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Taliban announce 2019 Spring Offensive

April 13, 2019

Summary: Reprising the theme of “victory”, the Taliban announce the commencement of their Spring Offensive.  The obligation for jihad is restated, as is the need for avoiding civilian casualties.  There is no mention of peace talks or concessions of any sort.  A key objective is to gain the defection of Afghan military personnel.

Background

On 12 April the Taliban announced the commencement of their Spring offensive for 2019.  The operation is called “Al-Fath”, meaning victory or success.  In a 771 word document posted on the Taliban website praises their eighteen-year struggle which they present in the tradition of the fight against the British Empire and the Soviet Union.  The statement emphasises that the “jihadi obligation” has not finished: large areas of the country “have been freed from the enemy” but foreign forces still exert much military and political control.  The Afghan government’s own “Spring Offensive” – “Khalid military operations”, which was announced a couple of weeks prior to the Taliban’s announcement is referenced.

The statement makes some specific points:

  • The coordinated offensive is intended to eradicate occupation, “cleanse” the homeland and establish an “Islamic system”
  • Taliban fighters “Mujahideen” must be obedient, follow the jihadi rulebook and the orders of superiors
  • The Mujahideen have experience, new tactics, public support, “influence inside enemy ranks” and “advanced weapons”
  • Protecting the lives of fellow country and “welfare projects” is important
  • A key goal is “peeling away of countrymen serving in the military ranks of army, police and militias”

Analysis and Outlook

There are some interesting points here.

The title of this year’s operation is a repeat from 2010: according to my translations, in 2009 the operations were titled “Nasrat” (Victory) and in 2010 it was “Al-Faath” (Success).  But it was clearly not going to be a successful long-term media/propaganda gambit to call every year’s operation some version of “Mission Accomplished”.  Subsequent annual operations were named after battles from early Islamic history or, more recently, after Taliban leaders.  It is certainly possible that the Taliban now genuinely believe that some form of victory is achievable this year.  Might this year see attempts at larger, bolder operations to “clinch the deal”, with the inherent risks of over-reach?  It begs the question of where to go for the title of the 2020 operations.

There are no references to peace talks and no hint of a concession or gesture.  But peace talks between governments and insurgents are common periods to see an upsurge in fighting as each side strives to gain additional bargaining chips.  The need to avoid civilian casualties is an annual theme – the Taliban are clearly stung by, for example, UN attributions of civilian deaths to the Taliban.  The stressed need for obedience and “sincerity and pure intentions” might suggest fear of Taliban foot soldiers fraternising after last year’s brief ceasefire.

There are two expressions which caught my eye.  “Islamic system” in the context of what is to be established after the occupation has been removed.  This expression occurs five times in this statement.  It has occurred only once in only four or five previous statements of the eleven that I have analysed.  This might be an effort to tie in with their concept of negotiations with the US and the Afghan government.  Conversely, I may be over-analysing.  The second expression was “cleansed” or “cleansing”, as in “cleansing our Muslim homeland from invasion and corruption.”  It occurs three times here.  It occurred three times in the 2017 statement in the same sort of context.  It occurs only once in three other statements.  I don’t know if this means anything.

Finally, the statement explicitly notes the importance of encouraging defections from within the ranks of the Afghan army, police and militias, which the statement describes as “peeling away”.

We should expect a noticeable uptick in the tempo of violence as a result of the announcement: likely there will be a “spectacular” or two – suicide-bomb driven coordinated mass casualty events.  The Taliban may attempt to shy away from civilian casualties – perhaps focusing on military and political targets – and they have had some recent success in inflicting large casualties against the army and the police.

A Rand study “How insurgencies end” some years back suggested that a key indicator of “winning” or “losing” was an increase in the rate of defections from one side to the other.  We shall see how the Taliban fare in their efforts to tip the balance, but they, like the Afghan government and people are likely very aware that a new and probably volatile period is being reached.

My previous thoughts as follows:

Taliban announce 2018 Spring Offensive

Taliban announce 2017 Spring Offensive

Taliban announce 2016 Spring Offensive

Taliban announce 2015 Spring Offensive

 

Summary of Taliban Spring Offensive announcements, 2008 – 2019

Year Date Title of operation Word Count Comments/significant changes
2019 12 April “Al-Faath” (Success) 771 Repetition of 2010 operation title.  Emphasis on getting defections from government troops.  Afghan govt launched own Spring Offensive, “Khalid” in March.  No mention of peace talks
2018 25 April “Al Khandaq” (“Trench”, after Mohammed’s defence of Medina from an Arab coalition army in the 7th c.) 1275 Primary target are US (increasing troops and Trump strategy referenced), “internal supporters” secondary. Anti-Islamic behaviour – alcohol, obscenity, “licentious movies”. Avoid civilian casualties. Pure military talk, nothing on peace talks
2017 28 April “Mansouri” (after deceased leader, died 2016) 610 No significant change – presents the idea of the Taliban controlling much of the country- Political and military spheres of Taliban activity referenced. Need to avoid civilian casualties
2016 12 April “Omari” (after deceased leader, Mullah Omar) 772 No significant change in style or content from 2015 but less detail.  Repeats date anniversary link to battle of Yarmouk
2015 24 April “Azm” (Resolve) 1060 No significant changes, linked to anniversary of battle of Yarmouk
2014 12 May “Khaibar” (Battle of Khaibar, year 629) 933 Jihad “extra efforts” even if only small numbers of US troops remain
2013 27 April “Khalid bin Waleed” (military commander of Mohammad) 814 Very similar to 2012 statement
2012 2 May “Al-Farooq” (He who knows truth from falsehood) 806 Establishes “Recruitment Commission” to encourage government defections
2011 30 April “Badar” (Battle of Badar) 737 Reference to High Peace Council as a legitimate target
2010 8 May “Al-Faath” (Success) 996 Detailed announcement: reference to minimising civilian casualties
2009 29 April “Nasrat” (Victory) 307 Issued by Islamic Emirate
2008 25 March “Ibrat” (Lesson) 321 Issued by Mullah Berader
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