Written by Konstantin Strigunov; Originally appeared at VPK; Translated by AlexD exclusively for SouthFront
The situation in Afghanistan, increasingly more strained since the beginning of August, remains tense. And it does not look like a simple deviation from the “standard violence” in the war-torn Islamic Republic.
On August 10, the Taliban attacked Ghazni, and it took four days for the Afghan military and the Americans (their radar station is located in the city) to recapture the occupied quarters. The total number of casualties in the fighting is estimated between 200 and 250 people. Taliban troops carried out successful attacks in the northern provinces of Faryab, Baghlan and Tahar. A suicide bomber blew himself up and others in Kabul in the Dasht-e-Barchi district, with the result of 48 killed in the Mawoud Academy (according to other sources, 34) and 67 injured, mostly students.
Within the day on August 15, at least 70 representatives of the Afghan law enforcement agencies were killed, which became an abysmal record in the long war.
On August 16 government troops came under attack in the Anjir district in Kandahar, the Taliban strike, which was aimed at the Americans, was repelled only with the help of the aviation. The next day, there was a major clash in the province of Farah in the west of the country. The security forces and the Taliban suffered serious losses.
As shown by seventeen years since the American invasion of Afghanistan, it was not possible to defeat the Taliban. At the peak of its strength in 2011, the ISAF, the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force consisted of 132 thousand people. Plus mercenaries from various PMCs, Afghan soldiers and officers, intelligence officers and the IRA police. But even then the defeat of the Taliban did not occur, only the area under their control decreased.
After the reduction of American troops, and it was the backbone and the majority of the ISAF, in 2014 under the Barak Obama Administration, the Taliban began to regain the lost positions and now, according to some estimates, about 70 percent of the territory of the IRA, in varying degrees, is the fiefdom of this movement. For example, residents of many settlements formally subordinate to the authorities in Kabul actually pay taxes to the Taliban.
The United States failed to crush the Taliban. Moreover, this problem is not on the shoulders of the Army, intelligence agencies or the IRA police. The United States presence in Afghanistan is due mainly through the special operations forces stationed there, CIA agents and military instructors from the Pentagon. In addition, PMCs operate in the country. However, the low level of training and organisation of the security forces subordinated to Kabul, their apparently insufficient high morale and the presence of the Taliban’s extensive intelligence network suggests that there was no adequate replacement for the ISAF in Afghanistan.
Islamabad is offended
And yet, what is the reason for the sharp activation of the Taliban militants and other terrorist groups in the IRA?
Pajvok Agency sources at the Afghan National Security Agency reported that they had evidence of Pakistani Intelligence (ISI) involvement in the organisation of the attack on Ghazni, located about 100 kilometres from Kabul. It is alleged that this was an attempt to undermine the ceasefire agreement reached.
According to Afghan intelligence services, ISI contributed to the formation of four extremist groups, consisting of Lashkar-i-Taïba (Army of God), a major terrorist group based in Pakistan, and the so-called Haqqani network, an ally of the Taliban. It was planned to capture not only the city, but also the entire province of Ghazni, But, the representative of the Taliban Zabihullah Mujahid categorically denied the participation of foreign fighters in the operation.
Still, the answer to the above question should be sought not in Afghanistan but in neighbouring Pakistan. It is known that for many years this country has been an important part of the Pentagon logistics, through which the main routes of supplying the US military contingent to the IRA pass. Since 2002, Islamabad has received assistance from Washington in the amount of $33 billion, including the programme “Foreign Military Financing” (FMF) and the “Coalition Support Fund” (CFS). The bulk of the money was allocated to the fight against terrorism and was made available to the leaders of the Pakistani Armed Forces and intelligence. Of course, it is impossible to establish proper control over the targeted spending of the sums allocated for a good cause, taking into account the specifics of the work of these structures and the level of corruption in Pakistan. It is logical to assume that the American grievances to Islamabad are connected not only with accusations of harbouring terrorists (which is undoubtedly true), but also with suspicion of theft of funds. It is entirely possible that one of the sources of funding for extremist movements was the American financial aid, which the White House recently stopped providing.
In this case, it becomes clear why the Taliban, together with representatives of other terrorist organisations, carried out a series of powerful, coordinated attacks on the positions of the Afghan security forces in such a short period of time. After all, the attackers have achieved success, the position of Kabul significantly deteriorated. It would have been in the same position as Damascus three years ago, surrounded by terrorist enclaves, supported from abroad. Such a turn of events would strengthen the Pakistani position, and the attack itself gave a signal to Washington that refusing to help Islamabad, it made an enormous mistake.
Actors of Instability
A significant contribution to the destabilisation of Afghanistan is made by the local ISIS vilayet, which is banned in Russia. Its representatives are hostile to all other extremist organisations. The nationally oriented Taliban and the cosmopolitan Caliphate are incompatible projects. In addition, there are religious contradictions between them.
However, probably the more important factor of discord is control over the production and traffic of drugs. The Taliban have been building into this system for many years, which is why it has a powerful resource. ISIS is trying to oust the Taliban and thereby expand its influence in Afghanistan and in the central Asian region as a whole.
There is also information that ISIS militants were supported by systemic actors; for example, evacuating their wards from the combat zone or providing them with direct military assistance. So, the retired general of the Afghanistan Air Force Atiqullah Amarkhel in 2017 claimed that the helicopters that supported ISIS against the Taliban, belonged to the United States.
Such statements are not without reason; reports of cooperation between the Americans and ISIS came out already in 2014-2015. Suffice it to recall the testimony of the head of the National Security Committee of Iraq Hakem al-Zemeli, who said that the authorities in Baghdad received intelligence reports, according to which transport aircraft land on the territory controlled by the ISIS, and behind the transportation are the US and UK intelligence services. There is a lot of other evidence confirming Washington’s direct support for terrorists around the world. Americans and, probably, the Afghan authorities benefit from using ISIS for their own purposes, including in the confrontation with the Taliban.
We must not forget that the Taliban itself is not monolithic, because it consists of several groups. First, the top tier of the Taliban, consider the fight against Kabul hopeless, but not on board with ISIS. The Pakistani ISI controls the second. The third, the militants who actually sided with ISIS as a more promising project.
It should be noted that the transfer of ISIS to the Khorasan vilayet, which include Afghanistan and Pakistan, is confirmed by analysis of ISIS propaganda resources on the Internet. According to the research of the Combating Terrorism Center of the Military Academy at West Point, the ISIS branches of this vilayet show growing activity in the media space.
The strengthening of ISIS presence in the military, social, financial, economic, cultural and information spheres of Afghanistan is bearing fruit, adding to the ranks of terrorists at the expense of the Taliban, ordinary Afghans, etc. All this contributes to the pitting of groups among themselves, which is in Washington’s interests, since it allows the US to endlessly use the theme of the fight against terrorism to induce instability for their own purposes.
Apparently, the Americans will not be able to inflict a military defeat on the Taliban, but there are prerequisites for creating conditions under which it will not be able to take control of the entire country. In this context, there is talk by representatives of the US military intelligence community about the low efficiency of US troops in Afghanistan. In particular, Eric Prince, founder of the Blackwater PMC, “famous” for the killings of Iraqi civilians in 2007, remarked about this.
In an interview with Fox News he said: “America needs a reliable and effective programme on the way forward. Now in Afghanistan there are 15 thousand American soldiers and 30 thousand mercenaries, but we cannot do anything. We have already recommended a much smaller scale and more unusual approach, which essentially repeats the methods that were used after September 11, to use a small but very fast and agile brigade under the leadership of the CIA and do without a large-scale conventional strategy”.
But the result of the American fight against the Taliban raises doubts about the effectiveness of this approach. Were the Taliban defeated during the operations that the Americans carried out after September 11 or later?
Although it is called a terrorist organisation, the Taliban still have strong support among the population and many tribes. No, even a highly professional team of specialists is not able to radically change this state of affairs. What can be achieved is to guide the process in the right direction, including through the elimination of unwanted field commanders.
It is noteworthy that Prince mentions the CIA and, perhaps, lobbying for the interests of Langley. For this, it is not a sin to use a series of powerful attacks by the Taliban and other militants. Also, Prince’s statement may be part of a business plan to promote in the media the idea of replacing the current contingent of American troops in Afghanistan with PMCs, which, according to NBC, Donald Trump is interested in. Then contracts, and therefore, significant resources will get through private military companies, interests that are in part for the US intelligence community represented by Prince.
Finally, it is possible that the activation of extremists in Afghanistan is designed to change Trump’s approach to the protracted war, taking into account the President’s tendency to minimise losses and shift the financing of the adventures initiated by previous administrations onto the shoulders of satellites or private entities. In this case, the probability of accepting Prince’s offer increases.
In general, there is no doubt that even with the current occupant of the White House, the Americans will not leave Afghanistan, which is in the centre of a strategic crossroads. Control in one form or another over this country allows influencing the processes taking place in China, Central Asia, Russia, Iran, Pakistan and even India.
A Multi-Pronged Plan
To delve into the question, the essence of the American actions will become clearer. The suspension of reduction of aid to Islamabad is a punishment not only for supporting terrorist groups and corruption, but also for strengthening relations with China, which together with Pakistan counteracts the growing influence of India in Central Asia, including Afghanistan.
Behind the scenes supporting ISIS, Washington is trying not only to use it in the game against the Taliban. Pitting against each other ISIS and the Taliban, it simultaneously destabilises the situation in the vast region through the activation of terrorists in Pakistan to undermine the strategic projects of China in this country that generates a flow of refugees to Iran, and provokes extremism in the Central Asian underbelly of Russia, which is extremely dangerous for us.
There is no doubt that the presence of Americans in Afghanistan, no matter in what form, contributes to the chaos in Central Asia. No talk about the emergence of a “terrorist superpower” in the case of the US withdrawal from the IRA should be misleading. In itself, the American presence in this country creates all conditions for further degradation of the situation, makes it impossible to negotiate between the Taliban leadership and Kabul, provokes an escalation of violence, directly or indirectly contributes to the preservation of huge drug production
The change of the US military to the US PMCs will affect the intra-departmental layouts of the overseas military intelligence community, but the stratagem of weakening systemic opponents through the creation and maintenance of zones of instability around them will not disappear. It is in Russia’s interest to facilitate the expulsion of the Americans from Afghanistan, for which it is necessary to enlist greater support from other countries interested in stabilising the region, such as China. On the other hand, Russia’s military involvement in Afghanistan should not be allowed, the solution of any tasks in this direction should be carried out only by someone else’s hands. The feasible provision of political, diplomatic, logistical and intelligence assistance, yes, but no more. Finally, it may make sense to bet more than just on the government of Kabul.