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 2016. 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.
A US Army Special Forces soldier was killed and others were injured during an “hours-long gun battle” in Helmand that the Pentagon said was a combat “situation”.
One soldier died of his wounds after helicopters sent to evacuate the casualties got into trouble. News reports said one hit a wall and damaged its rotor while the other did not land after taking fire. The gun battle went on for at least three hours after the casualties were reported by the Pentagon press office.
The troops were eventually airlifted out of the fight with one report saying a battlefield medic tended to the injured Green Beret for 12 hours while under fire. The casualty “was alert and orientated” while being evacuated, a source told the Sofrep – a respected news website run by former special operations soldiers.
US Congressman Ryan Zinke (R-Montana) wrote a letter to the Secretary of Defence asking for a briefing on this incident after reports the Green Beret team were denied air support or backup.
The US Special Forces team had been deployed to Marjah to help Afghan troops soldiers trying to retake districts in the southern province. They were there in a “support backup” role, the Pentagon said. A spokesman insisted the Special Forces team were not in a combat role, saying: “This is a combat situation, but they’re not in the lead.”
In the days after the attack it was reported that a Quick Reaction Force was not dispatched to the firefight when the elite soldiers were pinned down, and air support from an AC-130 gunship was waived off by senior commanders.
The Pentagon released the name of the dead soldier on January 8. Army Staff Sgt. Matthew McClintock was part of a team from 19 Special Forces Group. A spokesman said the soldiers had come under fire while “conducting a train, advise and assist mission with their Afghan special operations counterparts”. They were the first US casualties of 2016.
The soldiers were attacked with Afghan forces in the district of Marja in the southern Helmand province – the scene of intense fighting as the Afghan army and police struggled to resist the Taliban. The insurgents’ efforts to seize Helmand intensified in 2015 and continued into 2016. Helmand plays a central role in the Afghan opium trade.
A dozen US strikes hit Helmand as fierce fighting between the Taliban and US and Afghan forces continued in the southern province.
A US spokesman said: “US forces have conducted 12 air strikes in support of operations in and around Marjah.” There were no reported casualties.
US “warplanes” had been flying air support sorties over the US forces in Helmand the day before this attack. It is not clear if this strike and those missions were carried out by drones or jets. US F-16s were known to be flying some support operations from Bagram airfield.
The US spokesman said the US was still operating in Marjah and Sangin districts after a US soldier was killed by Taliban gunfire, and two others were injured.
A US drone strike killed 17 fighters from the so-called Islamic State, according to the provincial governor’s spokesman, provincial police chief’s spokesman, and local residents.
The strike was confirmed by US Forces – Afghanistan public affairs director, Colonel Michael Lawhorn.
He told the Bureau: “US forces conducted a counter-terrorism strike yesterday. It is [US Forces – Afghanistan] policy not to discuss the details of counter-terrorism operations.”
The strike hit just as seven men were beheaded by the Islamic State fighters, in front of local villagers, according to Ataullah Khogyani the provincial governor’s spokesman. The execution and strike took place in the afternoon after Friday prayers before a mosque. The executed men included six Taliban fighters and one Afghan National Army soldier, the local residents said.
A resident in the area, Abdul Qayyum, told Pajhwok a large number of villagers had gathered to watch the execution. He also said there were civilian casualties though did not give a precise figure or details.
Both the Afghan security forces and Afghan Taliban have been fighting the self-proclaimed Afghanistan branch of the Islamic State group.
Fighters from various armed Afghan and Pakistani armed groups declared themselves part of Isis in 2015 and gained a foothold in southern Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province. It is not clear exactly how closely associated these fighters are with the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria.
The article was published at Get the data: A list of US air and drone strikes, Afghanistan 2016.