With US forces largely removed from the battlefield, the Taliban have led a staggering land grabbing offensive that appears to be aimed at forcing the Afghan government to seek peace on insurgent terms or suffer complete military defeat.
The scale and swiftness of the Taliban campaign, as well as the inability of government forces to stem its progress, sidelined any hope that peace talks would resume and lead to a framework for power sharing before the final withdrawal from the government. US Army at the end of August.
The Taliban largely dictate when and where they fight government forces with multi-pronged pushes that authorities are struggling to stop.
Bursting with confidence, they besieged provincial capitals and stormed major border posts.
Experts say it is still highly unlikely that the lightly armed Taliban would have the conventional strength to enter the heavily fortified capital of Kabul, where the Afghan air force and heavy weapons would keep insurgents at bay.
But by stifling money and supplies in Kabul, the Taliban seem more adept at pushing the government to collapse after shaking the morale of security forces in the countryside.
# photo1 “I have the impression that the Taliban always prefer a political path, even if this would be a capitulation for all intents and purposes,” Ibraheem Bahiss, analyst at the International Crisis Group, told AFP.
“If that fails, they want to be able to take the military route as well. “
After earlier touting the potential for a negotiated settlement with the Taliban, U.S. officials have increasingly spoken out about the insurgents forging their own course regardless of the wishes of the international community.
“We have to see a gesture by the Taliban here that they are not just completely determined to achieve military victory,” said US General Kenneth McKenzie, who now oversees the remaining operations in Afghanistan from his headquarters in America.
– Insurgent assault –
In just a matter of weeks, the Taliban have deeply shaken the Afghan security forces, despite nearly two decades of international surveillance and tens of billions of dollars spent.
With US air power largely removed from Afghan skies, the Taliban have captured more than 150 districts in the past two months alone, securing a vast archipelago of security outposts as well as weapons, vehicles and equipment. military.
# photo2 Many districts and bases have fallen without a shot being fired, with the Taliban deploying former tribals to negotiate the surrender of ill-supplied Afghan troops who appear to have lost the will to fight.
“The vulnerability of the security forces to the Taliban came as a surprise, as few expected them to collapse, even partially, so quickly,” said retired Afghan General Atiqullah Amarkhail.
The latest offensive supported a winter assassination campaign that targeted members of civil society, journalists, politicians and air force pilots in an attempt to undermine confidence in Kabul’s ability to secure those who have benefited most from nearly two decades of international development.
Most of these killings have not been claimed, but experts point to the Taliban as the most likely culprit.
“Cities like Kabul are where the Taliban can expect opposition, in this case civil and political,” said an Afghanistan Analyst Network report released earlier this month.
“So preemptively targeting independent-minded ‘public intellectuals’ in the hope of eventually capturing the capital would make military sense. “
Insurgents deny being involved in the killing of civilians, while some killings have been claimed by the jihadist Islamic State.
– Fight for the cities –
Reversing the insurgent momentum will be crucial for the Afghan government, with several months remaining in the annual fighting season before the cold reduces major combat operations.
The Taliban sent mixed messages as to whether they would attack the cities they now besieged, with their leaders publicly swearing to refrain from fighting in urban areas even as their infantrymen unleash deadly assaults on the outskirts of the cities. provincial capitals.
But the range of Taliban positions in most parts of Afghanistan is unprecedented.
One day the insurgents appear to be on the verge of invading a provincial capital in the northwest, and the next day they are at the gates of Kandahar in the south, seizing valuable border posts and dry ports.
The strategy appears to be aimed at achieving multiple goals – depleting the country’s overwhelmed air force and commando units, and depriving Kabul of much-needed income.
It has also cut the central government off from the traditionally anti-Taliban strongholds it relies on.
“The most surprising thing about the Taliban offensive is that it is focused on the north and the west. The Taliban are leading the fight to the doorstep and into the living room of Afghanistan’s power brokers, ”said Bill Roggio, senior researcher at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.
“If warlords and other influential leaders are denied their base of support in the north and west, the Afghan government is lost.
© 2021 AFP