Editor’s note: This is the fourth of a seven-part series examining conditions in Afghanistan in the last year of U.S. military operations there. The series runs every Wednesday and will examine each of the country’s regional commands to get a sense of the country, and the war, America is leaving behind. You can find the Series Introduction here, Part I here and Part II here.
Regional Command East encompasses Afghanistan’s most populous region. The territory extends from Afghanistan’s mountainous eastern border with Pakistan to the central provinces surrounding Kabul, an area characterized by wide variation in terrain, ethnic groups, political dynamics and armed actors. Among the latter are an estimated 50-100 fighters claiming allegiance to al-Qaida, representing what is thought to be the last remnants in Afghanistan of the group that provoked the international invasion of the country in 2001.
But the more dangerous dynamic for the region is the alternately competitive and cooperative relationship among its other armed groups, which fight against each other as well as the central government. The Taliban, the strongest among the three main groups, runs shadow governments in a number of districts, complete with their own tax and judicial systems. The Haqqani network, whose leadership is thought to be based in the Pakistani tribal agency of North Waziristan, has since 2010 expanded its presence from Afghanistan’s eastern border and pushed for territory in Wardak and Logar, two provinces bordering Kabul. Finally, Hizb-i-Islami, led by the former mujahedeen commander Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, exerts influence from within the government through its political wing even while its fighters remain active.