Perhaps the Taliban have never had it better than this. The spectacular two-day attacks mounted by the Taliban in the heart of Kandahar that paralyzed this political and economic hub and left over 70 people dead and wounded is yet another daring show of force by them. Barely two weeks ago and in another incident, more than 540 Taliban leaders and fighters escaped from Kandahar's central jail through a 350 meter long tunnel dug under the jail compound all the way to a secure area south of the city's prison. That Great Escape of the Taliban from a high security prison in the middle of Kandahar puts even the protagonists of the movie Great Escape from Alcatraz to shame.
The two-day siege of Kandahar, in which the offices of the provincial governor and National Directorate of Security came under fierce attacks, has come at a time when the security forces throughput the city were on high alert following the Great Escape of Taliban from the city's prison. Moreover, Afghan and NATO forces had launched extensive combing operation in and around Kandahar a few months ago and had reportedly cleared large swaths of outlaying districts from Taliban activity. The two-day siege of Kandahar, the first major operation since Taliban's spring offensive started, involved as many as 60 Taliban fighters according to government sources while many of them were the same fighters who had escaped from the Kandahar prison two weeks earlier.
In recent months, a distinct, evolving pattern in the attacks and activities of Taliban especially inside cities and urban centers can be detected. With each passing month, Taliban are becoming much bolder and the attacks they have been mounting have only become more fierce, daring and increasingly sophisticated. The organization and the large scale of the Kandahar attacks shows that the high and middle leadership of the Taliban have focused more attention on organizing large attacks that can effectively terrorize the population in general and display the strength and capabilities of themselves and the fighters that they have under their command.
Taliban are finding increasing conviction that they are the undisputed winners of this war against not only the U.S. but more than 40 other countries who have militarily and financially congregated in Afghanistan. Perhaps, in sermons and after-prayer speeches the Taliban fighters go through before embarking on their missions, they are constantly reminded of the fate of the erstwhile soviet empire in this land and told of the weakness of the government in Kabul. This is enough to give these fighters a surge of Jihadi hormones and make them more determined in pressing ahead with this ten year old war.
The confidence levels of the Taliban fighters and leaders alike is increasing and this has given rise to Taliban and militant activity in those parts of the country which were peaceful until very recently. The commanders of NATO forces in Afghanistan keep saying that the Taliban have significantly lost their operational and fighting capacity on the battlefields owing to sustained military pressure by Afghan and foreign forces. This claim has some measure of truth in it since the command and control structures of Taliban throughout the country have indeed come under immense pressure in recent months. Moreover, many senior and middle-ranking Taliban commanders have been assassinated in a year-long operation by elite teams of Afghan and foreign forces. However, the increase in the confidence levels of Taliban fighters and commanders in recent months has been possible on account of the passive stance of Kabul government towards Taliban and other insurgent groups.
Parallel to the surge of confidence within the ranks of Taliban, there goes the increasing desperation, exasperation and weakness of the government in Kabul. The more the Taliban expand and make their attacks deadlier and spectacular, the more the government in Kabul slips into a world of fantasy and delusion where Taliban are brothers and mere "disaffected villagers". In fact, more than the Taliban's own organizational, logistical or operational capabilities, it is the government's own desperation and incompetence that is helping to fuel the war and provide a never-ending surge of confidence to Taliban, their leaders and paymasters.
From now up until 2014 when the majority of foreign forces will leave Afghanistan as per the agreed plan of departure, the government of Afghanistan can enjoy the safety of a large cushion of security that the foreign forces provide it. The plans for American long term/permanent military bases in Afghanistan are such that the number of stationed American troops in Afghanistan will be at most 30,000; a figure that is way less than the current foreign troops level of 150,000. Therefore, in any likelihood, after 2014, the readiness of Afghan National Security Forces will be the first line of defense against the internal and external threats that are poised by the Taliban and their allies. The state of readiness of the country's security forces is still a matter of great concern. The NATO team tasked with training and preparing the Afghan National Army reports that the desertion rates among the new recruits has once again sharply risen and stands at 30%. Now one out of every three new soldier who joins the army escapes from duty and this has become a major challenge in the way of filling the empty ranks of the army. Quality of the trained cadres is also in serious doubt as the focus on increasing the numbers of soldiers and battalions in recent years has taken away a lot from focusing on training high quality army men and commanders.
As of now, only a limited number of battalions and army units have the high state of readiness of being able to independently plan and execute tactical and strategic operations without any input from foreign forces. A recent report submitted to the U.S. Congress cites this problem as one of the main challenges in the way of transfer of security responsibilities to Afghan forces.
If the current nosedive of the overall conditions in the country continues, the situation might very well reach its tipping point after which return to normalcy will be impossible. It is up to the government and President Karzai in particular to put the disorderly house in order by doing what it takes to stop the military machine of the Taliban and reverse the string of past failures. Of course, the role of the people of Afghanistan in general, civil society, politicians, the Opposition, the Parliament and all those who understand the gravity of the situation is highly critical.