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Has Afghan government failed in its fight against Taliban?

image001Pramod Raj Sedhain
Taliban insurgents have gained momentum in Afghanistan since the announcement of the “Operation Omari” on 12 April 2016. Full-scale offensive to capture multiple districts demonstrates Taliban’s growing strength in the country. Taliban insurgency has gained one of the biggest momentums ever since they were toppled by the U.S.-led military intervention in 2001.
Effectiveness of Kabul government is in serious doubt since Taliban has been able to run parallel government in large parts of rural areas. Taliban has not only controlled rural areas but has simultaneous approached in 5 provincial capitals Kunduz, Baghlan, Farah, Uruzgan and Helmand in recent times indicating increased security threats. Most of Helmand’s province districts are under Taliban control.
Despite American training, advise, logistic, weapons and even special forces, including air support to Afghan forces, the Taliban has been making repeated efforts to overrun the country’s major cities in various directions such as two Northern capitals Kunduz City and Pul-i-Khumri, two Southern cities Tarin Kot and Lashkar Gah as well as the western city Farah. Taliban still remains on the outskirts of many Afghan cities, routinely shutting down the country’s key highways. Taliban have released a video showing capturing of hundreds of security positions, seizure of the modern military hardware, surrendering of soldiers, which certainly are signs of the Kabul government’s weak strategy.
Taliban’s recent gain can be a long term threat to Kabul. Such situation shows growing difficulties in defeating the Taliban by military means. Taliban has been effectively running their political, military, social and propaganda apparatus operation. They have systematically mobilized thousands of fighters nationwide who have now high morale and resources after gaining the recent ground. Taliban has not targeted any regional and other foreign countries except the U.S. and its allies.
Taliban media outlets continued assurances to protecting others except Western nations is an evidence of growing ties with these countries. Taliban has shifted their traditional strategy along with their growing strength. Despite its nature of violent jihadist ideology and terrorist tactics to gain its goals, the Taliban continues to seek diplomatic and political support from neighboring countries and has adopted more pragmatic approach on the ground. Taliban has been successful to isolate government presence in rural areas, as it engages with local communities by maintaining smooth coordination with local groups which was loosely affiliated in the past and has adopted a soft tolerance with the marginalized groups to gain public support.
Taliban militants have demonstrated more capability than the government forces who have received continued and significant military support from the U.S. and its allies. Taliban’s growing capabilities of recruiting, training, financing, logistics and intelligence have been an alarming sign for the U.S. The U.S. heavy involvement will help in stabilizing the situation in the major cities. However, currently the ground situation is deteriorating day to day. Expansion of America’s involvement with more airstrikes against insurgents, giving the U.S. military wider latitude to support Afghan forces both in the air and on the ground will at least block the Taliban’s gain on the ground.
The U.S. officially ended its 13 years combat operation in Afghanistan on December 28, 2014. Since then the Taliban has been gaining the ground. Afghanistan remains a vital U.S. priority country where they spent tremendous blood and treasure. After various strategic failures in Afghanistan, the U.S. even went for political solution with the Taliban. But this still can be costly on the table to re-engage a full scale military presence to neutralize Taliban threat.
America’s Afghan war requires conclusion in anyway, which however is not an easy task. Without the U.S. stepping up pressure on Pakistan and the Gulf nations, Afghanistan’s peace process will not come on track. Taliban requires breaking ties with Al-Qaeda which they does not want to openly show its connection. Al Qaeda is even not a serious matter to the U.S. in Afghanistan since their leaders and commanders have already fled from there. However, the U.S. can neutralize them if they emerge again through other ways.
Peaceful solution is possible if regional countries truly put immense pressure on the Taliban leadership. But the hidden reproach of Afghan neighboring countries toward Taliban is the greatest problem now. After the rise of Islamic State (IS) threat in Afghanistan, the regional countries has been seeing Taliban as a counterweight to the IS and other foreign jihadists movement. Covert cooperation from foreign nations provides opportunity to expand Taliban’s ambition and violence.
The current situation in Afghanistan has raised fear of the U.S. to safeguarding the Kabul government in the long term. Afghan government has failed to show or prove its capabilities to effectively lead the country. International community has been skeptical about the Kabul government but they do not want or allow it to collapse in the Iraqi style. Despite receiving U.S. heavy support, the Afghan government has failed to initiate effective campaign against Taliban.
The current situation in Afghanistan doesn’t show any signs of optimism about the Afghan government’s ability to maintain stability. U.S. strategists are well aware of the nature of weak Afghan government and the security institutions. However, there are no options to prevent. It is still unclear about the policy of the next U.S. President Donald Trump towards Afghanistan. The Afghan issue did not quite figure out during the whole election process or debates. But the Trump administration, it seems, will not ignore the Afghan crisis but would rather handle more directly and will not tolerate foreign meddling against its vital national security interests.
(The writer can be reached at: pramodsedhain@gmail.com)

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