Friday’s clashes erupted near the Chaman border crossing between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Pakistani census officials were prevented by Afghan security forces from canvassing villages that the latter insist are within Afghan territory. A spokesman for the governor of Afghanistan’s Kandahar province told the New York Times the Pakistani census team “crossed the frontier in disputed territory as they were trying to include two villages in the counting.”
Islamabad disputes this, saying that it had informed Afghan officials of the census operations, that the census-takers remained within Pakistani territory at all times, and that Afghan forces opened fire on them. “Since April 30,” declared a statement from the Pakistani military, “Afghan Border Police had been creating hurdles” to conducting the census in the “divided villages of Killi Luqman and Killi Jahangir in the Chaman area, on the Pakistani side of the border.”
Fighting between Afghan and Pakistani forces reportedly raged for hours, only ending late Friday. Initial reports said twelve people had died, including civilians and troops from both countries, and scores had been wounded. However, on Sunday the Inspector General of Pakistan’s Frontier Corps in Balochistan, Major General Nadeem Anjum, told a press conference that Pakistani forces had in fact killed 50 Afghan security personnel, injured some 100 hundred more, and destroyed four or five Afghan border checkpoints. According to Anjum, the fighting ended when the battered Afghan forces pleaded for a ceasefire.
Kabul has rejected Anjum’s claims as “baseless.”
Two “flag” meetings Saturday between local Afghan and Pakistani commanders failed to reach any resolution to the dispute. But at a third meeting on Sunday the commanders reportedly agreed to collaborate in a geological survey to better delineate the border.
Nevertheless, troops on both sides of the border remain on alert and the Chaman border crossing, one of the two major conduits for trade and NATO supplies from Pakistan to landlocked Afghanistan, remains closed.
Friday’s Afghan-Pakistan border clash was the worst in years. It comes as the US military is about to forward to the Trump administration its recommendations for breaking the “stalemate” in the now fifteen-year-old Afghan war. The Pentagon’s recommendations reportedly include deploying some 5,000 additional American troops to Afghanistan.
Although the details of the Trump administration’s Afghan policy have yet to be finalized, it has already made clear that it views a bolstered American presence in Afghanistan as vital.
Kabul has also aggressively opposed Pakistan’s efforts to fence the border between the two states and amplified its opposition to the current border—a British colonial-imposed frontier known as the Durand Line that Afghan governments have always refused to recognize.
Last June, when Pakistan sought to fence and otherwise harden the border at Torkham, border clashes ensued in which one Pakistani officer and two Afghan soldiers were killed.
Islamabad has responded in kind. It has launched a brutal campaign of deportations against Afghan refugees, many of whom have lived in the country for years, even decades. Last February, after a series of terrorist attacks, Islamabad closed its border with Afghanistan for over a month, on the grounds that the attacks were orchestrated by Pakistan Taliban forces operating from inside Afghanistan.Trump's probable mini-surge will have to compete with a Taliban surge. According to this morning's Situation Report:
Taliban surge. Despite the renewed fighting by U.S. forces in Afghanistan’s east to counter the Islamic State, the Taliban continues to gain ground. The group took another district near the city of Kunduz over the weekend, again putting the city at risk. The Taliban now exercises “significant control over 8.4 million Afghans—almost a third of the population—at the end of 2016, up from 5 million a year earlier, according to a confidential United Nations report” obtained by the Wall Street Journal. “The report showed that the territory over which the insurgents have significant influence or control increased from 30% to 40% of the country over the same period.” The United States has had thousands of troops in Afghanistan since late 2001, and has spent $71 billion on training and equipping the Afghan military.But Trump and Ashraf Ghani do have some good news. The April raid in Nangarhar where two Army Rangers were killed successfully decapitated the head of the Islamic State of Khorasan, Abdul Hasib. According to Mujib Mashal in "Leader of ISIS Branch in Afghanistan Killed in Special Forces Raid":
It was the second time in nine months that the leader of the Islamic State in the Khorasan, as the Afghanistan affiliate is known, was killed, Gen. John W. Nicholson, the commander of American forces in the country, said in the statement. Mr. Hasib’s predecessor, Hafiz Saeed Khan, was killed in July in a United States airstrike; he had been reported dead a few times before the American military confirmed it in August.
The United States military command in Afghanistan had said that an operation on April 27 targeted Mr. Hasib. Two American Army Rangers, Sgt. Joshua Rodgers and Sgt. Cameron Thomas, were killed in the operation, perhaps by so-called friendly fire, the Pentagon has said.
Afghan and American forces often go on joint missions. The one that killed Mr. Hasib included about 50 United States Army Rangers and a similar number of Afghan special security forces, the Pentagon has said. A firefight broke out during the raid, which lasted over three hours, and American F-16 fighter jets and Apache attack helicopters carried out airstrikes to protect the troops.
The Islamic State in the Khorasan, which uses an ancient name for the region that includes Afghanistan and Pakistan, expanded rapidly in the eastern part of Afghanistan, where government forces and an intense air campaign by the United States military have tried to rout the militants. They have been reduced to about 700 fighters, down from as many as 3,000, American officials said.
Last month, the United States dropped its largest conventional bomb, the 22,000-pound MOAB, on one of the group’s redoubts in Nangarhar, killing as many as 96 fighters, Afghan officials said.
Commanders decided on a ground assault, instead of another airstrike, to kill or capture Mr. Hasib because women and children were living in his compound, said an American military official who asked not to be identified when providing operational details, adding that none of them had been hurt in the raid.
Even as the militants’ numbers were reduced near the eastern border with Pakistan, they claimed daring attacks in Kabul, the Afghan capital. The group’s deadliest attack was a suicide bombing at a peaceful demonstration in the city last July, which killed at least 80 people.With a third of the Afghan population under Taliban control a decapitation raid against Islamic State in Nangarhar is not going to accomplish much besides a quickly forgotten headline. Some sort of deal with the Taliban is Trump's only play here.