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Generational Dynamics Web Log for 14-Aug-2018
14-Aug-18 World View -- Taliban attack on Ghazni brings America's Afghanistan strategy into question

Web Log - August, 2018

14-Aug-18 World View -- Taliban attack on Ghazni brings America's Afghanistan strategy into question

Afghan army, backed by US, struggles to regain Ghazni after four days

by John J. Xenakis

This morning's key headlines from

Afghan army, backed by US, struggles to regain Ghazni after four days

Afghan troops on patrol around Ghazni City on Sunday (AP)
Afghan troops on patrol around Ghazni City on Sunday (AP)

Afghan army forces have still not fully regained control of Ghazni Proving, four days after they were surprised by an unexpected attack by Taliban militants on Friday. The sophistication and force of this attack has once again brought into question the Nato and American strategy in Afghanistan.

On Friday, Taliban militants conducted a multipronged attack on Ghazni, a city of 270,000 people, and a trading and transit hub strategically located along a major highway in eastern Afghanistan. Afghan government officials say that Taliban militants were hiding in mosques and homes in Ghazni, and were using residents as human shields. They would slip out at night and attack Afghan forces.

As is often the case in Afghanistan, there are suspicions that the Taliban militants had support and help from sympathetic civilian residents of the city. Some Afghans said the assault was not a surprise, and followed months of build-up by militants near checkpoints around the city.

It would not be surprising if a substantial number of civilians supported the Taliban. Many in the civilian population are ethnic Pashtuns, and the Taliban itself consists of radicalized Pashtuns.

The US military was actively involved in supporting the Afghan army. US warplanes delivered two dozen airstrikes, killing more than 140 Taliban fighters, according to the military. U.S. military spokesman Lt. COL Martin O'Donnell downplayed the significance of the situation and summarized it on Monday:

"Ghazni City remains under Afghan government control, and the isolated and disparate Taliban forces remaining in the city do not pose a threat to its collapse as some have claimed. That said, the Taliban's attempts to hide themselves amongst the Afghan populace does pose a threat to the civilian population, who were terrorized and harassed by this ineffective attack and the subsequent execution of innocents, destruction of homes and burning of a market."

However, video released by local TV broadcaster Tolo News showed black smoke rising in the air as buildings burn and Taliban fighters roam freely around the city. As of Tuesday morning, the situation in Ghazni is not yet clear. Military Times and ABC News and AP and Tolo News (Afghanistan)

Taliban attack on Ghazni brings America's Afghanistan strategy into question

The assault on Ghazni City comes after another assault on Farah City in the western part of the country in May. ( "16-May-18 World View -- Taliban launches major military operation in Farah province in Afghanistan")

Taliban activists and the American military have dueling narratives about how to interpret these repeated attacks by Taliban militants.

Over the past months, the Taliban have seized several districts across Afghanistan, staging near-daily attacks on afghan security forces. This proves, according to the Taliban, that they can attack and take control of districts at any time of their choosing.

However, Afghan officials are claiming that this proves that the Taliban are being defeated because, even though they can attack at will, they are unable to hold group the way they used to as recently as 2016.

U.S. military spokesman Lt. COL Martin O'Donnell said:

"Tactically, operationally and strategically, the Taliban achieved nothing with this failed attack except another eye-catching, but inconsequential headline. The fact remains that the Taliban are unable to seize terrain and unable to match the Afghan security forces or our enablement, retreating once directly and decisively engaged."

Arguably, both sides make good points: The Taliban can attack as often as they want, but they can't hold against the Afghan forces.

The problem is that the second part of that statement is true only if the Afghan forces are backed by Nato military logistics and airpower. The brutal attack on Ghazni suggests that without the Nato military, the Afghan forces apparently cannot defeat the Taliban.

The Nato and Afghan government strategy is to use military force to compel the Taliban to negotiate a peace. As I've described in detail many times in the past, a Generational Dynamics analysis proves that's wrong. The Taliban are ethnic Pashtuns that have been radicalized, and they include new generations of young Pashtuns that have come of age since the bloody Afghan civil war in the early 1990s. These young people are seeking revenge against their former enemies in the Northern Alliance, and even if the Taliban leadership tries to negotiate peace, the younger Pashtuns would not be interested.

That's a summary of the analysis that I've been posting for years, but in the last year the situation has become even worse. As ISIS militants in Syria have lost their caliphate in Raqqa and have continued to lose ground, many ISIS militants have been returning to their home countries, whether in Europe, in Russia or in Afghanistan. They're forming a new terrorist network, ISIS-K, or "ISIS Khorasan" ("Wilayah Khorasan") or ISKP, the South Asian branch of ISIS.

ISIS-K has been conducting its own terror attacks in Afghanistan, sometimes cooperating with the Taliban, and at other times fighting against the Taliban. The Taliban, especially the younger generation militants, have no desire for a negotiated peace with the government, but even if they did, the militants in ISIS-K would not. So the Nato plan for Afghanistan has no chance of succeeding.

As I've written in the past, there seems to be another strategy for the American military in Afghanistan. Donald Trump and the military understand that this war cannot be won, but they also understand that war with China and Pakistan is approaching. As war with China and Pakistan approaches, president Trump wants to keep American troops active in Afghanistan, and to continue to maintain several American military bases in Afghanistan, including two air bases in Bagram and Kandahar International Airport. These bases will be valuable in any future war with China. Under these circumstances, having troops in Afghanistan is what matters, whether the Taliban are defeated or not. Asia Times and Long War Journal and Guardian (London)

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(Comments: For reader comments, questions and discussion, see the 14-Aug-18 World View -- Taliban attack on Ghazni brings America's Afghanistan strategy into question thread of the Generational Dynamics forum. Comments may be posted anonymously.) (14-Aug-2018) Permanent Link
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