A year of unrest in Afghanistan is ending with new hope that a reconciliation process with the Taliban may be possible.
The war Afghanistan began with the American invasion in 2001. It is the longest conflict in American history.
In September, long-time American diplomat Zalmay Khalilzad was appointed to negotiate an end to the war. He formerly served as the United States ambassador to both Afghanistan and Iraq.
Since his appointment, Khalilzad has made three trips to the area. He has spoken with representatives of the Taliban and Afghanistan's neighbors. Several developments led to these contacts. The most important of them was the United States agreeing to communicate directly with the Taliban.
U.S. State Department official Alice Wells met with Taliban representatives in Qatar's capital, Doha, earlier this year.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani had proposed peace talks to the Taliban several times in 2018. The first offer came in February, when he offered them a political office in Kabul. He also offered to cancel restrictions against Taliban leaders.
Taliban forces ignored the offers, which they said did not meet their most important demand: a withdrawal of all foreign forces from the country. The group also accused the Afghan government of taking orders from the U.S.
The biggest news of the year from Afghanistan was the cease-fire during the Eid al-Fitr religious holiday in June. After 17 years of war, the two sides decided to halt fighting for three days to celebrate Eid.
Images of militants and Afghan civilians spending time together flooded both traditional and social media. Taliban fighters were seen taking selfies, shaking hands and smiling at government security forces.
"Our leaders have ordered a three-day cease-fire," one Taliban fighter told the French news agency AFP. "We want a permanent cease-fire to resolve all our issues," he said.
"We are all brothers," another one told VOA.
While all this was happening, the level of violence remained high throughout the year. The Taliban continued to launch thousands of attacks, severely testing the ability of Afghan forces. An attack on the city of Ghazni lasted for days and caused hundreds of deaths.
The United Nations says Afghan civilians continued to die in record numbers in 2018. U.S. generals were reported as saying that the losses suffered by Afghan security force were unsustainable.
Twelve Americans died in action in Afghanistan in 2018. A U.S. military report showed that the Afghan government's control over territory dropped to the lowest level -- 55.5 percent.
During the same period, the United States increased its troop numbers -- to 14,000 from fewer than 10,000 last year -- and airstrikes in support of Afghan troops. U.S. military reports say that the U.S. Air Force dropped a record number of bombs this year, at almost 6,000 by October.
Afghanistan held parliamentary elections in October. However, the results were damaged by political disputes between two groups: the country's Independent Election Commission and the Electoral Complaints Commission.
In addition, another group, Islamic State, continued attacking targets in Nangarhar province and Kabul city throughout the year.
2018 in Afghanistan is ending with a hope that the increased push by the United States and the willingness by the Taliban to negotiate may produce results next year. The negotiations are in still development right now, and a road map to some form of reconciliation has yet to take shape.
I'm Caty Weaver.
Ayesha Tanzaam reported this story for VOANews. George Grow adapted his report for Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.
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Words in This Story
reconciliation – n. the act of causing two or more people (or groups) to become friendly again
unsustainable – adj. something that is easily damaged