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Definitely NOT a ceasefire: Taliban propaganda bid to cause defections and splits in Afghan army

May 19, 2018

Summary: Taliban propaganda efforts call Afghan military and government personnel to quit

This statement was released by the Taliban on their website on Friday 18th May.  It was somewhat breathlessly reported by some media as an indication that the Taliban were calling for what would have been a fairly significant ceasefire in order to spare the lives of fellow Afghans.  The message highlights the high casualties that the Taliban are inflicting on the Afghan army (“losing tens of soldiers on the frontlines every day”).  It states that the Americans are the main targets and corrupt officials are playing with their lives.

A key part of the text however indicates clearly that this is an offer to spare only those Afghan government forces – army, police, arbaki and government employees – who leave the posts and stop fighting.

“The Mujahideen never expect that you fight in the ranks of Mujahideen once you leave those of the regime. Rather after leaving the ranks of those protecting the invaders, they want you to return to normal life, to safeguard your families from misery and grief and to save your children from becoming orphans and your wives widows. The Mujahideen shall use every means at their disposal to try and ease your life.”

Comment

A fight simply against US forces would be a tricky one to achieve for the Taliban – they do not generally conduct combat operations and this conflict is almost entirely Afghan against Afghan.  But an interesting departure for the Taliban is that this offer is not a straight demand that deserters should then join the Taliban – they are instead allowed to return home.  The implication being that it is better for the Taliban that Afghan soldiers are at least out of the fight and giving them an “easier” option heralds a chance of success.    If dozens of soldiers quit their posts it would be trumpeted from the Taliban rooftops.  But I see this as a Taliban misjudgment and unlikely to go anywhere significant.  We will see in the coming days whether this new reach-out gains traction.  A few isolated, hard pressed, local police individuals and small groups may turn themselves in to local Taliban, but this sort of “to and fro” happens most years.

Full text here:

Statement of Islamic Emirate regarding amnesty for Kabul administration employees seeking surrender

May 18, 2018  

With the passage of a month since the launch of Al Khandaq operations by the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan against the American invaders and their internal supporters, a lot of progress has been observed. Large regions have been cleared from the servile regime as the enemy is pushed into a feeble defensive posture all the while losing tens of soldiers on the frontlines every day.

These security forces however are our own countrymen who have joined the ranks of America due to misguidance or other reasons. The Americans want to substitute these Afghans for themselves in the ongoing war.

Due to the very high number of casualties being suffered by the Kabul administration police and other forces (forecasted to increase even further) that naturally entails more grief and sorrow for the Afghan families hence the Islamic Emirate – to establish final proof – declares a general amnesty to all military formations, national army, national police, Arbakis and all employees of the regime to safeguard their lives and wealth. It also wishes to elucidate to the following points:

1 – The main focus of Mujahideen attacks in Al Khandaq operations are the Americans and their foreign allies. You however are turning into Mujahideen targets because you are protecting the foreign invaders and the corrupt regime which they have installed. Since the foreign invaders and their installed corrupt regime are neither in your interest or in the interest of our country nor are they in the interest of your religion and beliefs therefore rescue yourselves and prove your loyalty towards your Lord, beliefs and land by forsaking their ranks. In case you do leave the enemy ranks, the Mujahideen of Islamic Emirate will guarantee protection of your life and wealth through a general amnesty.

2 – You must understand that the invading Americans are the historic enemies of Islam, Quran and Ummah (nation) of Muhammad. They have martyred hundreds of thousands of Muslims in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and around the globe. They recently occupied the first Qibla of Muslims and shifted their embassy to Baitul Maqdis, making it their most hate-filled move yet against Islam and Muslims. Standing in the same rank with warring infidels and the most ardent enemies of Islam and Quran as well as fighting for them and murdering your own countrymen for their objectives are such unforgivable crimes that if one was to die upon them, one would face the most stern punishment in the hereafter and would be resurrected for judgment in the same grouping as Bush, Obama and Trump.

Therefore you must reflect on consequences for hereafter and eternal life. Lift yourselves out of the pit of wrongdoings and misguidance. Utilize this opportunity of being alive and the doors of repentance being open. Show regret for your actions as Allah Almighty is the oft Forgiving, most Merciful and there is hope that all your wrongdoings will be forgiven by Allah Almighty.

3 – The Mujahideen never expect that you fight in the ranks of Mujahideen once you leave those of the regime. Rather after leaving the ranks of those protecting the invaders, they want you to return to normal life, to safeguard your families from misery and grief and to save your children from becoming orphans and your wives widows. The Mujahideen shall use every means at their disposal to try and ease your life.

4 – Forces that are fighting for the defense of invaders and corrupt regime!

Do you not understand how carelessly your lives are thrown away just so that the corrupt officials can extend their corrupt rule? They snug away their children and families in foreign countries in complete comfort and even snatch away whatever little concessions you are supposedly promised to further this proxy war.

Do you not understand that your corrupt officials not only play with your lives but loot the chastity of your honor after your death? So why would you throw away your lives and destroy the future of your children and families for such corrupt and immoral officials?

For the sake of your own lives, for the protection of your children and for deliverance in the afterlife, leave the support of the Americans and accept the invitation by the Islamic Emirate of a life of peace and honor for you and your families.

5 – The Mujahideen of Islamic Emirate are determined with the help of Allah Almighty to intensify their Jihadi attacks against the invaders and their backers. The Mujahideen shall continue their Jihad until our country is completely freed from foreign occupation and an opportunity is afforded for the establishment of an Islamic system.

So before you die in dishonor in the ranks of the invaders in this war of independence, the Islamic Emirate once again invites you to leave the ranks of the invaders and offers general amnesty for all those who leave the enemy fold. Do not delay any further and miss out on this golden opportunity.

Wasalam

Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan

02/09/1439 Hijri Lunar

18/05/2018 Gregorian

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Mission creep: UK to send 400 troops to Afghanistan?

May 18, 2018

Summary: As the Taliban Spring offensive gets underway, additional troop deployments to Afghanistan are being mulled by the British government

It seems as if the UK Defence Minister is recommending the deployment of approximately 400 more British troops to Afghanistan.  They would – at first look, at least – be intended to support the training of Afghan soldiers, who have come under great pressure during the newly announced Taliban “Spring Offensive”.

BBC News, 18 May: The government is considering sending hundreds more British troops to Afghanistan, the BBC understands.  The defence secretary has written to Theresa May recommending the UK boosts its military presence in the country – but no decision has been made.  The UK currently has more than 600 troops in capital Kabul helping train Afghan security forces.  It follows calls by US President Donald Trump and Nato for allies to join him in sending more troops to the country.

 

Image result for British soldiers helmand training ANA

British and Afghan soldiers, Helmand

Background:

Historically, the British engagement with Afghanistan has been mixed at best and disastrous at worst. In the 18th to early 20th centuries, Afghanistan was seen as a buffer against Russian Imperial expansion towards India, then the “Jewel in the Crown” of the British empire.  Amidst thousands of skirmishes and small actions on the North West Frontier – the Pushtun tribal border area between what is now Pakistan and Afghanistan, Britain fought three major wars in and against Afghanistan in pursuit of establishing pro-British regimes: 1839-42 saw a humiliating defeat, 1879-82 went little better and 1919 was perhaps a draw.  The notion of the British as historic invaders has formed a key platform for Taliban propaganda narratives in the 21st  The UK government and its armed forces (in particular its special forces) played a key role in the defeat of the Taliban in late 2001 and the British Army established the first ISAF command headquarters in December 2001 under General John McColl.  Britain has provided significant numbers of combat troops and also a large diplomatic effort and economic assistance for the reconstruction of the country, its armed forces and the establishment of a democratic government system.  Four hundred and fifty-six British military personnel (predominantly in Helmand province) were killed in Afghanistan between 2001 and 2014, when most British forces were withdrawn with the closing down of ISAF.[1]  British political, diplomatic and military assets remain in Afghanistan, albeit on a smaller scale but Britain should still be considered perhaps as second only to the Americans in terms of a desirable international target for the Taliban.[2]  The British Embassy is heavily defended and is in the “Green Zone” which includes most of the key foreign embassies, military bases and Afghan government ministries.

Comment:

Any additional UK troops will become an automatic target for insurgent attacks – be it by the Taliban, Islamic State, the Haqqani Network or other smaller groups – whether are training in the field, resting in camps or being processed through Kabul.  The UK has spent much time and military effort on training Afghan security forces, with mixed results, see my report from 2012, here.

As the British government would say, British military commitments to Afghanistan are kept under constant review.  A couple of years ago I wrote this in response to another suggestion that British troops might deploy.

The Afghan government and security forces are clearly struggling this year with a perhaps more forceful than average Taliban “summer of hate”: Farah city briefly fell to the Taliban earlier this week (as ever, reporting is a little confused).  The Long War Journal reports that the Afghan MOD claim six other centres around the country are at risk.

[1] Farrell, T., Unwinnable: Britain’s War in Afghanistan, 2001-2014’, (The Bodley Head: London, 2017).

[2] ‘Attack on British Council compound in Kabul kills 12’, BBC News, 19 Aug. 2011, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-south-asia-14585563

 

UN report: Afghan air strike causes 107 casualties

May 8, 2018

Summary: A UN report into an Afghan Air Force rocket and machine gun attack in Kunduz province finds that 107 civilian casualties were caused, including 30 children killed.  The attack hit a religious ceremony by a madrassa.  The Afghan Air Force, now equipped with powerful rotary and fixed-wing aircraft, is actively flexing its new muscles.  Its ability to control and account for these muscles, however, looks poor.     

Image result for Afghanistan air force new attack helicopter MD-530

MD-530 AAF attack helicopters

The United Nations Aid Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) has released a report on the 2 April 2018 Afghan Air Force (AAF) air strikes that caused multiple civilian casualties.  UNAMA claim to have verified 107 casualties, 36 killed and 71 injured, of which 81 victims were children (30 killed and 51 injured).

The airstrikes, using rockets and heavy machine gun fire, struck a religious ceremony taking place next to a madrassa in Laghmani village, Dasht-e Archi district of Kunduz province.  The operation was understood to be targeting senior Taliban leadership in the area, including members of a Taliban “Red Unit” believed to be gathering to launch an attack.

Analysis and Outlook

Air strikes inflicting civilian casualties have been a regular and tragic feature of this conflict.  The incident echoes the US bombings in the early period of the campaign: weddings, religious gatherings and those holding weapons were being struck regularly.  The incidents are too numerous to mention comprehensively here.  In July 2008 US aircraft struck a wedding ceremony in Nangarhar, killing The German air force achieved notoriety when it hit a fuel tanker that Afghan civilians had clustered around.  Some of these errors by the international community were a failing to misunderstand aspects of Afghan culture, some due to a “gung ho” aggressive approach (particularly in the early stages of the campaign) and poor procedures.  Others still were simply because it will always be difficult to clearly identify viable targets or separate armed combatant from civilians during an insurgency where “good” and “bad” humans are intermingled.  ISAF learnt the lesson quite early: kill civilians and you create more Taliban.  But it is still hard to fix.  Strenuous multi-stage clearances processes were instigated to restrict the release of munitions only when targets were clearly identified.  Not a perfect process but improvement in performance was made.

UNAMA Report: Additionally, the use of rockets and heavy machine fire from MD-530 helicopters in the context of such an event attended by a large number of civilians, with no apparent warning issued prior to the attack, is especially concerning. Such weapons do not allow for precision targeting and the impact area of the rockets extended over approximately 400 meters. The imprecise nature of the weapons that were used make it difficult for an attacking party to distinguish between the military objective of an attack and civilians or civilian objects, which is required to limit the attack’s effects as required by international humanitarian law.  Considering such circumstances, UNAMA finds that it was reasonably foreseeable that an attack against this area, using imprecise weapons, during a religious ceremony would have caused a large number of civilian casualties, with lethal indiscriminate effects.

However, the Afghan security forces do not have the level of training and capability that ISAF did, suggesting a “new era” of civilian casualties from air and artillery strikes may be arriving.  Perhaps this is an inevitable consequence of turning the war over to national Afghan forces.  These are obviously highly controversial issues and can turn local populations against the government.  The bitter media battle between Taliban, civilians, government and NGOs will confuse and complicate analysis of what happened and ultimate culpability.  It also seems unlikely that the Afghan government will be able to produce a clear and impartial assessment of their role because they are not sufficiently competent and impartial.  Deny, denounce and deflect, followed by a late, grudging and partial acknowledgement is the most likely outcome.

It feels as if this aspect of the counter-insurgency campaign has lurched backwards at least ten years.

Taliban announce commencement of Al Khandaq military operations.

April 27, 2018

Summary: a standard Taliban announcement of combat operations for this year, showing a bankruptcy of imagination on many levels

On 25th April, in a now ten-year long tradition, the Taliban officially announced the commencement of their “Spring Offensive”, the symbolic end to what is historically seen as the lull in combat operations through winter and a return to the summer campaigning season.  The statement, in the region of 1,300 words long, claims that religious centres are now being targeted by the US and highlights the legitimacy of the Taliban struggle.  Four main reasons are given for the struggle:

  • The damage and casualties caused by foreign forces
  • Trump’s new strategy is bringing in “thousands of additional foreign forces”
  • US military bases prove there is now US/Kabul government interest in peace
  • Immoral anti-Islamic behaviour is increasing in areas controlled by the US and the Kabul government.

The announcement explains the meaning of the “Al Khandaq” (“The Trench”) operation title.  The defence of Medina by Mohammed in the 7th century was conducted partly by trench works and resulted in the decisive defeat of a coalition army of Arab Bedouin tribes.  The prime targets for 2018 are the US forces, with “internal supporters” – the Kabul regime – as secondary targets.  The announcement exhorts Taliban fighters to operate in complete compliance “with the rules and regulations of the Islamic Emirate” and avoid causing civilian casualties.

Analysis and Outlook

I have been studying these announcements for some years – there have been, to my count, ten of these formal Spring Offensive announcements.  In terms of pure word count, this is the longest one yet.  Last year’s announcement was the shortest since 2009: this 2018 declaration is twice as long as 2017.  I have searched through them each time, trying to look for hints or indicators of policy shifts and new ideas.  They are sometimes evident to a small degree: 2010 was the first time they talked about avoiding civilian casualties, doubtless recognising the negative propaganda this was creating.  In 2011, as a clear anti-talks statement, the High Peace Council was identified as a legitimate target.  In 2012, a “Recruitment Commission” was introduced.  In 2014, the exhortation to continue the fight even though NATO was pulling out showed a concern that Taliban fighters might have a “mission accomplished” moment and go home.  But these announcements have become fairly standard in content.  I am reasonably confident I could write them myself now.  An inspiring title generally references one of Mohammed’s battles.  The inherent contradiction and fate-tempting risk of calling operations “Victory” or “Success” year after year seems to have been recognised.  Naming them after deceased Taliban leaders serves only to highlight the vulnerability of their commanders.  Keeping it in the 7th century is a safe option, filled with inspirational leaders and battles.  Demonstrations of the legitimacy of the cause in the face of indiscriminate violence, oppression and moral corruption come next.  Some references to guerrilla tactics and the priority targets – US and foreigners first, Kabul “puppet” regime second – come next.  In this announcement these are very brief and generic.  Near the end, lip service is paid to the idea that Taliban fighters should pay careful attention to avoidance of civilian casualties: a strong contradiction, given the indiscriminate violence caused by the IEDs and suicide bombings which are the favoured tactics in the towns and cities.

See my comments on Taliban 2017 announcement

See my comments on Taliban 2016 announcement

See my comments on Taliban 2015 announcement

There are a few points to be made about this year’s announcement.  The choice of “The Trench”, clearly invoking a defensive operation against a superior force, is mildly curious.  Does this suggest they are planning to let a coalition army – this time, US-led – exhaust itself attacking Taliban-held districts, or is the choice simply an inspiring victory of the outnumbered against the many?   No reference at all is made to peace talks of any sort – no acknowledgement that President Ghani had made an offer, nothing that could have been inferred “between the lines” to show willingness for dialogue in certain conditions.  No reference is made to the high number of casualties the Taliban have caused through suicide attacks and other bomb attacks.  No reference is made to Islamic State, now their competitors, if not Afghan-wide, but certainly in some provinces and districts in eastern Afghanistan.  The Taliban give the US forces primacy for targeting, yet the US do not have any ground troops engaged in significant combat – and their forces levels (for all the Taliban talk of “thousands of additional foreign forces” coming into Afghanistan), the international military presence is a mere tenth of its peak level in 2011 (140,000 or so).  This is almost entirely Afghan Muslim fighting Afghan Muslim.  But the Taliban seem to need the Americans as the main demon in order to maintain recruitment and fervour.

My overriding sense is that the Taliban are trapped by their own rhetoric and lack of imagination about what to do for the future.  They operate purely as a military campaign, run by a military economy, powered by a propaganda machine and running a form of religious martial law in areas that they claim to control.  The Americans seem blinkered in different ways – trapped by their own logic of training the Afghan Army to be able to do what the Americans were doing in Afghanistan ten years ago – albeit the ANSF are surely going to be generating many more civilian casualties now they have been given exciting new artillery and aircraft.

It is not impossible that talks are ongoing behind the scenes – this has been the case over the last few years.  But, other than Mr Ghani’s commendable and doubtless sincere, efforts to trigger some talks, there looks to be no credible diplomatic structure or reach out from anywhere.  The hints of growing popular protest and demonstration by the people, tired of indiscriminate violence, are cause for encouragement but are very fragile and may well come to nothing.  If there is any notion that the Taliban want to do – or are capable of doing – anything other than fight, then they are keeping it very well hidden.

Afghanistan: Peace in Our Time?

February 28, 2018

Afghanistan: Peace in Our Time?

Summary: Several uncoordinated but interesting peace overtures coming from Taliban, the US, an academic expert and the Afghan government.  It doesn’t necessarily mean anything will happen: January’s spike in terror attacks are still fresh in the mind.  But Barnett Rubin’s calm, clear and intelligent open letter response to the Taliban sets a good example and could help guide the Taliban towards engagement and options for dialogue.  That the Taliban responded almost immediately to Rubin is unprecedented and cause for some encouragement.  Confidence building measures could be sought.  Low-level ceasefires monitored by, for example a joint Taliban/UN/Afghan government and US group, could contribute to this. UPDATE: A different Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, also replied to Barnett Rubin, slightly less positively…. text below 

There has been a flurry of peace-related writings from major parties to the protracted Afghan conflict, including the Afghan Presidency, the US, the Taliban and legendary Afghanistan expert, Barnett Rubin.

On 14 February, the Taliban released a “Letter to the American People”, seemingly an attempt to bypass the US government and appeal directly to the American people in the hope that they will sway US policy.  The letter highlights all the problems the US have created in Afghanistan and the cost in lives and money.

In brief, insisting on prolonging the war in Afghanistan and maintaining American troop presence is neither beneficial for America nor for anyone else, rather it endangers the stability of the entire world. This is irrefutable reality which is only rejected by your arrogant authorities. If you want peaceful dialogue with the Afghans specifically and with the world generally, then make your president and the war-mongering congressmen and Pentagon officials understand this reality and compel them to adopt a rational policy towards Afghanistan!

On 23 February, world-famous Afghanistan expert and former US government negotiator and advisor, Barnett Rubin, recently published a short paper “Theses on peacemaking in Afghanistan: a manifesto”.  It offered a highly articulate tour around the historic and current reasons for Afghanistan remaining beset by intractable conflict.

Given the dependence of all Afghan actors on external assistance, it is impossible for them to reach agreement if their patrons oppose it. Therefore, the starting point must be to build a sufficient international consensus as a basis for any negotiation and devise a mechanism to make a credible commitment to sustain the state into the future.

The difficulty of defining or even imagining an end state that would meet the minimal needs and demands of such a large number of actors (United States, Pakistan, Iran, Russia, China, India, Afghan urban westernized elites, Pashtun nationalists, Afghan Islamists, and non-Pashtun ethnic leaders, for starters) undermines the credibility of any negotiation. Each actor tends to believe that its adversaries have no feasible proposal and are using talks to buy time.

It was slightly disappointing to read only in the sense that it offered little more than “hope” that economic progress offered by the TAPI pipeline and Chinese and Indian investment in and around the region might bring about national and international cooperation.

On 26 February, the Taliban have stated that they are prepared to enter into talks with the United States

The Political Office of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan calls on American officials to talk directly to the Political Office of Islamic Emirate regarding a peaceful solution to the Afghan quandary.

It would help in finding a solution if America accepts the legitimate demands of the Afghan people and forward its own concerns and requests for discussion to the Islamic Emirate through a peaceful channel.

The Islamic Emirate made it clear to the American people and congressmen through an open letter that war is not our choice, rather it has been imposed upon us. For ending the occupation, we want a peaceful resolution to the Afghan issue.

But far more interesting and potentially valuable has been Rubin’s direct response to the Taliban’s “open letter”.

I had been pondering the question: “Why doesn’t anyone respected and credible reply to Taliban open letters?” ever since the Taliban started this process of communication via their website roughly ten years.

Rubin expertly ticks all the right boxes in his response and is very good at acknowledging mistakes on the US side and the missed opportunities.  He is also firm and clear in pointing out Taliban errors without bias.

The flaw in your call for dialogue is that it is addressed only to Americans, not your fellow Afghans. You accuse Afghans opposing you of “committing treason against our nation,” but the government of Afghanistan, corrupt and divided as it may be, is recognized by every nation in the world—not just Washington and its allies. Your dialogue with the U.S. government cannot replace dialogue with that government and the millions of other Afghans who fear your attacks and your return. Trying to exclude them repeats the mistake the U.S. made by excluding you….

Your call for the United States to end the fighting would be more persuasive if you offered to abandon it yourselves. You need not alter your entire position: just change the order of events by challenging the U.S. and Afghan government to agree to a temporary ceasefire before the office formally reopens, regardless of who controls how many districts this week or the next.

 

Surprisingly and encouragingly, the Taliban have responded directly and promptly to Rubin, giving Rubin some credit for the reach out – this from the Twitter account of Abdulqahar Balkhi, one of the accounts generally seen as an official Taliban spokesman:

Great piece by @BRRubin however I would personally like to respond to some (intentional/unintentional) misconceptions. Foremost, I appreciate your recognition that Taliban are not what Kabul propagates, and the deaths & imprisonment as well as policies of leaders are proof

Assertion in early paragraph that peace through dialogue is impossible is flawed b/c #Taliban have asked for dialogue from beginning yet it is US that will not come down from high horse & let go of false pride (colonial mentality).

Wrongly interpreted that #Taliban exclusively seek talks with US rather Taliban demand direct talks with US first due to main source of conflict being occupation. If we agree on ending occupation, talks b/w Afghans with or without international mediation will bear fruit.

US insistence on killing/imprisoning all Taliban cemented fact that supposed Afghan gov has no decision making authority as admitted by Gul Agha/Karzai/others to Taliban seeking amnesty, contradicting own assertion that Taliban underestimate Kabul ability & authority.

Qatar Political Office opening delayed precisely due to contentious issue of naming office & only opened once US agreed it could be called ‘Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan’ so assertion otherwise is false (we have signed documents for proof)

Closure of Political Office by US again proved that US do not care about treaties or promises (sequence began with mass killing of surrendered #Taliban prisoners in 2001) & only used office for domestic popularity contest (prisoner exchange), not for advancing peace

Closure of Political Office by US again proved that US do not care about treaties or promises (sequence began with mass killing of surrendered #Taliban prisoners in 2001) & only used office for domestic popularity contest (prisoner exchange), not for advancing peace

Conclusion – your proposal is well-intentioned but until & unless US talks directly to #Taliban about ending occupation, no meaningful ceasefires or dialogue b/w Afghans can take place b/c US is calling all the shots (puppets cant even remove own governors)!!!

The response shows at least that the Taliban are listening, absorbing and considering engagement. It would be helpful if the dialogue could continue.

It occasionally feels that a peace deal could actually be reached almost unexpectedly.  There is one recurrent and circular argument between the Taliban and the US which runs like this:

Taliban: to achieve peace in Afghanistan the US needs to withdraw

US: The fighting needs to stop before we can withdraw

Although the Taliban appear to resist the idea of ceasefires in this response, local ceasefires or other forms of local collaborative initiatives – initially small scale and temporary – could be offered as confidence building measures.  Create a joint body that includes Taliban/Afghan Govt/UN and US representatives to monitor the ceasefire.  The aim would be in part to monitor a ceasefire but also to develop lines of communication and build confidence in the good intentions of the other party.  Both sides need to save face, both sides need to avoid unhelpful talk of “winning and losing”.

Adding to the sense of “stuff happening”, on 28 February, Ashraf Ghani offered a peace deal to the Taliban that would give them recognition as a political movement and reintegration and protection for Taliban members.  Pahjwok reports today that:

In an expected overture, the national unity government asserted its desire to strike a “truthful and sustainable peace deal” with the Taliban who are ready for reconciliation.

President Ashraf Ghani spoke of his administration’s desire for peace negotiations with the insurgent movement in his remarks to the second meeting of the Kabul process. For their part, the Taliban have offered to launch talks with the United States

A political framework for peace dialogue should be created with a ceasefire and the Taliban recognised as a political group with an official political office, the president suggested. The militant outfit would have to respect the rule of law, he said.

If they promise shunning the insurgency, Taliban prisoners may be freed and their names struck off from international blacklists. Former fighters and refugees could be reintegrated and provided with job opportunities.

Ghani promised his government would ensure facilities and security for the Taliban who joined the peace process.

What does it all mean, if anything?  We have had many false dawns where it comes to talks, or “talks about talks”.  It would be a brave analyst to proclaim this series of dialogues a prologue to peace: recent Taliban terror attacks in January have hardened even more hearts against them and Afghans are increasingly interested in registering and addressing war crimes.  Regrettably, the current US administration appears spectacularly under-resourced for any form of political initiatives in relation to Afghanistan.  The Taliban should be encouraged to engage in any manner of political activities and dialogue.  However, sooner or later, the Taliban will have to be confronted with the notion that, for all their propaganda and claims of controlling a nationwide “jihad”, they are not actually that popular or relevant to a young and forward-looking Afghan populace.  See also the Afghanistan Analyst’s Network’s “manifesto” addressing the need for essential institutional reform needed to improve the chances for dialogue.

Sorry, I appear to have ended on some pessimistic points…

————————————————————————————-

UPDATE:  This additional response from the other Taliban lead spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid is significantly less optimistic – interesting there are two separate and differing responses…

From: Zabihullah Mujahid <zabihullahmujahid@gmail.com>
Subject: Re: My Open Letter to the Taliban
Date: February 28, 2018 at 7:33:30 AM EST
To: Barnett Rubin <brrubin@me.com>
Dear Barnett R. Rubin

Thank you for reaching out to us. We have read your reply however would like to point towards a few crucial points you missed.

– If your country (United States of America) were occupied by us, its land and airspace were usurped and many American citizens were killed in their sleep by our forces every day, it is entirely plausible that you would not have the same views as you hold today, therefore it is hoped you will remain pragmatic.

– Our country has been occupied which has led to an American style supposed Afghan government being imposed upon us. And your view that we talk to them and accept their legitimacy is the same formula adopted by America to win the war.

– You have said that we supposedly killed civilians in our martyrdom attacks. This should give us a pause because a war is raging, most of the civilians are being killed by the operations and bombardments of your forces and even if we were to accept that our operations also cause civilian casualties, then answer us, what has compelled us carry out such attacks? Perhaps you also remember that we lost one and a half million Afghans in our war for independence against the Soviet Union, however we endured all these hardships for the greater cause of attaining freedom from invasion.

– You ask us not miss opportunities. We have not lost opportunities but cannot frame plots as opportunities either. The Kabul Process and other such efforts seek surrender from the Islamic Emirate at a time when the Islamic Emirate is without a doubt a force that has defeated an international arrogant power like America with all its allies and tools at disposal. So do you believe such a proposal is logical?

– You state that the Kabul government should be recognized because it is also recognized by the entire world!!!?

In 2001, the entire world also agreed with, supported and accepted the American invasion of our country, so should we also have accepted the invasion?

Moreover during the Soviet occupation of our country, majority of the world including the United Nations officially accepted and recognized the Kabul regime as legitimate. So would it have been reasonable for the Afghan resistance of the time to follow suit?

– The main issue as it stands is that the entire world probably fears America, however we do not fear America. We have weighed America and have gained tremendous experience from fighting against her. America does not hold the right of determining the nature and type of governments in other countries. If you hold similar views then that is perhaps because you are an American citizen however no free human being can ever allow such audacity and interf erences.

The crux of the matter is, what is the vital concern of America, is it really terrorism?

Or is it extracting the mineral wealth of Afghanistan, imposing a self-styled government, preventing establishment of an Islamic system and pursuing imperial ambitions in the region from this land?

If it is the former, then we are sincerely committed to resolving it. We do not wish to interfere in the affairs of others and neither do we seek conflict with anyone including the United States. Our repeated letters to the American administration, people and congress were for this exact same purpose.

But if it is the later, then understand that this nation is unlike other nations which America has currently subdued, exploited their resources, are pursuing imperial ambitions inside them and are directly interfering in their internal affairs. In such circumstances, we do not care about America, neither do we wa nt to talk nor end resistance nor will we get tired. Then it is up to American analysts like you to keep score of the losses, whom suffers the most and whom loses in the end?

Regards

On Wed, Feb 28, 2018 at 1:48 AM, Barnett Rubin <brrubin@me.com> wrote:

 

 

 

Standard tactics, softest targets…

January 24, 2018

Summary: a terror attack against an NGO in Jalalabad reminds us of the difficulties in protecting soft targets and the absence of talks with the Taliban

Afghan security officers at the scene of the attack in Jalalabad

Ongoing fighting in Jalalabad.  On Wednesday morning, terrorists using small arms, rocket propelled grenades and suicide bombs launched an assault on the Save the Children Compound NGO in Jalalabad.  At least 12 are reported to have been injured although it is believed that around 100 people might actually work in the compound.  Local security forces are attempting to clear the buildings.

Violence in the playground

I hadn’t yet had the time to gather my thoughts on the Taliban attack on the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul.  The tactics of suicide bomb-followed by small arms and grenades-followed by protracted struggle to root out a handful of die-hard fighters-followed by confusion over casualties and the identity of the perpetrators are now long-established.  The assailants could be Taliban, Islamic State or the Haqqani Network (who are generally seen as loyal to the Taliban).  An NGO dedicated to the welfare of children ranks alongside hospitals, schools and universities as the softest of all possible targets.

The Taliban – who certainly have no problem killing some civilians but often distance themselves from the deaths of other civilians – appear officially to have denied involvement in this particular attack:

2h2 hours ago

Islamic State have a strong presence in Nangarhar province.  Criticism of the performance of local security forces in neutralising such attacks is probably technically and tactically justified but still harsh, given the very difficult task with which they are confronted, fighting room to room against fanatics whose express intention is to be carried out feet first.

But, as the Afghanistan Analysts Network bleakly note, Afghanistan and the Taliban are no further forward in any effort to achieve dialogue:

Despite a new offer by the Afghan government through the High Peace Council, there was not much movement toward government-Taleban talks to end the war peacefully in the past year. Both sides continue to engage in general pro-peace rhetoric, while allowing little to happen in practice. Currently, they are bogged down in a dispute over whether the Taleban political office should be in Kabul or Qatar.

Afghan National Army – cannot survive beyond 6 months without US support

January 23, 2018

Summary: President Ghani states that the Afghan army cannot survive more than 6 months without US support

Wasn’t sure if this was an unguarded moment under pressure or a planned insertion into the interview.  Afghan President Ashraf Ghani was interviewed by US CBS News.  Confirming the more or less absolute dependence of the Afghan security forces on the United States, Ghani asserted that:

We will not be able to support our army for six months without US support, and US capabilities

Very much shades of the early 1990s Najibullah regime here, which managed – to the surprise of many – to hold together with Soviet backing.  When the plug was pulled, in terms of finance, training and weapons as the Soviet Union collapsed, the Afghan regime followed swiftly.  The assessment sounds about right and should not come as a surprise.  But the US government, with Trump at the head, seems quite prone to lurches in policy direction, even if currently talking tough about defeating the Taliban…

WASHINGTON: President Ashraf Ghani has said that the Afghan National Army will not last more than six months without US support and the Afghan government will also collapse.

Mr Ghani acknowledged his government’s almost absolute dependence on Washington in an interview to a television show CBS 60 Minutes, broadcast earlier this week.

But Gen John Nicholson, the commander of US forces in Afghanistan, said in the same programme that with America’s new strategy and with increased US pressure on Pak­istan to cooperate, he was certain he could win Washington’s longest war, which was now in its 16th year.

According to a transcript released on Tuesday, a CBS journalist asked the Afghan president to comment on what she had heard from people in Afghanistan: “If the US pulled out, your government would collapse in three days.”

“From the resource perspective, they are absolutely right. We will not be able to support our army for six months without US support, and US capabilities,” President Ghani responded.

In a report titled “Kabul under siege while America’s longest war rages on”, the US news channel noted that “in 16 years, the Afghan war has cost 2,400 American lives and $1 trillion. But with the country’s capital under siege, the end still seems far away.”

“Did you just say that without the US support your army couldn’t last six months?” the journalist, Lara Logan, asked again. “Yes. Because we don’t have the money,” Mr Ghani said.

The US contributes around 90 per cent of Afghanistan’s defence budget and observers in Washington say that in 16 years the US and its allies have only made some moderate gains. They claim that the Taliban still control large chunks of land in the Pashtun belt and the government in Kabul has so far been unable to dislodge them.

In the interview, President Ghani also acknowledged the threatening presence of 21 international terrorist groups in his country, adding that dozens of suicide bombers were also being sent to Afghanistan.

“There are factories producing suicide bombers. We are under siege,” he said. “By terrorising the people, the Taliban have sown deep doubts about the government.”

This campaign of terrorism, he added, brought out “angry protesters in the capital chanting death to Ashraf Ghani”.

“If you can’t secure the capital, how are you going to secure the rest of the country?” the journalist asked. “You tell me. Can you prevent the attack on New York? Can you prevent the attack on London?” Mr Ghani replied.

Unlike President Ghani, Gen Nicholson appeared confident that he could still win the war. Asked if he had everything he needs, the general said: “Yeah, with the new policy I do … this is the end game. This is a policy that can deliver a win.”

Last week US officials said the Pentagon would deploy an estimated 1,000 new combat advisers to Afghanistan and would send additional drones and helicopters.

Published in Dawn, January 18th, 2018

Taliban inflict major loss of life on ANA in Kandahar

October 19, 2017

Summary: A pre-dawn suicide bomber-led attack wipes out an Afghan army unit, killing over 40.  Increasing Taliban confidence and ANA failings are the likely causes.

The Taliban conducted a coordinated and powerful attack on an Afghan military base in the Maiwand district of Kandahar province in the pre-dawn of Thursday 19 October.  Information is still coming in but the Afghan Ministry of Defence has reportedly stated that 43 Afghan soldiers were killed, nine wounded and six unaccounted for.  The attack, including one or two suicide bombings, armed gunmen and captured armoured Humvee cars.  A firefight lasted several hours.  The Afghan army unit was approximately 60 strong and it appears that only two men were unharmed.  Some Taliban fighters were killed, reports suggest nine or ten.

Six Afghan soldiers remain missing after the overnight attack [File: AP Photo]

Comment:

The Afghan army is suffering many casualties and struggles with morale and capability.  In late April 2017, it suffered well in excess of 100 killed (some reports talk of closer to 200) in a single attack led by Taliban suicide bombers against an army base in Balkh province, northern Afghanistan.  That is still the highest loss of military life in one attack since the fall of the Taliban in 2001 and looks to have been due largely to incompetence from the army and skilled planning by the Taliban.[1]

This is another major physical blow for the Afghan security forces, perhaps only surpassed by the Mazar-e Sharif attack, last April.  The Minister of Defence and several high level military commanders resigned as a result. Analysis is likely to focused on the increasing confidence and ability of the Taliban – including their ability to access modern armoured cars almost certainly donated by the US to the Afghan army – and the Afghan army’s weaknesses at protecting its static bases.

Tolo News, 18 Oct 2017: In September alone, 480 Afghan army soldiers and almost 300 police force members were killed.  In most of the attacks that killed these security force members, the Taliban has seized uniforms and military equipment including weapons and vehicles.

There is no obvious evidence that the Afghan army is crumbling: the army is likely to broadly remain in the field and in control of key cities and communication routes.  But the numbers of casualties each year are very high and with little sign they will slacken.  Earlier this month, President Ghani suggested that international forces coul dwithdraw entirely in four years.

Ooooh, look at the pretty colours…

June 21, 2017

Summary: Billions of dollars are spent in Afghanistan, much of it with little oversight or even sensible thinking…

The US government’s Special Inspectorate General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) is dogged and relentless in its tracking down of waste, corruption and poor procurement.  If you want a soul-destroying snapshot of how money is wasted in Afghanistan, just look at the summary here of how the type of camouflage uniforms for the Afghan army were decided.  But first let me summarise the summary:

“…neither DOD nor the Afghan government knows whether the ANA uniform is appropriate to the Afghan environment, or whether it actually hinders their operations by providing a more clearly visible target to the enemy.”

Today, SIGAR released a Special Projects Report on DOD’s procurement of Afghan National Army (ANA) uniforms.

Key Points:

— DOD’s decision to procure ANA uniforms using a proprietary camouflage pattern was not based on an evaluation of its appropriateness for the Afghan environment.

— Procurement costs to the U.S. government were 40–43 percent than similar non-proprietary patterned uniforms used by the Afghan National Police (ANP), which potentially added between $26.65 million and $28.23 million to the costs of the ANA uniform procurements since 2008.

— In 2007, responsible DOD officials stated that they “ran across [HyperStealth’s] web site and the Minister [then Minister of Defense Wardak] liked what he saw. He liked the woodland, urban, and temperate patterns.”

— CSTC-A, in consultation with the Afghan MOD, decided to adopt the camouflage pattern containing a “forest” color scheme for ANA uniforms, despite the fact that forests cover only 2.1 percent of Afghanistan’s total land area.

— Determining the effectiveness of a uniform pattern for a specific environment requires formal testing and evaluation.

— According to a technical paper prepared for the U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Army, the spatial characteristics and color palette of a camouflage pattern should be tailored to the specific environment. Matching a camouflage pattern “with background texture, color, and contrast is essential to all levels of visual processing.”

CSTC-A, however, made the decision to procure 1,364,602 ANA uniforms and 88,010 extra pairs of pants —totaling approximately $94 million—using HyperStealth’s Spec4ce Forest camouflage pattern without conducting any formal testing or evaluation.

— As a result, neither DOD nor the Afghan government knows whether the ANA uniform is appropriate to the Afghan environment, or whether it actually hinders their operations by providing a more clearly visible target to the enemy.

— CSTC-A recommended a sole-source award to HypersStealth but the DOD contracting office believed that, because there were so many available camouflage patterns in the world, a sole-source award would be hard to justify.

— Instead of issuing a sole-source award, DOD issued a local acquisition solicitation that included the requirement that the uniforms use HyperStealth’s proprietary Spec4ce Forest camouflage pattern.

— CSTC-A initially estimated that the new ANA uniform would cost $25–$30 per set. The actual cost ranged from $45.42–$80.39 per set.

— Our analysis found that changing the ANA uniform to a non-proprietary camouflage pattern could save U.S. taxpayers between $68.61 million and $72.21 million over the next 10 years.

— SIGAR suggests that DOD conduct a cost-benefit analysis of the current ANA uniform specification to determine whether there is a more effective alternative, considering both operational environment and cost, available.

So not only incompetence – the Minister likes forest rather than desert tones.  But this costly decision might even be costing the lives of Afghan soldiers.

Image result for Afghanistan ANA and british soldiers helmand

Which is the easier target?

 

Taliban announce 2017 Spring Offensive

April 28, 2017

Summary: The Taliban announce their annual Spring Offensive.  This will see an uptick in attacks as they attempt to wrest more territory from the control of government forces.  This year the Taliban place new emphasis on political and social efforts in areas they consider under their control.  

Taliban in ANA uniform prior to Mazar attack

The Taliban Spring Offensive promises more “insider attacks”

On their official website, the Taliban today announced the commencement of the Spring Offensive for 2017.  The operation is named “Mansouri”, after the Taliban’s leader from 2013-2016 and who was killed in a US drone strike in Pakistan.  The announcement presents the idea of the Taliban now holding control over most of the country and thus developing a political as well as military strategy:

With the help of Allah Almighty and the infinite sacrifices of our Mujahid nation the foreign forces have suffered a historic defeat having been forced to admit that the Mujahideen control more than half of Afghanistan. Hence, keeping the evolving situation in mind, this year’s Mansouri Operations will differ from previous ones in nature and will be conducted with a twin-tracked political and military approach.

Analysis and Outlook

The declaration of a Spring Offensive is now an annual and predictable part of the Taliban’s media playbook.  It does tend to be followed by a few complex and suicide attacks over the coming days and weeks, usually focusing on cities, including the national capital as a good means of attracting media attention.  We may now also see larger attacks against government security positions in the outlying provinces, particularly after their spectacular and deadly attack in Mazar-e Sharif that killed well over hundred Afghan soldiers.  Recently, the Taliban have become emboldened by the idea that they are now starting to control major swathes of territory.  They make some ambitious and implausible claims.  But it remains difficult to sift through what the Taliban and the Government forces do in fact control: this often comes down to who passed through the area last or whose flag is flying in the village police station.

And some reports say that the Afghan government effectively now only controls 60% of Afghan territory, with the Taliban controlling 10% and 30% contested.  This New York Times report, from December 2016, draws on senior US military sources and summarises the difficult situation at the end of 2016:

“Afghanistan’s security crisis is fueling new opportunities for Al Qaeda, the Islamic State and other extremist groups, Afghan and American officials say, voicing concerns that the original American mission in the country — removing its use as a terrorist haven — is at risk.

As intense Taliban offensives have taken large portions of territory out of the Afghan government’s hands, those spaces have become the stage for a resurgence of regional and international militant groups… Gen. Joseph L. Votel, the chief of the United States Central Command, said the Afghan government now controls only about 60 percent of the country, the Taliban hold sway over about 10 percent, and the remainder is contested. Which group or groups fill those voids of increasing ungoverned territory in Afghanistan ‘is something we’ll have to contend with’, he said… Over all, Western and Afghan officials estimate that 40,000 to 45,000 militants are active across Afghanistan. The Taliban are estimated at 30,000 fighters, some of them seasonal. But the rest are foreign militants of different — and often fluid — allegiances, at times competing but mostly on the same side against the Afghan government and its American allies… The immediate existential threat to the Afghan government has been a resurgent Taliban, who officials say have been killing 30 to 50 members of the security forces each day in recent months. The insurgents are directly threatening important provincial capitals and have again made important roadways hazardous or impassable to government forces.”[1]

Other than the attempt to present a formal distinction between political and propaganda efforts in areas under Taliban control and an intention to intensify the battle against international and government forces, the tone and content offers neither anything particularly new or any detailed clues as to intention.   

These operations will involve conventional attacks, guerrilla warfare, complex martyrdom attacks, insider attacks, and use of IEDs to achieve their objectives…

There is a now standard reminder to fighters that they should try and minimise civilian casualties.

the Mujahideen will be required to scrutinize their targets and places so as to minimize civilian casualties paying heed to the principles of necessity and proportionality.

We should expect to see an uptick in Taliban attacks in the coming weeks: they will be keen to press home any perceived advantage against the regime, whether territory controlled, casualties inflicted or government instability.  The lack of a coherent Trump policy regarding Afghanistan probably also gives them a wedge to drive into government stability.  But it also remains possible that the Taliban get caught out by over-confidence.  For the moment, peace talks between protagonists remain a pipe dream – the Great Game continues.

[1] Mashal, M., and Schmitt, E., ‘Afghan Security Crisis Sets Stage for Terrorists’ Resurgence’, The New York Times, 2 Dec. 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/02/world/asia/afghanistan-security-terrorism-taliban.html?_r=0

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