US drones and jets have been bombing Afghanistan since late 2001 and the airstrikes look set to continue into the Trump administration.
For most of the past 15 years, US aircraft operated alongside allied air forces. However this changed on January 1 2015. From that point the US became the only air force known to be flying fast jets or armed drones in Afghanistan. A handful of European allies have kept some transport helicopters in the country to support the Nato Resolute Support Mission.
Besides the US, the Afghan Air Force (AAF) is the only other force carrying out air strikes in Afghanistan. As of June 1 2016 the AAF operated at least 41 strike-capable aircraft. This number is increasing as more helicopters and fixed-wing ground attack aircraft are delivered to the AAF and are sent to the frontline.
The number of AAF strikes is not publicly known however the UN has reported an increasing number of civilian casualties from the attacks. The UN counted 126 civilian casualties in 2015 – 46 were killed and 80 injured. In the UN’s six-month report in 2016 the number of civilian casualties had doubled compared with the same period the year before, with with 161 casualties in January to June – 57 killed and 104 injured.
Those incidents that are reported in Afghan and international media are recorded in this timeline, for reference, though not included in the running tallies in the tables below.
On January 1 2015 the international commitment in Afghanistan took on a new form. The US and Nato started their non-combat “Train, Advise, Assist” mission supporting the Afghan police and army. Alongside this, the US began a counter-terrorism mission hunting al Qaeda and its allies.
The events detailed below occurred in 2015. They have been reported by US, Afghan and Pakistani civil, military and intelligence officials, through credible media, academic and other sources, including the Bureau’s own field researchers and published investigations.
This is not an exhaustive list. The US Air Force publishes monthly summaries of its operations over Afghanistan, including how many strike missions it has flown and how many bombs and missiles have been released. This information is published one month late but still indicates a greater number of strikes than the Bureau’s tally. The US figures are summarised in the table below and can be downloaded from the US Air Force website.
For more on our methodology, see the notes page in our database of strikes accessible here. A more detailed analysis of the US Air Force’s figures are also maintained in this sheet.
The Bureau uses a C suffix on the six digit alphanumeric strike code when there are unresolved questions over the attribution of a strike, or its sourcing. They are not included in our casualty estimates.
In order to give some context to the strikes, brief summaries of events in Afghanistan and internationally have been included in the timeline. These might include noteworthy military and political events in Afghanistan or political developments in Washington or Islamabad, for example. Some of these summaries include a body count – they are not included in the Bureau’s casualty estimates and they do not have a six figure alphanumeric code.
This research is part of the Bureau’s covert drone war project. The Bureau has collected extensive data on US drone strikes and air strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.
Monitoring the US drone and air strikes in Afghanistan: A new project for the Bureau
The current international missions in Afghanistan sprang into life on January 1 2015, with clear roots in the international military operations that came before.
The Nato-led operation, Resolute Support Mission (RSM), is a non-combat mission in the country to train, assist and advise the Afghan police and army – a role it inherited from Nato’s International Security Assistance Force (Isaf). As of the most recent public tally, in October 2016, there were 39 countries contributing soldiers to RSM, ranging from more than 860 Georgian troops to one from Luxembourg.
The US mission, Operation Freedom Sentinel (OFS) in part fulfils the same functions as RSM. Most are part of RSM’s training mission but a significant counter-terrorism element remains. This is largely a continuation of the 14 year long Operation Enduring Freedom mission, the banner US and allied forces first entered Afghanistan under back in October 2001 to hunt down al Qaeda.
After the US and its allies scattered the Taliban and al Qaeda in 2001, the UN sent in a peacekeeping force to secure the capital. This assistance force, Isaf, was meant to last six months to allow the government to find its feet and hold elections. In 2003 the UN decided to hand over control of Isaf to Nato. As the years went by, it became less about peacekeeping and more about fighting the Afghan Taliban insurgency.
Similarly, Operation Enduring Freedom changed from its initial special operations-focused hunt for terrorists. It too became increasingly focused on countering the Taliban insurgency.
Seven people were killed in a “US precision strike”, a US army official told the Bureau. The “individuals [were] threatening the force during an operation”. It was not clear what operation the official referred to and would not be drawn on what “the force” refers to. The official said the strike hit on January 3 however Afghan sources said it came on Sunday January 4.
The seven were reportedly from the Pakistan-based Haqqani Network. Unnamed Afghan officials said the strike targeted a vehicle which was completely destroyed in the attack. This was corroborated by Abdul Haseeb Sediqi, a spokesman for the Afghan intelligence service. The attack hit in the morning, according to local media reports.
The attack hit the same day as a CIA drone strike killed 6-10 people in Datta Khel in North Waziristan, Pakistan – approximately 24 miles from Spera as the crow flies. The attack also hit the day after Afghan security forces in the eastern Laghman province reportedly arrested a suicide bomber and commander from the Haqqani Network.
A US-Afghan ground raid left nine dead and injured the leader of a Pakistan Taliban splinter group.
Khorasani commanded the Jamaat ul Ahrar group, a faction that split from the Pakistan Taliban (TTP) in Autumn 2014. It was responsible for the November 2 2014 attack on the India-Pakistan border crossing at Wagah that killed at least 45 people. The Wagah crossing hosts a flag-lowering ceremony each day at dusk which attacks spectators.
The strike operation involved Nato forces, a US spokesman said: “Coalition forces were with Afghan national security forces in an advise and assist role, in line with the security agreements, during an operation in Nangahar province Feb. 3 and 4.”
US air and ground operations are common on the Afghan-Pakistan border, despite Nato’s International Security Assistance Force leaving Afghanistan at the end of 2014. US and Afghan forces have killed 200 alleged militants on the Afghan side of the border with Pakistan, Kabul’s ambassador to Pakistan said.
US drones reportedly killed at least six people, including a senior insurgent in the violence ridden southern province of Helmand. The deputy provincial governor said it was a drone strike. A US official confirmed the attack took place, describing it as a “precision strike“.
The strike killed Mullah Abdul Rauf Khadim (aka Abdul Rauf Aliza), 33, a relative by marriage, and at least four others – Pakistanis according to provincial police chief Nabi Jan Mulakhel. Khadim had been a leading Afghan Taliban figure, working as the group’s shadow governor in the central-southern Uruzgan province in 2011. He was a former Guantanamo detainee – the US picked him up in 2001 but later decided that he was not much of a threat, despite believing he was more significant a player than he said he was. He was released into house arrest in Kabul from which he either escaped or was released.
However Khadim split from the Taliban and declared himself a member of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (Isis). He had started his own militia fighting the Taliban and Pakistan government, a local said, which gave him popular local support.
While Isis has expressed an interest in expansion, it is not clear to what extent they have done in Afghanistan and Pakistan, if at all. International Crisis Group’s Graeme Smith told the Guardian: “In the context of an insurgency that kills thousands of Afghan national security forces every year, scattered reports about a few people in the mountains wearing black is not an immediate concern.”
The article was published at Get the data: A list of US air and drone strikes, Afghanistan 2015.