Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Saturday, October 20th, 2018

US’s Shift of Approach to the Afghan Conflict

The Islamic State group is going to remain a key challenge in the upcoming years for the Afghan National Security Forces who already have been engaged in a bloody battle with the Taliban. The Islamic State group came to prominence in eastern Afghanistan in 2015, and is pursuing ambitious goals for the so-called Khorasan province of the group’s state. The rise of the Islamic State group has further compounded the security deterioration in Afghanistan. In an attempt to curb the newly emerging militant group, the US has reportedly authorized its forces in Afghanistan to carry out operations against the Islamic State group in the country. This is while the US had ended its combat mission in Afghanistan at the end of 2014 and the current role of its troops in Afghanistan were to advise and assist Afghan forces in the campaign against the insurgent groups.
According to US officials, the authorization form the White House is meant that American troops stationed in Afghanistan could operate against any groups who threatens interests of the United States. The authorization comes months after Gen. John Campbell, US commander in Afghanistan, warned of the Islamic State’s efforts to establish a regional base for the group in Afghanistan. The commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan also had recently said that he would ask US President Barack Obama to maintain the highest number of US troops currently serving as part of the Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan.
The recent White House authorization of US troops to carry out operations against the Islamic State group in Afghanistan is in fact a comeback for the US military in the war efforts against a newly emerging threat in Afghanistan. While the US was gradually disengaging from the conflict in Afghanistan, it was a low-tuned shift of policy from the US, allowing its troops to remain engaged in combat missions in the country, along with providing support to the Afghan security forces. Earlier, the government forces battling the Taliban in Kunduz province were backed by US aerial firepower, which proved crucial for repelling the Taliban offensive. In another front, as the Afghan forces were battling to repulse the Taliban offensive in Helmand province, British and US forces provided crucial support for the Afghan forces to repel the Taliban offensive.
These cases of engagement of US and NATO troops in combat roles in Afghanistan suggest the inevitability of the NATO-led Resolute Support Mission to do more than what is defined as non-combat role in the ongoing conflict in the country. The US finds itself in an inevitable position for dislodging the Islamic State in Afghanistan. Gen. Campbell’s consideration of keeping level of troops as high as possible indicate growing concerns of US military commanders over the rise of the Islamic State group in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Despite the common beliefs that the Islamic State has no ground of influence in Afghanistan, the group is adapt at recruiting disgruntled Taliban members and attract those extremist elements who are disillusioned with the Taliban. The Islamic State would remain a potential danger for the Afghanistan-Pakistan region as it focuses on attracting disgruntled members of the Taliban and using horrific war methods that are popular to vast majority of the jihadists.
The United States need to prop up the government in Kabul until Afghanistan develops sufficient defense capacity in the fight against the militant groups. The US and its allies in NATO can help Afghanistan survive against the more complicated and heightened Taliban and IS offensives by providing sustained support for the coming years. Afghanistan still has a long way to have a fully functional air force to provide crucial airpower for the ground forces engaged in fighting with the Taliban and the Islamic State. Until then, Afghan forces will remain relying on aerial supports from the Resolute Support Mission. Therefore, it is crucially important for the Afghan forces to be provided with limited but forceful aerial support from the Resolute Support mission.
On the other hand, Afghanistan needs to develop capabilities of its own air force. The US has stepped up efforts to train personnel of the Afghan fledgling air force and equip it with more warplanes. The national unity government has been actively pursuing international support for boosting the anti-insurgency campaign by strengthening Afghanistan’s air force. It has been seeking support of the US and other allies such as India to further develop Afghanistan’s air force. The recent assistances from India and the US will have impacts for the next year battle against the Taliban. It would boost air dominance as well as morale of the government forces in the fight against the insurgent groups.
The prospect of the war for the coming years is uncertain. Despite the ongoing peace efforts, increase of violence in the coming years is highly likely. The Afghan government needs to be prepared for a heightened conflict. The shift of approach by the US in providing more robust support for Afghan forces is promising. The Afghan government should do more to persuade the US and NATO to step up supporting the Afghan forces in the battle against the insurgency.