How Afghanistan has once again become a happy hunting ground for Taliban

Intelligence businesses within the United States consider the Afghan authorities could collapse in as little as six months of the entire withdrawal of American troops from the nation.

Such an evaluation absolutely raises issues amongst key stakeholders within the worldwide group and for Afghanistan’s neighbours at a time the Taliban is sweeping via the northern provinces, capturing districts one at a time, and amassing US-supplied weapons and equipments from killed and captive troopers.

The Taliban has made regular progress ever because the US and allied troops started their departure from Afghanistan on May 1. The US has a deadline that can see all its troops residence by September 11, which can mark the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 assaults. This may not solely upset the steadiness of energy inside Afghanistan however throughout Asia as nicely. At current, the Afghan authorities can declare complete management of solely its capital Kabul and a few neighbouring districts.

This creator spoke to 2 counter-terror consultants to grasp the altering dynamics of the area Faran Jeffery, deputy director and head of South Asia desk on terrorism at ITCT (Islamic Theology of Counter Terrorism), and Abdul Basit, Associate Research Fellow at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.

MAPPING THE TALIBAN ADVANCE

Long earlier than the Taliban began advancing in the direction of Kabul, donations for them had been on an upswing in Balochistan and different border areas of Pakistan. According to reports, Afghan Taliban fighters stick with coal miners within the close by mountains and are available to the bazaar space each Friday to solicit 5,000-10,000 Pakistani rupees (INR 2,500-5,000) from shopkeepers.

Heavy combating has been reported in Kandahar, Baghlan and Kunduz, and 1000’s of households have fled their properties from these areas. The Taliban has additionally captured a key border crossing with Tajikistan and now claims to manage 40 per cent or 157 out of Afghanistan’s complete 398 districts.

Another 157 districts are witnessing intense combating, whereas authorities rule is restricted to solely 84 districts, largely in central Afghanistan. There is, nonetheless, no concrete approach to confirm such numbers, as many areas usually change fingers backwards and forwards between the Taliban and Afghan forces. But in addition they reveal a scary fact that nearly a third of Afghanistan’s inhabitants now reside below Taliban rule.

Abdul Basit says that although it’s true the Taliban has been making inroads, a lot of reports presently is propagandist in nature. He says information of Afghan forces reclaiming misplaced land is just not reported sufficient.

THE TALIBAN STRATEGY

The Taliban might be launching large-scale assaults after the entire pullout of US troops. “Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid said that the Taliban emir has not yet ordered the capture of provincial capitals, but his statement indicates this could change once US military withdrawal is fully completed,” says Farhan Jeffery.

Basit provides, “The Taliban are stretching the Afghan forces and looking for weak spots in their defences, resulting in the retreat of Afghan forces from certain districts to fortify their defence. So far, the Taliban haven’t tried taking a major city, but what they are trying is weaken the Afghan forces.”

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and members of his authorities have repeatedly urged the Taliban to declare a countrywide ceasefire. However, quite the opposite, assaults throughout the nation have the truth is elevated. Lack of NATO air help for Afghan forces has emboldened the Taliban to hold out extra raids.

Even although the Taliban has captured a number of districts in Afghanistan, a complete victory as of now’s extremely unlikely. However, they’re sturdy within the sport of optics. On many events, Afghan forces rapidly retake key areas, however Taliban’s advances at all times get extra media consideration. The Taliban has devoted social media accounts that stream real-time visuals of newly captured areas.

On the opposite hand, infighting and lack of coordination amongst totally different wings of the Afghan authorities have worsened issues for Kabul.

THE ISLAMIC STATE FACTOR

Apart from Taliban, the Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP) has been making an attempt to broaden its affect for fairly a while. Smaller armed outfits and a few previous warlords additionally need their share of the pie.

Jeffery says, “In a recent issue of al-Naba newsletter, ISIS very clearly stated that its war in Afghanistan will continue even after full US troop withdrawal. ISKP has recently claimed several attacks against electrical pylons in Afghanistan as part of its ‘economic warfare’ in the country. It also carried out an attack against Afghan soldiers in Nangarhar during a battle between government forces and Taliban.”

“ISKP has carried out attacks against Taliban too and its offensives are only expected to increase in the coming months. Similarly, there are other terror groups too, from al-Qaeda to anti-China Uyghur militants, all of whom would be looking to take advantage of the chaos in the country,” Jeffery added.

Basit agreed that ISKP may solely be a lesser pressure for the time being as they simply have round 3,000 fighters, which isn’t sufficient to make vital inroads. But he does warn that ISIS-inspired radicals may discover sanctuary in areas of Afghanistan. It is vital to notice that many Indian ISIS sympathisers have managed to hitch ISKP within the distant hills of Afghanistan.

HOW AFGHAN FORCES ARE TACKLING THE THREAT

Afghan commandos, skilled and outfitted by US and NATO troops, have been struggling of their battle towards the Taliban. They are attempting their greatest and have carried out a number of evening raids over the previous two months.

Parallelly, the anxious authorities has launched a “national mobilisation” programme aimed toward arming native volunteers to battle the Taliban. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani met former anti-Soviet and anti-Taliban leaders and warlords to rally for a united entrance. This is seen as an abject failure of the Afghan authorities and its over-reliance on US and NATO forces.

In a number of locations, Afghan forces have surrendered to the Taliban. Jeffery attributes it to a few points.

First, the battle technique of the Afghan authorities. “The Afghan government’s war strategy so far has been to abandon districts, avoid large number of casualties and focus on defending the provincial capitals,” he says.

Second, the low morale of forces as a result of US pullout.

And third, the controversial choice to arm civilians and warlords. “The government’s reliance on militias has been consistently backfiring since many of these militias switch loyalties very easily. The recent massacre of Special Forces soldiers in Faryab occurred because the government had prematurely announced that Dawlatabad district has been recaptured. So, the troops landing there were not expecting to be greeted by dozens of heavily armed Taliban fighters. Such blunders have caused unnecessary casualties, which could have been avoided,” Jeffery mentioned.

The Taliban resurgence has already seen 1000’s of civilians undergo. Last month, an explosion exterior a woman’s college in Kabul killed at the least 68 folks, with most victims being younger ladies aged 11-15. The Taliban has additionally been attacking medical workers administering Covid vaccines. The ISKP has been finishing up assaults of their areas of affect as nicely.

“The Taliban are playing a kind of warfare which involves grabbing as much territory as possible to have better bargaining power when they eventually get to the point of negotiating with the Afghan government or the international community,” Basit opined.

DID THE DOHA PEACE DEAL GO WRONG

The US is trying to arrange a new base for their ISR operations (Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance) in one of many neighbouring international locations. Given their current base and the proximity to Taliban hideouts, Pakistan could also be the most suitable choice. But Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan has mentioned he’ll “absolutely not” enable US to arrange bases. Other choices are to go over to central Asian nations akin to Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. However, the sturdy Russian affect in these areas could also be a deterrent.

In February final yr, the US signed a peace take care of Taliban in Doha “The deal gave Taliban more than anyone could have possibly imagined. It emboldened Taliban and they saw it as a victory,” mentioned Jeffery, including that the US was discovering it powerful to justify to its folks the extended navy presence in Afghanistan.

Basit feels that even when the US had been to exit Afghanistan after 5 years, the state of affairs would nonetheless be the identical as it’s immediately. “America was always going to leave. It was a question of when and not if,” he mentioned.

HOW DO PAKISTAN, INDIA FIT IN

Experts consider Pakistan is in a tough state of affairs. “If Taliban comes to power, Pakistan’s little remaining influence on it will be at risk. Taliban will move their leaders and families to Afghanistan, and they would be building relationships with other countries, including India, largely on their own terms. If Afghanistan descends into a civil war, Pakistan will have to face a refugee spillover as well,” says Jeffery.

On the opposite hand, Basit feels a sturdy Taliban in Afghanistan will strengthen terror teams in Pakistan and PoK. A Taliban managed Afghan authorities may even present nice strategic depth for Pakistan and assist push India away from Afghanistan, he says.

India, which has performed a key function in rebuilding Afghanistan, has referred to as for a United Nations-led “permanent and comprehensive ceasefire” in Afghanistan. It stays to be seen if India will play a direct function in stunting the Taliban resurgence as its rising affect could embolden different terror teams linked to it. If sure experiences are to be believed, India has already began back-channel negotiations with Taliban.

India has a lot of investments and initiatives in progress throughout Afghanistan. These embrace the development of Salma dam and the not too long ago introduced Shahtoot dam in Kabul. But the US exit may also present China a helpful alternative to increase its Belt and Road Initiative to areas of Afghanistan. China is Afghanistan’s largest overseas investor.

“India will find itself trying to fill the vacuum left by the US. America sees India as its key partner in the region and its policy has always been to encourage India to take on a larger role in Afghanistan,” Jeffery mentioned.

Basit added the Taliban could favor Pakistan over India owing to their excessive dependence on Islamabad. “Most family members of Taliban fighters stay in Pakistan. The Taliban uses Pakistani facilities such as hospitals they even use Pakistani passports to travel abroad. So, they would naturally favour Pakistan over India,” he mentioned.

(The author is a Singapore-based Open-Source Intelligence analyst)

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