Afghanistan in 2015
Summary: In 2015, Afghan government forces and the Taliban will continue to do battle, dialogue between protagonists will be limited. There will be be no significant strategic shift in power.
After some fairly low-key downsizing and closing of numerous bases across Afghanistan through 2014, the international military force levels have now receded to around 10,000 predominantly US soldiers. Perhaps another 2,000 or so will come from other nations such as the UK – which has established an officer training school – and Germany. At its peak, in 2011, ISAF comprised 140,000 soldiers. Activities for these now residual forces will revolve around supporting the Afghan National Army to continue to develop its capabilities and take the fight to the Taliban: force protection of US bases, training, advice, air support, intelligence another military capability “enablers”. For the moment we are highly unlikely to see US ground operations of the sort we have become used to from Helmand COIN “heyday”, although of course, US political, diplomatic and military targets will still be popular with the Taliban.
At the risk of tempting fate, I don’t expect any significant strategic shift in the balance of power between the Taliban-led insurgency on one hand and the international community-supported Afghan government on the other through 2015. This doesn’t mean that nothing will happen however. I expect the combat between ANA and Taliban to continue, as both sides appear willing and able to contest the battle for the periphery – the provinces and districts where government control is weak. The Taliban will be unlikely to take and hold significant territory – and certainly not any major cities. This will put a lot of stresses and strains of the Afghan government and its security forces. The Economist suggests that the Taliban have not secured much political capital in the last year. The insurgency certainly seems to have done little in the way of advancing any political agenda that might weaken the regime or bring them a sympathetic ear from international or neighbouring parties. I expect this blunt and unimaginative approach – terrorist and assassination attacks together with opportunist assaults on the periphery – to continue in 2015. I still feel that activities to engage the Taliban in credible dialogue will be weak and unlikely to bring much reward in 2015.
An interview with the new president, Ashraf Ghani, suggests he is keen to pursue the idea of retaining US military support beyond 2016, the date at which President Barack Obama is currently expected to pull out the remaining US military presence. Two years will give a plausible guide as to the prospects for the country. Barack Obama is likely to remain attracted to the idea of pulling out the last of the fighting forces as a parting legacy shot as he leaves office in 2016. But, even if the US withdrew combat troops, a host of political, financial and military advisors and trainers, together with the all-important financial backing, can continue to support President Ghani indefinitely.
All change but no change?