has designated a team to take the lead in coordinating the government's CVE engagement. Various ministries and offices have CVE issues incorporated in their portfolios. The government continued to support activities designed to prevent radicalization, including through curricula development, messaging through registered mosques, and support of the Moderation Center of Afghanistan.

Through engagement with religious communities, Afghan government officials promoted religious moderation, encouraged tolerance, and condemned violence. There are approximately 120,000 mosques in Afghanistan, of which 3,700 are registered with the Ministry of Hajj and Religious Affairs (MoHRA) and the Ministry of Education. Registration is not compulsory, and unregistered mosques, many of which have associated madrassas, operated independently of government oversight. Some religious leaders at unregistered mosques and madrassas promoted violent extremism. The National Ulema Council is a quasi-governmental body of religious scholars established by former President Karzai in 2002. Since taking office in September 2014, President Ghani has engaged actively on CVE efforts, requesting that the Ulema Council condemn insurgent attacks and issue a call for peace in mosques throughout the country.

In the second half of 2015, the Presidential Palace boosted efforts to coordinate messaging on security and other issues, including strategic messaging to weaken the appeal of violent extremism. During that period, the Presidential Palace was in the process of conducting a strategic review under the auspices of a strategic communications advisor to enhance the Afghan government's strategic communications efforts. Under the plan, the Government Media and Information Center (GMIC) would be used as the hub for proactive governmental messaging and communication within the Office of the Presidential Spokesperson. Government spokespersons regularly participated in coordination meetings at GMIC and exchanged views on how to defuse the negative rhetoric promoted by terrorist groups.

In media appearances, Afghan political leaders often emphasized the important role of the Ulema Council (religious leaders) in preaching peace and denouncing terrorist attacks perpetrated by the Taliban, ISIL, HQN, and others. The Council issued media statements to condemn violence by anti-government groups on only a few occasions.

In 2015, mainstream Afghan media continued to play the lead role in reflecting the public anger at and condemnation of terrorist attacks. Media played a major role in countering extremist messaging, which remains critical for the marginalization of these anti-government elements in the minds of the public. During the fall and subsequent recapture of Kunduz City in September, Afghanistan's two leading TV stations (Tolo News and 1TV) covered extrajudicial killings of civilians and other human rights abuses by the Taliban, including reporting that university students had been raped. The Taliban subsequently threatened to target Tolo News and 1TV after the public outcry against the atrocities. The Afghan government, however, at times criticized Afghan media as serving the interests of the Taliban and other terrorist and opposition groups by broadcasting their claims and statements. On the other hand, some of these media outlets and journalists were threatened by the Taliban for their pro-government coverage. Media outlets, such as Tolo, devoted considerable resources to public service messages calling for national unity, respect for human rights, and other themes related to countering violent extremism.

Afghan religious leaders, civil society members, and government officials attended conferences at the Hedayah Center (an international center headquartered in Abu Dhabi focused on countering violent extremism), the February 2015 White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism, regional CVE summits, and UNGA side events where they participated in discussions about approaches to countering violent extremism. Afghan religious leaders received training on tolerance programming in the United Arab Emirates and scholars from other countries visited Afghanistan to speak on issues of tolerance and peace.

The High Peace Council oversees the Afghanistan Peace and Reintegration Program (APRP) program, which pays for and provides the institutional mechanism to implement the Afghan government's peace activities including the reintegration of former militants at the local level, provincial-level peace outreach, and Ulema engagement on countering violent extremism. The APRP maintained a field presence in 33 provinces. Individual fighters who join the program make the commitment to renounce violence and sever all ties with AQ, and to abide by the Constitution of Afghanistan. Since its inception in 2010, the APRP has successfully reintegrated more than 10,700 former combatants across Afghanistan.

International and Regional Cooperation: Afghanistan consistently emphasized the need to strengthen joint cooperation to fight terrorism and violent extremism in a variety of bilateral and multilateral fora. Notable among such meetings were the Heart of Asia/Istanbul Process, the UN Regional Center for Preventative Diplomacy for Central Asia (UNRCCA), and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). Afghanistan shares the lead on the Counterterrorism Confidence Building Measures (CT-CBM) of the Istanbul Process, working closely with Turkey and the UAE. Under the CT-CBM framework, Afghanistan participated in a regional technical group meeting in Ankara, Turkey, to discuss CT-CBM implementation. In December, Afghanistan participated in a Heart of Asia Conference in Islamabad, Pakistan, and hosted the 31st Tripartite (United States, Afghanistan, and Pakistan) Counter-IED Working Group meeting in Kabul. In collaboration with Tajikistan and the UN Counter-Terrorism Implementation Task Force, Afghanistan organized a workshop entitled "Sharing of Experiences on Implementing the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy in Central Asia for Heart of Asia Countries" in May 2015. In August-September, the ABP participated in a "Border Security and Management for Countering Terrorism" Regional Workshop in Tajikistan.


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