The week-long reduction in violence deal hashed out between the Taliban and the U.S. appears to be holding up. Attacks have so far been significantly reduced, potentially leading to the signing of a long-term peace deal on Feb. 29 and the withdrawal of American troops.
Reports emanating from the battlefield indicate only a handful of attacks over the last four days across Afghanistan since the reduction in violence deal went into effect on Feb. 22. Afghanistan-based Tolo News has reported a total of 17 attacks carried out by the Taliban between Feb. 22 and Feb. 25.
New York Times journalist Mujib Mashal reported roughly nine major attacks and 15 dead over the first three days of the implementation of the violence reduction trial period.
The Taliban claimed a couple of IED strikes against Afghan military and logistics convoys in Farah and Zabul provinces on Tuesday. The Taliban also claimed an attack near Sangin in Helmand Province on Monday.
The Taliban have clarified that the reduction in violence is not a cease-fire. The Taliban agreed to not attack major military installations, provincial capitals and major cities but the militants say passing logistics convoys and rural areas are still open battlegrounds.
Col. Sonny Leggett, the spokesman for U.S. Forces Afghanistan, told Military Times that the U.S. was talking to the Taliban through a military communications channel about specific incidents.
“We are committed to reducing the violence but will not hesitate to defend our forces, coalition forces, or our Afghan partners. Pointless attacks on checkpoints and needless violence should cease completely," Legget said.
The handful of attacks represent a significant reduction in violence when compared to historical data and recent trends in enemy initiated attacks across Afghanistan, which may lead to the historic signing of a peace deal and closing of a chapter in America’s longest war.
According to data provided by Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project — a research team and database dedicated to analyzing military and political violence — there has been an average of roughly 100 attacks carried out by Taliban fighters against government forces spanning Feb. 22 to Feb. 25 each year from 2017 through 2019.
Those attacks have resulted in more than 150 deaths on average each year for the time period spanning Feb. 22 to Feb. 25 for years 2017 through 2019, according to ACLED data.
The data represents battles, attacks and improvised explosive attacks carried out by the Taliban against government and coalition forces.
Moreover, 2019 has been on of the most violent years for the conflict in Afghanistan. According to a recent inspector general report there were more than 27,000 enemy-initiated attacks recorded in 2019 — an average of nearly 73 attacks a day.
A government watchdog report covering reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan detailed that 8,204 recorded enemy-initiated attacks carried out from October 2019 to December 2019 was the highest number of attacks recorded since data collection started in 2010.
As the Taliban and U.S. slogged through negotiations, both sides waged a deadly military campaign to jockey for leverage over peace talks. U.S. warplanes have dropped more than 14,000 munitions over the last two years as part of an effort to force Taliban fighters to settle the conflict diplomatically.
U.S. and Afghan forces have agreed to pause offensive operations against the Taliban as part of the reduction in violence period.
On Tuesday, Legget announced the U.S. had conducted two airstrikes in Kunar Province, Afghanistan, targeting and killing four ISIS fighters.
The announcement of the strikes appears to be the first publicly acknowledged offensive operation carried out by U.S. troops since the start of the violence reduction period.
The strikes targeted ISIS fighters who are not party to the Taliban and U.S. agreement.
“USFOR-A [U.S. Forces Afghanistan] is focused on ensuring all sides meet their obligations,” Legget said.
“Our agreement is conditions-based, and recommendations to U.S. leaders on whether to proceed further in the peace process will be based on assessments of what the Taliban is able to accomplish here in terms of reducing violence,” Legget said.
Shawn Snow is the senior reporter for Marine Corps Times and a Marine Corps veteran.