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In 2014 the Taliban numbered an estimated 60,000, compared to 25,000 in 2009. The ultraconservative Islamist group's activities have expanded from south and southeastern areas to northern provinces, especially Kunduz, Balkh, and Faryab. Over the last few years they have pushed into urban population centres.? The Taliban is increasingly financed by criminal enterprises including heroin laboratories, illegal mining, and kidnapping.? Taliban are reported to use Pakistan as a sanctuary for most of their top leaders and it can function as a rear operations command. Pakistan is also reported as a rest and recuperation location for Taliban soldiers. ? On 28 February 2018, Afghan President Ghani has offered to recognise the Taliban as a political group, aiming to starting a platform for peace talks.?
Islamic State (IS)
Militants fighting under the IS banner in Afghanistan, including an unknown number of former Taliban and foreign fighters, seized territory in several districts of Nangarhar province beginning September 2015 and made the province their stronghold. By early June 2017, coalition military operations by NATO and Afghan forces are said to have reduced the number of IS forces in the country to between 2,000 - 4,000 fighters, and their territorial control from more than 10 districts to fewer than three.? As of end May IS had maintained strongholds in southern Nangarhar and districts across Kunar province. ? In June, IS began pushing into the northern provinces.? As of 28 June, two Taliban groups have switched allegiance to the Islamic State and overran a district (Darzab) in northern Afghanistan. The events represent a new front for IS, which is opposed by the Taliban as well as by the government and has not previously had significant successes in northern Afghanistan.?
Afghan National DEFENSE AND Security Forces
In 2016, Afghan National Defense and Security Forces comprised approximately 168,300 personnel, although this number is likely to have declined since then.? In the first quarter of 2016, reports of members of the security forces defecting to the Taliban increased.?
The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) - a military agency set up by the US Congress - released a report in April that outlined challenges faced by the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) including unsustainable casualties, temporary losses of provincial and district centres, weakness in logistics, often corrupt or ineffective leadership, and over-reliance on highly trained special forces for routine missions. About 35% of the force does not re-enlist each year. In April, the Afghan Ministry of Defense fired 1,394 of its officials for corruption in the past year. ?
International military presence
On 30 August , the US Army confirmed the continued rotation and deployment of US soldiers, maintaining the US presence of 11,000 soldiers (significantly higher than the previous estimates of 8,500). ?On 16 June the US announced it will send an additional 4,000 troops to Afghanistan in an effort to turn around a war that commanders have described as a stalemate. No timeline was provided for the deployment. ? The soldiers will serve for a period of nine months as part of an advise, assist, and train mission to help the Afghan army and police.?
NATO’s combat mission in Afghanistan ended on 31 December 2014, leaving 13,000 troops in the country. The focus of the current mission is on supporting Afghan forces’ fight against the Taliban along with US counter-terrorism operations (NATO 06/2015). Its headquarters are in Kabul, with four other bases in Mazar-e-Sharif, Herat, Kandahar, and Laghman (NATO 27/02/2015). Many concerns have been raised over the achievements of such mission, with some reviewers highlighting challenges like lack of clarity over rules of engagement and over function of the NATO troops on the ground.?NATO has committed to financially support Afghan forces until the end of 2017. ? In November, NATO confirmed that troop numbers will increase from 13,000 to 16,000.?