The Taliban Strikes Back
Throughout the last several years, the Syrian crisis and the battle against ISIS in Iraq and Syria have dominated media reporting. Every once in a while though, the masses are graced with news of recent Taliban gains in select districts or casualties amongst Afghan security forces. Unfortunately, as quickly as a story about the Taliban sees the light of day, it is shut out by recent atrocities attributed to the Assad regime or ISIS propaganda. The world should not be fooled though as the Taliban insurgency is alive and well and making steady gains in Afghanistan.
Since NATO ended its military mission in Afghanistan in 2014, the Taliban have made numerous advances throughout the embattled country most notably in the Helmand and Kunduz provinces among many others. According to a Long War Journal report, the Taliban currently control 29 of Afghanistan’s 398 districts in several key provinces. Additionally, the radical insurgent group is contesting another 36 districts. Five provincial capitals are also under persistent threat. Nearly two weeks ago, the Taliban entered Kunduz City, a city they controlled a year ago, but were pushed back. While this may be a small victory for the Afghanis, the Taliban show no signs of stopping.
The Taliban have capitalized on their military successes through a media blitz highlighting various training camps across Afghanistan. Recently, the group released a video entitled ‘Real Men’ where it not only showed off the training camp, but placed itself firmly in the global jihad movement. No longer is the Taliban focused on ‘liberating’ Afghanistan, but rather waging Jihad across the globe.
The military campaign of the Taliban is significant for several reasons. Firstly, the Taliban insurgency is a bold force to be reckoned with. Without a strong NATO presence, the Taliban know that they can operate outside of the shadows and are capable of confronting the Afghan military directly. Secondly, since the Taliban now views itself now more than ever in the global jihad movement, we can expect further recruitment efforts of foreign fighters. Given the numerous theatres of jihad throughout the world though, foreign recruitment may not reach levels seen during the 1980s conflict with the then Soviets. However, the Taliban’s new global posture threatens the dwindling stability of the Afghan government.
Thirdly, the Taliban’s success in key cities not only shows the government’s inability to control populated areas, but also tribal and rural areas. The cornerstone of a successful insurgency is the effective use of rural areas to facilitate recruitment and planning in addition to providing a safe haven. Indeed, the Taliban are adept insurgents. Lastly, if the Taliban continue to inflict heavy losses on weary Afghan forces, a military response may be required from the U.S./NATO forces. While all is not lost for the Afghan Government, the future is indeed bleak.
I would be remiss if I didn’t include an apt Star Wars reference to go with the title. In his training of the young Luke Skywalker, Master Yoda famously stated “Do or do not, there is no try.” With regard to NATO’s role in Afghanistan, this statement could not be more appropriate. As it stands, the U.S. and NATO perform an ‘advise and assist’ role in addition to counter-terrorism operations. If the Taliban continue to make significant advances throughout Afghanistan, NATO cannot afford to ‘try.’ NATO and the United States may have to confront the difficult reality that a stable Afghanistan may require a more robust military strategy from the West.