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

The Need for a More Robust War Leadership

With the Taliban set to start launching the group’s spring offensive this year, there are growing concerns over how Afghanistan is going to cope with the Taliban insurgency in 2016. Speaking at a counter terrorism meeting organized by Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process initiative in Kabul, United Nations Special Envoy to Afghanistan, Nicholas Haysom said: “Afghanistan continues to face a difficult security environment, with the presence of both indigenous and foreign terrorist groups”. In the meeting, Afghan Deputy Foreign Minister, Hekmat Khalil Karzai warned that terror threats were on the rise in the region and it would require regional cooperation to resolve them. The warnings over a difficult year ahead is coming at a time when the peace efforts have stalled and the Taliban are expected to announce seasonal offensive.
The authorities at the Ministry of Interior predict rise of security challenges this year; however, insist that the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) are ready to lead aggressive counteroffensive operations against the Taliban. The spokesman of the Ministry of Interior, Sediq Sediqi, said on Sunday April 03, 2016 that the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) would try to take advantage of the rift among the Taliban factions and launch invasive operations against the militants. However, he admitted that there would be a tough fighting season ahead. The officials are talking of plans to launch a far-reaching military offensive to deter the Taliban and counter the group’s spring offensive.
Despite assurances given by the security agencies that ANSF are ready for repelling the upcoming Taliban offensive, the Afghan government needs to do more to plan a robust counterterrorism offensive and mobilize forces and resources required to win the tough battle ahead. Government cannot merely rely on its current approach to the war and the way it has led the counter-insurgency campaign so far. There have been many setbacks in terms of maintaining security and containing the resurgence of the Taliban and other militant groups. The counter-insurgency led by the national unity government has been flawed in many ways. The government needs to heed the calls for improvement of its handling of the security agencies and the campaign against the Taliban.
In 2015, when the ANSF took responsibility of security from NATO, the counterinsurgency operations of the Afghan army and police forces were undermined by shortcomings and limitations such as lack of proper management of the war and thus low coordination and mobility among the security forces. Lack of leadership has been perhaps the biggest factor that has failed the security agencies to organize a robust and efficient counterinsurgency operation against the Taliban. The Afghan government is yet to resolve the gap in leadership of the country’s armed forces while the ANSF are preparing for another bitter season of fighting. Lack of leadership would continue to remain the ANSF’s Achilles heel in the fight against the Taliban in 2016 if the national unity government fails to resolve the stalemate over leadership of the security agencies.
Despite resiliency and bravery of armed forces in 2015, the ANSF suffered a high rate of casualties in the campaign against the militant groups. In recent years, the authorities have stopped releasing monthly briefs revealing the casualties. If the trend of such high casualties of the armed forces continues, it would be potentially be harmful to the morale of the security forces battling the Taliban. The struggling leadership of the ANSF has resulted to flawed counterinsurgency tactics while the Taliban keep shifting war tactics aim to gain more territory and stretch the strength of the Afghan army and police forces.
Analysts and NATO commanders believe that remaining in a defensive position with assigning thousands of troops for guarding vulnerable outposts in the remote areas across the country would not help the ANSF to win the battle on the frontlines. NATO commanders have made several recommendations for improvement of ANSF capabilities in the battle against the Taliban which include removing many of the thousands of checkpoints and outposts in the cities and across the country and mobilizing forces to take the battle to the grounds of the militant groups. NATO also advised broad changes in the mid-level leadership of the army and police forces.
The national unity government has taken concrete measures on implementing some of the recommendations including to bring changes to the senior ranks of command of the army and police forces. However, the government needs to waste no time to fill the vacant positions for the ministers of the security agencies and devise a broad and robust transitional counterinsurgency strategy. The ANSF have some potential advantages which can turn the tide in favor of the security forces if they are backed by strong leadership overseeing the security and defense agencies. Afghanistan’s fledgling air forces now can play a role in providing aerial firepower for the ground forces that desperately need air support from both NATO and the Afghan air force.
Overall, the challenges outweigh the means that are available. Government forces last year combated various militant groups including the Islamic State group and other groups fighting under one or another faction of the Taliban. This year however, many of the smaller militant groups have weakened in the face of fierce attacks of the dominant Taliban faction under Mullah Mansoor and ANSF are to fight against a more powerful and bolder Taliban who are determined for having more gains and taking more grounds. The government needs to act immediately and demonstrate higher political will to lead a more robust counterinsurgency campaign.