How the Recent Change in Military and Diplomatic Strategy Towards Taliban May Take Things Forward?

The Afghan army has recently implemented a new approach towards eliminating Taliban leaders, which is called “averting aggressive attacks on civilians and in public places.”

“Each member of the Taliban group that emphasizes violence against the Afghan civilians and is an impediment to a peaceful solution and will be eliminated,” said Shaheen 209 Corps in northern Afghanistan, on Saturday December 15 in a statement.

The statement states that the ANSDF are determined to eliminate any member and leader of the Taliban who are focusing on the continuation of the war in Afghanistan and plans for ongoing attacks against the people.

The Afghan Special Forces killed a Taliban commander along with one of his men in an operation in Chemtal district of Balkh province, the Shaheen 209 corps further said.

In the past two weeks, three Taliban shadow governors have been killed in Helmand, Ghor and Paktika provinces by Afghan and American security forces.

NATO senior commanders in the southeast region of Afghanistan also announced the change in the strategy of these forces against insurgents. Brig. Gen. Richard F. Johnson, Resolute Support’s Task Force Southeast Commander said last week at a joint meeting of governors and officials from seven provinces in the southeast region in Paktia that their strategy in suppression of insurgents has changed, and for this reason, their air operations on positions of the insurgents have grown.

Interior Ministry spokesman Najib Danesh emphasizes that “government forces use all means to eliminate barriers in peace and stability.”

Najib Danesh, Interior Ministry spokesperson

Military pressure

Although senior Taliban commanders were targeted regularly in the past by Afghan security forces, the current campaigns are directed and is part of a new strategy to put pressure on the Taliban on the battlefield, while diplomatic efforts to bring the Taliban to negotiating table are also ongoing.

After the withdrawal of NATO forces by the end of 2014, the Taliban have continued to expand their territorial gains. The group’s fighters seized the city of Ghazni in southeastern Afghanistan in August for a few days. The Taliban attack on this strategic city caused heavy casualties from both sides, as the hospitals in the city run out of space for taking more corpses.

However, the Afghan army and coalition forces have intensified their air and ground operations in recent weeks against Taliban commanders. General Scott Miller, who took command of US forces in Afghanistan in September, urged the Afghan government to intensify attacks against the Taliban in order to strengthen their hand in peace talks.

The threat of civilian casualties has increased as airborne attacks have surged, but Afghan security officials say that despite the threat, the Taliban’s field commanders remain at the forefront of attacks as main targets.

The decision to target the Taliban’s field commanders reflects the view that many of them would oppose a peaceful settlement because they believe that such a settlement would jeopardise their revenues from tax collections as well as other revenues such as illegal mining and the production of narcotics.

Afghan officials said that after the death of former Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansur in a US-led drone strike in 2016, Taliban local commanders have increased their control over the revenues they receive in their area. Given that, they would never agree to a settlement.

General Scott Miller, Commander of Resolute Support in Afghanistan

General Scott Miller, who took command of US forces in Afghanistan in September, urged the Afghan government to intensify attacks against the Taliban in order to strengthen its potential stance in peace talks.

Furthermore, Colonel David Butler, a spokesperson for U.S. Forces Afghanistan said that they have increased their supports for targeted and effective attacks against the Taliban, which will provide conditions for peace talks.

” We don’t consider the death of these leaders decisive, unfortunately many more will die until the Taliban decide to stop fighting. The only lasting solution will be a political settlement, ” he said.

Paving the way for negotiations

Over the past two months, the Afghan government has eliminated nearly 15 shadow governors, military commanders, district shadow governors and other senior Taliban leaders as a result of targeted campaigns to eliminate them.

Abdul Manan, the shadow Taliban governor of the strategic province of Helmand and the Taliban’s senior commander in the south, was killed in a joint operation by U.S. and Afghan special forces on December 2.

Two days later, the Taliban shadow governor of Ghor province in central Afghanistan was killed while on a visit to Helmand and on Saturday, the shadow governor of Paktika, on the border with Pakistan, was killed in a raid by Afghan special forces.

Along with the death of Taliban governors in these provinces, a large number of Taliban commanders and district shadow governors have been killed in separate Afghan operations.

Recently, local authorities in Herat province have announced that on Sunday, December 16 in the air strikes of the Afghan army and US forces in the province, Molla Ghulam Sakhi, a key Taliban commander, had been killed, along with four of his men.

Abdul Manan, the shadow Taliban governor of the strategic province of Helmand and the Taliban’s senior commander in the south, was killed in a joint operation by U.S. and Afghan special forces on December 2

Herat governor spokesperson Jailani Farhad told Reporterly that the airstrikes took place at 3:30 pm on Sunday in the Gaudar Sangchal area of Zirekoh district in the province.

Meanwhile, Afghan Interior Ministry said on Saturday that the Taliban’s shadow governor for Faizabad district of Jawzjan, Qari Rasool, was killed along with his four men in an air strike in Chaharbagh village of Faizabad.

Taliban military chief in Helmand province, Taliban district shadow governor for Gilan district of Ghazni province, Taliban shadow governor for Yangi Qala district of Takhar province, Taliban shadow governor  for Dare Suf Payin district of Samangan province, Dawud Lang Taliban deputy shadow governor for Ghazni province, Abdullah Taliban’s Red Unit leader in Ghazni, and Daru Khan One of the senior Taliban commanders for Ghazni province, are among the members and senior commanders of the Taliban, who have been killed by Afghan and American forces in recent months.

“The war-hardened Taliban field commanders are the biggest obstacle to peace efforts because they believe they are winning militarily,” said a senior government official, who spoke to Reuters.

“The plan was designed to eliminate them and pave the way for future talks,” he said.

“Quran and Sword” Strategy

A number of political and security experts insist that as the talks with the Taliban have begun, they have embraced the “Quran and Sword” strategy. According to them, representatives of the Taliban, on the one hand, have been present at the negotiating table to talk about peace, and on the other hand, they have intensified their attacks in parts of Afghanistan.

“The Taliban have Qur’an in one hand and the sword in the other,” Ahmad Saeedi, a political-military expert expressed to Reporterly. The warfare is about both pressure and compromise now. A surge in targeted attacks on Afghan Army commanders implies that. ”

Mr. Saeedi believes that if the Afghan government does not militarily pressurise the Taliban, the Taliban will capture most parts of Afghanistan, and then they will not only refuse to compromise, but they  will also demand the whole government itself.

Ahmad Saeedi, Political-Military expert

Beside these contests in battlefields, in the negotiation arena however, the US and Taliban representatives talked directly on Monday, December 17, with the mediation of Pakistan hosted by United Arab Emirates. The United States has pressed Pakistan to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table.

US President Donald Trump has intensified pressures on Pakistan; as millions of US dollars of aid to Pakistan have been suspended and diplomatic pressure on Islamabad has been doubled. Pakistan also has specific demands for Afghanistan: the presence of India in Afghanistan, the settlement of border disputes, and the fate of the water of Kabul River, are issues that are important for Pakistan in peace talks; demands that are considered illegitimate and spoiling by many Afghan actors

However, on Saturday this week, Kabul hosted a trilateral meeting between Afghanistan, Pakistan and China in which, according to some media sources, the border disputes between Afghanistan and Pakistan were also discussed, and both parties might have reached an agreement on a deal with respect to this issue.

Although this is not the first time that the representatives of the United States and the Taliban are engaging in talks, the experts believe that the meetings will be different this time, because Pakistan and the Taliban are simultaneously under pressure.

“I am convinced that with the pressure that the United States has put on Pakistan, Pakistan may push the Taliban this time,” said Younus Fakur, a political expert. “That’s why I think this meeting is different from previous talks.”

Hamed Ahmadi contributed.

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AliSher Shahir is a reporter for Reporterly and is based in Kabul.

Alisher Shahir

AliSher Shahir is a reporter for Reporterly and is based in Kabul.

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