Awaiting the “Spring Offensive”?
By Tim Foxley
Summary: The Spring Offensive announcement is an annual set-piece propaganda creation from the Taliban which gives clues as to their military intent for the year. It should be due soon.
In a larger piece about how much damage the Taliban managed to inflict upon the Afghan government and international forces in March, the Taliban commented briefly upon this year’s “Spring Offensive”:
“As the spring season has set in, the trenches of Jihad once again became warm. Last year, the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan started the spring operations with name of ‘Al-Farooq’ which had substantial achievements. Though the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan has not assigned any name to its fresh spring season operation, still heavy financial and corporeal losses have been inflicted on the crusade invaders and their mercenaries as the weather is becoming warm day by day.”
It has been customary for a few years now, for the Taliban to assign a name to the increase in combat activities permitted by the improvement in weather after winter that many now call the “Spring Offensive”. This happens somewhere at the end of April and the beginning of May. The term “Spring Offensive” itself has been a source of debate – some have seen it as a myth in the sense that a slow increase in activities from Spring to summer doesn’t justify the term in a real military sense. I felt that the Taliban adopted the term having noted that the international media and ISAF were using it when describing likely Taliban actions and decided to make it their own. Perhaps a minor propaganda victory gifted to the Taliban. The name of the Spring Offensive, which changes each year, has generally been associated with a significant event in Islamic history, like a military victory. I wrote about the 2012 announcement here and 2011 here (Taleban announce Spring Operations, 3 May 11). It is helpful to analyse variations in tone, style, content and length.
I have been expecting some form of official statement to introduce the new operation to come soon. It normally comes with a set of exhortations to the jihadis, with a list of “viable targets” for them to attack. In 2012, the key points were thus:
- the pre-amble recalls the struggle thus far against the “foreign invaders”,
- it then explains the choice of al Farooq as the name for 2012’s operations,
- it identifies targets and timings for this year’s offensive
- finally, it appeals to “all those associated with the puppet administration” to change sides
I still think this announcement will come. But in this statement, it seems to imply a decision not to assign a name to the operation. This would be a minor surprise and I am not really sure why this has happened. Perhaps the Taliban felt that there was limited propaganda value in the process (although I don’t think their ability to critically appraise their propaganda efforts are particularly strong). Perhaps they concluded that it diminished the idea of the “all-year round efforts” of their fighters, that they would like to draw attention to the notion that the insurgency makes no distinction between the seasons in terms of its desire to take the fight to the enemy. It might be simply that they have not yet decided upon a name for their Spring 2013 fighting season.
But it would be a departure for them not to declare an offensive at all. The dynamics of this year’s fighting might be significantly different – ISAF mainly confined to base and the bulk of the fghting now between Muslims. The New York Times notes that ISAF is no longer planning to give out combat statistics, but ANSO, an organisation in Afghanistan concerned wth the safety and security of NGOs operating in the country, reportedly notes that the first quarter of 2013 has seen an increase of 47% on the same period last year:
There were 2,331 attacks by armed opposition groups in the first quarter, compared with 1,581 in the same period last year, an increase of 47 percent, the statistics show.
“We assess that the current re-escalation trend will be preserved throughout the entire season and that 2013 is set to become the second most violent year after 2011,” said Tomas Muzik, the director of the NGO office.
One of my well-worn themes – this year, information will be harder to come by.