Editorial

At war with itself: On Taliban advances in Afghanistan

The attack on a military base in Afghanistan on Friday, in which at least 140 people, mostly unarmed soldiers, died, speaks volumes about the state of security in the war-ravaged country. It was the deadliest attack by the Afghan Taliban since they were ousted from power in 2001. The 209th Army Corps base in Balkh province that was targeted is the army’s northern headquarters, responsible for security in nine of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces. By running over such a fortified structure, the Taliban are effectively challenging the professionalism, resolve and resources of the entire force. Over the last few years, the Taliban had lost two of their topmost leaders. Besides, there were reports of factionalism and infighting within the group after the death of Mullah Omar. Yet, the Taliban made steady and substantial gains in the civil war over the last couple of years, since most American troops withdrew from Afghanistan as part of the drawdown plan. Now the group controls or has influence in more than half the country. In recent years it had carried out multiple attacks on government buildings, including the Parliament building, sending a clear message to the government and its international backers that there is no place in Afghanistan that lies outside the Taliban’s range.

Each time such an attack takes place, the Afghan government issues a statement on terror and vows to continue fighting. But despite these assurances, there is no real progress visible on the ground. Last year alone, more than 6,700 members of the Afghan security forces were killed, the highest since 2001. High casualties destroy the morale of the troops and erode the public’s faith in the country’s institutions, which already have a reputation of being highly corrupt. Kabul’s erratic and sometimes incoherent responses to the Taliban threat also expose its lack of conviction. Its overall security approach, as the latest attacks suggest, is in a shambles. The armed forces are not able to stall the Taliban’s advances. Its political reforms and attempts to reach out to the rural populace get nowhere as the Taliban are expanding their hold in the countryside. Even the attempts to reach a negotiated settlement were counterproductive, given the lack of cooperation from Pakistan and the Taliban’s refusal to make any meaningful compromise. But why would the Taliban compromise at a time when they think they’re making gains in the war? In order to forge a long-term political solution, the Afghan government first needs to alter the balance of power on the ground; and for that it needs international support. The U.S. would do well to help the Afghan security forces craft a credible, sustainable military strategy and provide them more resources and training to take on the Taliban. Theatrics such as dropping the biggest non-nuclear bomb in the mountainous regions of Afghanistan may make headlines, but, as last week’s attack suggests, they hardly deter the militants.


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Printable version | Dec 1, 2021 9:56:45 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/at-war-with-itself/article18195721.ece

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