US Defense Secretary, Ashton Carter, paid a surprise visit to Afghanistan on Friday and discussed Afghanistan’s security conditions with Afghan security officials. Mr. Carter said the purpose of the trip was to review security conditions in Afghanistan and assess ways for the US to help Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). During his visit, US Defense Secretary met with Masoom Stanikzai, Afghanistan’s acting defense minister. Speaking at a joint press conference with Afghan acting minister of defense, Carter said that next year will be a challenging year for ANSF, as the militant groups would try to find a foothold in the country. However, he assured that the United States and the Afghan government would continue to fight terrorists. US Defense Secretary’s visit to Afghanistan comes at a time when a bloody year of Taliban campaign is concluding and the Taliban is going to prepare for another year of fighting.
2015 was a challenging year for Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). ANSF managed to repulse Taliban’s offensives in many parts of the country. However, there were numerous security setbacks on parts of Afghan army and police forces as well as the leadership of the war by the Afghan government. Taliban insurgency this year was the most audacious since the fall of the group’s regime in 2001. The Taliban managed to launch large-scale attacks on government and public institutions as well as civilians and non-state targets across the country. In the very beginning of the fighting season, the militants orchestrated the most complicated offensive in the northern parts of the country. Later, the Taliban managed to capture the northern city of Kunduz. This was the group’s biggest military achievement against Afghan government since the fall the Taliban regime. Although, ANSF managed to retake the city with the help of US-led Resolute Support Mission forces in the country.
As 2015 is closing to its end, there is continued fighting between ANSF and the various militant groups across the country. Afghan forces fought numerous militant groups this year. This was while they received very limited direct military help from the US-led NATO forces, as the coalition has ending its combat mission in Afghanistan. While the US and NATO role in the Afghan conflict were getting shrunk, ANSF faced new enormous security threats from amalgamates of militant groups, most particularly the Islamic State group. The Islamic State came into prominence in some parts of Afghanistan in 2015, and will remain a long-term threat for Afghanistan’s long-term security and stability. Recently, the top US commander in Afghanistan warned of Islamic State militants’ attempts to establish a regional base in the country.
The visit by the US defense chief is coming at a crucial time when the two countries need to overhaul the anti-insurgency strategy as the militant groups are preparing for the next year offensive. It is crucial for both the government of Afghanistan and the United States to ensure the Taliban’s offensives in the seasonal fighting are repulsed and their post-2015 insurgency contained. Any peace process in Afghanistan would only work if the Afghan government and its international backers manage to defeat the Taliban largely through military means. Afghanistan and the United States need to boost cooperation and agree on comprehensive post-NATO strategy for fighting the Taliban. The Afghan government forces will be able to tackle the insurgency if they receive sufficient funding and military equipment from the United State and its partner countries.
The US is continuing to play a key role in equipping and training ANSF. However, due to the nature of the country’s current involvement in Afghanistan, it would be insufficient if the level of US support to ANSF remain at its current level. However, the review of US presence in Afghanistan beyond 2016 and the pace of the country’s exit from the Afghan conflict which saw thousands of US forces staying in Afghanistan after 2016 was a right development at a crucial time. Given the current level of US involvement in Afghanistan, the future of the anti-insurgency efforts of the Afghan government and its international backers is unsustainable. Both the United States and the Afghan government need to redraw the two countries’ future military partnership for dealing a possible prolonged insurgency.
The upcoming years of the anti-insurgency would be difficult for the Afghan government forces. The Commander of Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan, General John Campbell, recently warned that foreign fighters from Syria and Iraq are joining Daesh militants in Afghanistan. This is while the Taliban are preparing for a dual fight against the government in Kabul and the emerging Islamic State group. While in Kabul on Friday, US defense chief said, “I expect in the next year further fighting to be hard too, the reason that the minister and I are meeting here today is to make sure that next year and every year thereafter the Afghan forces will get stronger and stronger”.
There would be a prolonged and bitter insurgency ahead of Afghanistan. The Afghan government needs to prepare for such a battle and the US would inevitably continue to support ANSF to overcome the upcoming security threats. Both Kabul and Washington need to fight the Taliban from a position of strength. For this to happen, Afghanistan and the United States need to further enhance the bilateral security partnership.