He said the government’s peace efforts gained regional momentum through the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) on the Afghan Peace and Reconciliation Process, “but the commitment of the Taliban to a possible peace process remained uncertain.”
On the issue of electoral reforms, he said: “While recommendations for electoral reform were advanced by the Special Electoral Reform Commission, implementation stalled.”
He went on to say that in the past three months, “the security situation was increasingly volatile as the conflict grew in intensity and scope, resulting in high casualties and displacement among Afghan civilians.”
He said the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces continued to face significant challenges in effectively countering the threats of insurgent groups across the country.
Haysom said that during the reporting period, tensions within the government continued to slow progress on key appointments, including with respect to positions essential to the delivery of the government’s reform agenda and to addressing challenges in such areas as security, the rule of law and governance.
He said the political landscape grew more contentious with the formation of political opposition groups, a trend continuing since the previous reporting period.
On the issue of security, he said the situation had deteriorated further in 2015. The United Nations recorded 22,634 security incidents, representing a three per cent increase compared with 2014 and the second-highest number since 2001.
“Since the issuance of my previous report, fighting has intensified in Helmand and Baghlan provinces, and Kunduz province has remained volatile,” he said.
Of the security incidents that occurred in 2015, 70 percent were recorded in the southern, eastern and south-eastern regions. Ghazni, Helmand, Kandahar, Kunar and Nangarhar were the most volatile provinces, accounting for 49 percent of all security incidents, he said.
Armed clashes and improvised explosive devices accounted for 79 percent of all incidents, representing an increase of three per cent compared with 2014 and reflecting the overall higher level of insurgent activities during the year.
Despite the Taliban’s announcement of 24 April 2015 as the start of the spring offensive, there was no clear change in the incident pattern during the spring, unlike in previous years, or, for that matter, throughout 2015 as fighting continued unabated, he said.
Haysom went on to say the Taliban expanded its territorial reach in 2015, temporarily capturing 24 district centers in the north (in Badakhshan, Baghlan, Faryab, Jawzjan, Kunduz, Sari Pul and Takhar provinces), in the west (in Badghis and Farah provinces), in the east (in Nuristan Province) and in the south (in Helmand and Kandahar provinces), in addition to temporarily seizing the provincial capital of Kunduz.
“This represents a significant increase compared with 2014, when the Taliban captured only three centers. Even though most district centers were quickly retaken by pro-government forces, several remained under Taliban control for weeks.”
“Tensions associated with Mullah Mansoor’s succession as the new Taliban leader after Mullah Omar’s death did not slow the insurgency’s anti-government initiatives,” he added.
In addition, he said reports indicate a substantial increase in casualties among the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces in 2015.
“Critical shortcomings continue to hamper the forces in effectively addressing the threat posed by anti-government elements, including insufficient recruitment, high attrition rates and insufficient logistics and planning and air support and coordination.”
Haysom said insufficient recruitment and high attrition rates posed particular challenges to the sustainability of the forces.
“In January 2016, the number of Afghan National Army troops reached 88 per cent and the number of Afghan National Police personnel 77 per cent of the levels projected for August 2016. At the current rate, recruitment cannot compensate for the losses generated by absenteeism and casualties, particularly within the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police,” he said.
He said that in addition to the conflict between government forces and anti-government elements, violence occurred between other armed groups on Afghan territory, including the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant-Khorasan Province (ISIL-KP) – Daesh.
“Composed primarily of former Taliban members, [Daesh] remained limited in its presence to the Achin, Deh Bala and Chaparhar districts of Nangarhar province. Recent operations by the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces, supported by international military air strikes, as well as attacks from the Taliban, led to the concentration of Daesh in remote locations near the border with Pakistan,” he said.
Between 1 December 2015 and 15 February 2016, the United Nations recorded 4,014 security-related incidents across the country. This represents an 8.3 percent decrease compared with the same period in 2014 and 2015, although it is noted that in 2015, January and February recorded the highest totals for those months since 2001.
Consistent with previous trends, armed clashes accounted for the majority of security incidents, at 57.4 per cent, followed by improvised explosive devices, at 19.2 per cent. Targeted killings continued at a high level. From 1 December 2015 to 15 February 2016, 154 assassinations, including failed attempts, were recorded, representing a 27 percent decrease compared with the same period in 2014 and 2015.
“During the reporting period, 20 suicide attacks were reported, compared with 30 in the same period in 2014 and 2015,” he said.
Meanwhile, Haysom noted that Afghanistan and Pakistan sought to enhance their relations in the past three months.
In December, President Ashraf Ghani and the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif, jointly inaugurated the fifth Heart of Asia Ministerial Conference in Islamabad. In the Conference declaration, participant countries focused on countering security threats, promoting economic connectivity and strengthening confidence-building measures, urged the Taliban and armed opposition groups to enter into peace talks with the Government of Afghanistan and called for a collaborative regional security and counter-terrorism approach. India agreed to co-chair the 2016 conference.
“In Islamabad, Afghanistan and Pakistan committed to increasing cooperation in the areas of border security, intelligence-sharing and counter-terrorism. This was followed by the respective visits of the Chief of Army Staff of Pakistan, General Raheel Sharif, and the acting Director of the National Directorate of Security of Afghanistan, Masoud Andarabi, in December and February, to Kabul and Islamabad respectively. They agreed to establish a military hotline and further discussed intelligence-sharing and counter-terrorism measures,” he said.
But he said a series of high-profile attacks, targeting mainly civilians, occurred during the period of December 2015 and January 2016
He said in January 2016, anti-government elements carried out two deliberate attacks on journalists and other employees of media organizations. On 20 January, a Taliban suicide bomber detonated a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device against a minibus transporting staff of TOLO TV, killing eight civilians, including seven TOLO TV staff members, and injuring 24 others, he said adding the attack followed a specific threat issued by the Taliban in October against TOLO TV and other Afghan news organizations, identifying them as military objectives.
On 29 January, a journalist working for a national radio and television organization in Jalalabad city was killed by anti-government elements.
Haysom went on to tell the security council that on 31 January, Ghani issued a decree affirming his commitment to freedom of expression of the media and instructing relevant agencies to investigate and publicly report on cases in which journalists have been subjected to intimidation or violence.
He said children continued to suffer disproportionately as a result of the conflict, accounting for almost one third of all civilian casualties in Afghanistan during the reporting period.
“Between 1 November 2015 and 31 January 2016, the country task force on monitoring and reporting verified 264 incidents that had caused 562 child casualties (144 children killed and 418 injured). Ground engagements between the parties to the conflict caused the highest number of child casualties, accounting for 262, with explosive remnants of war causing 158 child casualties, the second-highest number,” he said.
“Reports of the recruitment of children by anti-government elements were received during the reporting period. In December 2015, the country task force on monitoring and reporting verified that anti-government elements in Badakhshan province had recruited 13 children to serve in their ranks, in two separate child recruitment incidents. This represents one third of all child recruitment cases verified in 2015,” he said.
On the issue of humanitarian assistance, he said the humanitarian situation deteriorated in 2015 as a result of intensified conflict-induced displacements over a wider geographical area and an increasingly difficult operating environment for humanitarian actors.
“In 2015, the national task force on internally displaced persons, co-chaired by the Ministry of Refugees and Repatriations and the United Nations, recorded 335,000 persons displaced in Afghanistan as a result of conflict in 31 of the country’s 34 provinces. One of the highest internal displacement figures recorded since 2002, it represents a 78 per cent increase compared with 2014 and brought the estimated number of displaced persons in Afghanistan to more than one million,” he said.
He went on to say that the rate of return of Afghan refugees through the United Nations voluntary repatriation program increased significantly in 2015, with 58,463 individuals repatriated during the year, primarily from Pakistan. “This represents a quadruple increase compared with 2014, when returns were unusually low owing to uncertainties associated with the political and security transition.”
He said that during the reporting period, the government of Afghanistan and partners discussed measures to mitigate the flow of Afghans out of the country. In 2015, 213,000 Afghans arrived in Europe by sea.
An estimated 13 per cent were unaccompanied minors or separated children, almost double the number registered in 2014, he added.