Levels of violence in rural areas peaked again after Feb “reduction in violence” period did not extend into March, while intra-Afghan negotiations that could lead to a ceasefire were delayed.

Following Feb U.S.-Taliban deal and end of reduced violence period, Taliban resumed intense military pressure on Afghan security forces in rural areas, including 19 March attack in Zabul province (south) that left over twenty Afghan security forces killed; Taliban carried out series of attacks in Balkh province (north), leading to repeated shut down and impact on northern highway; levels of violence in country highest in Kandahar province (south) in first part of March. Insurgents continued to refrain from major attacks in urban areas. Mass abductions reported in Maidan Wardak, Uruzgan, Kunduz and elsewhere. Islamic State-Khorasan Province (IS-KP) resumed large-scale attacks in capital Kabul including 6 March attack on Shia mosque, targeting Hazara community, with gunmen killing at least 32 people; IS-KP claimed responsibility for five rockets fired 9 March at Presidential Palace during President Ghani’s inauguration ceremony, no major casualties reported, and 25 March attack on Sikh religious complex, killing 25. Domestic political crisis continued with establishment of parallel govts; following controversial 2019 presidential elections, Ghani (whom official results declared as winner in Feb) and his main opponent Abdullah Abdullah (who continued to claim results were fraudulent) 9 March held concurrent inauguration ceremonies in adjacent wings of Presidential Palace complex in Kabul; representatives of international community mostly attended Ghani’s inauguration, while northern and western Afghan powerbrokers joined Abdullah’s ceremony; both figures refrained from action that might escalate political crisis into armed conflict. Amid delay, U.S. Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad conducted diplomatic efforts in attempt to broker compromise between Ghani and Abdullah; Sec State Pompeo 23 March visited Kabul, announcing US$1bn cut to aid amid deadlock and saying U.S. “deeply regrets” both sides inability to “agree on an inclusive govt”; days after, govt formation of an inclusive negotiating team and govt-Taliban dialogue on prisoners progressed, albeit still limited.