Afghanistan: US-Led 17 Years’ War No End In Sight – Analysis


By R M Panda

On 7th October 2018, Taliban greeted the 17h year of United States invasion of Afghanistan by attacks that caused 54 deaths of whom 35 were Security Personnel and the rest civilians.

In one of the incidents, Taliban fighters overran two police outposts in Pashtun Kot District killing 10 Police men and a civilian Woman. The most deadly attack was in Sayed Abad District of Wardak Province, where the Taliban blocked the highway for hours by blowing up a bridge and attacked the stranded security forces. The Spokesman of the Interior Ministry, Nasrat Rahimi said that 14 police officers including the District Police Chief were killed in the attack.

Security Situation

In addition to 16000 NATO troops, the total number of Afghan Security Forces as on April 2008, comes to 314,242 (SIGAR Report), which in normal circumstances should be adequate in meeting the security needs. Yet the Taliban appears to strike at will causing heavy casualties to the Security Forces.

The problem as many see it is that the Afghan forces are poorly equipped, lack air power of their own and dependent on the NATO troops. Even for transportation to critical areas where the forces are to be rushed, the Afghan Forces are completely dependent on the US. The Police Force is neither trained properly nor are they in good numbers at any particular place to face any critical situation.

Out of Afghanistan’s 360 districts, the Taliban has full control over 14 districts (that’s 4% of the country) and have an active and open physical presence in further 263 districts (66% of the Country) as per the BBC study. ISIS has their presence in 30 districts of Afghanistan.

There are clear indicators that the overall situation is deteriorating fast but the situation has not reached criticality as yet. The Taliban continues to expand its control and increase its presence in many districts. The ISIS is also seen to be expanding its presence. The unprecedented casualties of the Afghan Security Forces on a daily basis cannot be sustained for too long.

Law and order Situation

There is a lack of synchronization or cooperation among the top politicians, warlords and the ethnic leaders. Added to this is the lack of coordination among the security agencies resulting in failure to provide security to its citizens. Going beyond the security issues, the Government is not still equipped well on issues like health, education, social justice and other related civic problems.

The street crimes have hit a record level as the security forces are more engrossed in dealing with terrorist activities and have no time or personnel to control such incidents. Armed robberies, kidnapping, weapon/human/money trafficking and other street crimes are reaching peak levels, as the security and intelligence forces have been unable to control the crime situation.

The security situation as of now in Afghanistan has not reached the tipping point and the Taliban having realized that it may be a long battle are using other means to terrorise the population. Some of their efforts in this direction are

  • Threatening the civilians to leave Government jobs.
  • Forcing the civilians to come to them for redressal of their grievances and dispensing justice through mobile courts in the areas where they do not have full control.
  • In areas under their control, they have started issuing identity cards to enable civilians to move freely.
  • Encouraging civilians to come to them for solving their problems rather than go to the Government officials to find solutions for their problems.

The Taliban has already warned the civilian population to boycott the local elections. It remains to be seen how the local officials and security officials will be able to manage the elections without letting Taliban disrupt the elections.

Ethnic Discrimination and Targeting the Hazaras.

Though the Pashtuns and the Tajiks are in large numbers there are other sizeable minorities in other parts of the region and they have started feeling a sense of discrimination as the Governmental development programmes do not reach them.

Parts of central Afghanistan, like Bamiyan, peopled by the Hazaras are among the poorest. Bamiyan the unofficial capital of the Hazara lacks even basic facilities like electricity. In May 2016, Shia Hazaras held a protest in Kabul against the government’s decision to move a proposed power line project out of Bamiyan, arguing that the decision was yet another point of ethnic discrimination.

In July 2016, two ISIS suicide bombers struck a peaceful protest by Hazara Shia Muslims in Kabul, killing at least 80 people and injuring more than 400.

The number of targeted killings of people belonging to the Hazara ethnic group has been increasing. Terrorist Suicide bombers target their athletes, students, and communities not only in Kabul but in other provinces too , where scores of Hazaras have been killed, injured or taken hostages and their properties and businesses destroyed.

During this year’s holy day of Ashoura, residents of Hazara-populated neighbourhoods of Kabul had to take security issues in their own hands. The community had set up its own checkpoints to secure the religious procession on that day.

This is yet another example that the citizens are losing faith on the security forces and taking their own measures for their safety and security.

Americans Casualties in Afghanistan

As of July 27, 2018, there have been 2,372 U.S. military deaths in the war in Afghanistan. 20,320 American service members have also been wounded and in addition to that there were 1,720 U.S. civilian contractor fatalities. In the same time nearly 15,000 afghan national security forces and 31,000 civilians have been killed.

Despite these casualties, the original objectives for which the US entered war to provide a stable administration and terror free country are far from being met. This after 17 long years and the longest war in US history. The reasons for its failure are not far to seek. The culprit is Pakistan.

Pakistan’s support to terrorism in Afghanistan

Former Pakistani military and civilian leaders including the current Prime Minister Imran Khan and the Foreign minister of Pakistan have openly admitted about Islamabad’s double standards policy on Afghanistan. While mouthing statements to find peace and stability in Afghanistan, what Pakistan does is to fueling terrorism in Afghanistan. Pakistan has its own objectives to destabilize Afghanistan.

Suffice it to say that if the US has to fulfill its obligations and reach the original objectives in its war in Afghanistan, it has to tackle Pakistan first. This is seen to be understood by the present administration in US.

The recent appointment of Afghan born former US diplomat Zalmay Khalilzad as a special Advisor to USA on their Afghan Policy is a right step in this direction. President Trump’s recent counter terrorism policy looks effective if it is implemented both in letter and spirit

Peace talks with Taliban:

Twice before the US has talked to the Taliban on the sidelines, but the results are not known. If there had been any breakthrough, there would have been some mention but the fact that no mention is made shows that the peace talks have not made any headway. At any rate why should the Taliban talk when they feel that the war is going their way?

Media reports indicate that Russia is planning to get into the Afghan issues and there is a proposal to have talks on Afghanistan, among Russia, China, Pakistan and some other countries. The media report also indicates that the Taliban may be willing to associate itself in such talks. The interesting point is that Russia is taking the lead to mediate and in such a case the US may not participate at all!

Divisions within Taliban.

It is said that there is a deep division within Taliban on the question of attending the Peace Talks.

Going back, it was known that the Taliban could not decide unanimously on a successor to Mullah Omer after his death. With the support of Pakistan, Mullah Akhtar Mansour became the Chief, overlooking the claims of Muhammed Rasul. After the death of Akhtar Mansour in a drone attack in vicinity of Quetta, Hibatullah Akhundzada became the leader of Taliban with Pakistan support and chose his deputy from the Haqqani wing, Sirajuddin Haqqani, a group closely associated with Pakistan.

In recent months it is said that the Afghan government provided the rebel Rasool group with weapons, safe passage and intelligence. The result has been a dramatic turn of events with the Government forces succeeding in areas where the government had otherwise suffered a series of defeats, particularly in Helmand. This Taliban splinter faction group is not in support of peace talks.

In the near term, there appears to be no prospect of peace talks succeeding. There could be some chance only if Taliban is unable to increase its areas of influence and is unable to mount major offensives causing heavy casualties among the Afghan security Forces. For this Pakistan has to stop supporting which is unlikely.

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SAAG is the South Asia Analysis Group, a non-profit, non-commercial think tank. The objective of SAAG is to advance strategic analysis and contribute to the expansion of knowledge of Indian and International security and promote public understanding.

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