Kabul on the Tumble

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While the world continues to work on achieving international security and sustainable development goals (SDGs), Kabul awaits peace and security. Withdrawal of the United States (U.S.) security forces followed by the seizure of military bases and outposts held by Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) visibly reflected the strong-hold of Afghan Taliban across the country. With less than 650 troops protecting the U.S. embassy in Kabul, 95% of American military evacuated the country by July 2021 after which the Afghan Taliban launched swift and continuous offensives at multiple locations including Kabul, Kandahar, and Herat etc. The Afghan Taliban were able to capture more than ten provincial capitals within two weeks of the withdrawal leaving only Kabul. It did not come as a surprise that, as former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled, the Taliban fighters took over the presidential palace, established new checkpoints across the city and announced the newly formed government.

Parallel to the Taliban offensives, a resistance was started by Mujahedeen leader, Ahmed Massoud, as a holdout to the advancing Taliban fighters. However, on September 06, 2021, the strongest foothold of the resistance movement was ousted from Panjshir province. According to the Taliban Spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, “The last stronghold of the mercenary enemy, Panjshir province, was completely conquered” (Ganesan, 2021).

To gain strength in terms of numbers, Afghan Taliban released 5,000 prisoners locked up in the Pul-e-Charkhi prison and others from Bagram detention facility. Shortly after this, the security landscape in Afghanistan started deteriorating as with 6,302 incidents, a 25.6% increase in security-related incidents was recorded between May and July 2021 as compared to 5,015 incidents documented last year. Similarly, armed clashes also skyrocketed with the Taliban having access to more weapons and ammunition: armed confrontation among different stakeholders rose 37.8% at multiple locations marking 4,039 incidents in addition to assassination increasing 6% from 235 to 250 (The Situation in Afghanistan and Its Implications for International Peace and Security, 2021).

The presence of Al-Qaeda (AQ) and Islamic State-Khorasan Province (ISKP) in Afghanistan makes the security situation more complex. With the Afghan Taliban becoming proactive after pull out of the U.S. forces, ISKP has been affected in many ways making them adapt to the quickly evolving situation. Al-Qaeda’s presence in Afghanistan and its relationship with the Taliban remains blurred. However, it has been reported that AQ fighters have been working with Taliban forces to lay low in the country and conduct covert operations. Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA), in 2020, reported that AQ forces are “integrated into the Taliban’s forces ad command structure.” DIA analyzed it as a win-win situation for the two groups and that the Taliban would not take action against AQ members (Thomas, 2021).

Ahmad Massoud, leader of the National Resistance Front of Afghanistan, wrote in Washington Post on August 18, 2021 about the prevailing situation in the country. He stated that the Taliban would not be a problem only for the Afghan population but the country would become a fort of radical Islamist terrorism that would plan and executed activities against democracies. He called on the U.S., the U.K. and other allies to provide the resistance with weapon, ammunition and more supplies to keep fighting the Taliban (Massoud, 2021). In contrast to the National Resistance Front, the Afghan Taliban got hold of the U.S. weapons, ammunition and military hardware including four C-130 transport aircraft, 23 Brazilian-made A-29 “Super Tucano” turboprop ground-attack aircraft, and 45 UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters along with other aircrafts (Myre, 2021). Moreover, with over 64,000 machine guns, 350,000 assault rifles, 170 artillery pieces and 16,000 night vision gadgets / devices, the Taliban have become more lethal than any of its competitor in the country (US Left behind USD 85 Billion Worth of Weapons in Afghanistan, Says Trump Jr, 2021).

A key trend to follow on Afghan Taliban’s advances in based on their focus on capturing the north and north-east provinces in the beginning of their advancements. Afterwards, the Taliban fighters spread around systematically in different provinces based on priority in essence of releasing prisoners and/or controlling critical corridors to generate revenue. To analyze this pattern, Long War Journal and Council on Foreign Relations’ map highlighting the capture of cities and provinces is helpful. As figure 1 shows, Afghan Taliban tend to secure the bordering areas first to ensure that foreign forces are denied entry into the country which might prove detrimental for them. Once the outer-circle of Afghanistan is secure, the Taliban move inwards by circling key provinces and cities that are surrounded and left with no other option than to surrender.

Figure 1 - Control of Afghanistan by Different Stakeholders (Source Council on Foreign Relations)
Figure 1 – Control of Afghanistan by Different Stakeholders (Source: Council on Foreign Relations)

As the chaotic environment in and around Afghanistan continue, it is evident that the military element is tilted in favor of the Afghan Taliban where other non-state stakeholder, the former Afghan government and extra-regional actors have become less responsive. The regional countries have not confronted the Taliban government in totality: for example, Beijing has called for conditional support to Taliban government if they cut off ties with all terrorist and extremist groups since such linkages pose a direct threat to China’s national security and territorial integrity. On the other hand, New Delhi has become proactive internationally to condemn the Taliban government. India states that the chances of militancy in Kashmir and India would snowball because of the Taliban – linking it to Pakistan and alleging that Islamabad would exploit the very situation in its favor. Indian strategic thinkers say that for New Delhi there would only be bad and worse options but it would be a wise decision on part of the country to open communication channels with Taliban to develop alignment.

To conclude, Afghanistan has witnessed a nose-dive in its internal security and the panic in public is settling down with time. The unexpected Taliban government is revising many of its strategies and it remains pertinent to analyze what long term policies it has to offer.

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