News - Afghanistan
In a report released late Monday, the United Nations said that 12,000 Taliban fighters have been killed, captured or wounded in Afghanistan since the year began.
The special report drafted for the UN Security Council also claims Taliban casualties were three times as high this year as during the same period in 2012, which if accurate, would mark a major success for coalition forces and their Afghan allies ahead of the end of the NATO combat mission in 2014.
The report credits the Afghan government forces with performing well this fighting season, including recapturing territory lost to Taliban forces previously. But the report also notes a dramatic spike in casualties amongst the Afghan forces.
All together, with rising casualties on either side of the conflict, violence in Afghanistan this year was said to have soared to levels "not seen since 2010."
The UN report points out the Taliban are able to fund their insurgency through sales from illegal opium production that in 2012 brought the group some $155 million.
The report comes out as at a pivotal moment in Kabul-Washington relations, as the future of U.S. involvement in Afghan security affairs hangs in the air with the contentious debate over a security pact.
Some 3,000 Afghan leaders from around the country are expected convene in a Loya Jigra on Thursday in Kabul to discuss the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) and formulate a recommendation to the Afghan government on how to proceed.
The Afghan security forces currently number at around 350,000 men. They're greatest deficiency, according to experts, are logistics. Most are adamant about the U.S. and other coalition countries continuing to advise, train and assist the Afghan forces beyond 2014.
But that all comes down to the Kabul-Washington Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA), which remains un-finalized. If the accord is inked, NATO officials have indicated anywhere from 8,000-12,000 troops could stick around in Afghanistan, with two thirds of that force likely being American.
Just three days before the Loya Jirga begins discussing the BSA, Afghan and U.S. officials told The New York Times the negotiations were in a deadlock over the issue of American unilateral operations in Afghanistan post-2014.
Afghan officials reported last week that nearly all of the security pact, which outlines U.S. military involvement in the years after the NATO combat mission ends in 2014, had been settled between negotiators. However, this week, differences over the right of U.S. forces to conduct raids on their own proved unresolved.
The terms of U.S. unilateral operations, along with criminal jurisdiction over U.S. troops and the definition of foreign "aggression," were said to be the most contentious issues during negotiations over the accord. Although the aggression issue was put to rest last week, and the U.S. has expressed an uncompromising stance on having jurisdiction over its troops, the unilateral operations debate remains up-in-the-air.
The New York Times' source inside the Afghan government reported that U.S. officials have maintained their forces will need to have authority to search the homes of Afghans in certain cases. But President Hamid Karzai called than an impermissible invasion of privacy.
In a Saturday meeting with U.S. Ambassador James Cunningham and the head of U.S. troops in Afghanistan General Joseph Dunford, the Afghan president said he would not change his stance before the Loya Jirga on Thursday.
However, Afghan government officials refused to comment on the matter when asked by TOLOnews.
The Taliban and Hezb-e-Islami, both classified as anti-government groups, have condemned the Jirga and the BSA, saying even considering prolonging U.S. involvement in Afghanistan was a crime against the country.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for a suicide attack on Saturday in Kabul that targeted the Jirga grounds, but failed to make it beyond a security checkpoint. Forty-two casualties were reported by Afghan officials, including women and children.