Deteriorating situation and way forward for Afghanistan
The recent onslaught on Ghazni, a strategic city which lies just 150 kilometres from Kabul, shows the perseverance of the Taliban. After nearly 17 years of the American invasion of Afghanistan, the Taliban are as strong as they have ever been.
The Taliban launched an audacious attack on Ghazni city on Friday night August 10 killing over 200 members of the Afghan security forces and about 60 innocent civilians.
This bold onslaught on Ghazni, a strategic city which lies just 150 kilometres from Kabul, shows the perseverance of the Taliban. After nearly 17 years of the American invasion of Afghanistan, the Taliban are as strong as they have ever been and are capable of mounting day-long attacks on district centres throughout the country.
Nearly 1,000 Taliban fighters occupied the main city centre for nearly five days and closed all roads leading to Ghazni city, including the major highway connecting Ghazni to Kabul. Their motive behind this was to cut off all movement and ensure that Kabul is severed from the southern provinces. The Taliban fighters held the entire population of the city hostage, as nearly 270,000 people had to live without food and water for days. According to videos available on social media, the Taliban can be seen freely roaming in the city centre without any fear of getting captured.
The most recent attack has also shown numerous weaknesses on part of the Afghan national defence and security forces (ANDSF) which includes the Afghan national army (ANA) and the Afghan national police (ANP).The ANDSF failed to pick up clear signs of Taliban build-up on the outskirts of the city. According to locals entering and leaving Ghazni, the Taliban were even collecting taxes from them. It is unknown as to why the ANDSF did not act early to avert the attacks, which can be attributed as an intelligence failure.
Currently, the total area under opium cultivation in Afghanistan stands at 328,000 hectares, the highest value ever recorded in the country. This figure represents an alarming rise of 63 percent or 127,000 hectares from 2016.
Since 2015, the Taliban insurgency has been resurgent with the group making several daring attacks and increasing its control of the country. According to research conducted by the BBC, Taliban presently threaten 70 percent of Afghanistan. Another independent website the Long War Journal says that Taliban out rightly control 47 districts, while the control of 198 districts is contested between the Afghan government and the Taliban fighters.
The civilian casualties continue to mount and according to the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), the number of civilians killed in Afghanistan reached a record high with 1,692 persons reported to have died in the first six months of 2018. Adding to the enormous pressures on the Afghan government is the rise of opium production. Currently, the total area under opium cultivation in Afghanistan stands at 328,000 hectares, the highest value ever recorded in the country. This figure represents an alarming rise of 63 percent or 127,000 hectares from 2016.
This attack in Ghazni has revealed that the Afghan security forces are not well-equipped, even after receiving weapons and trainings worth billions of dollars by the American government. They do not display the same fighting spirit as their enemies and consistently rely on American air support. In the latest attack, the American Air Force conducted a total of 32 airstrikes on the Taliban fighters in which more than 220 militants were killed. The severely depleting numbers of the ANDSF is also a significant cause for concern. According to the third quarterly report by SIGAR released on July 30 2018, the ANDSF lost 8,500 personnel from April 2017, to April 2018 (8,431 from the ANA, and 69 from the ANP). All of this adds up to present a troublesome scenario.
The Taliban are considering announcing a ceasefire during next week’s Eid holidays to allow the people of Afghanistan to celebrate the festival of sacrifice. The recent peace talks between the Taliban and American diplomats in Doha, Qatar indicated that America is willing to talk to the Taliban and could be open towards considering a political settlement, instead of a focusing on a purely military solution to end this long war.
It will be wrong to expect that the peace talks will bear fruit almost instantly. The process will prove to be very long and tiresome for the Afghan population during which fierce fighting will continue on the ground. The Taliban will not want to hand over their hard-fought gains to the Afghan government so readily. The onus will be on the American government to find a durable and long-lasting settlement to bring the Afghan people out of their misery, as well as focusing on making the Afghan government more productive, efficient and honest so that it caters to the basic needs of the populace.
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The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint or stance of SDPI.