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Friday, October 9, 2015

How serious is the most recent resurgence of the Taliban?

Link: Taliban forces making gains in Kunduz.

In the last few weeks, the Taliban have demonstrated the ability to rise from the ashes once again.  Just a few years past, many thought that the Taliban had become just a footnote in Afghan history.  The nation was at peace, and the Afghan people seemed to embrace the idea of a more open, modern society.  Satellite dishes popped up everywhere, including outside of the capital city, and internet cafes could be found on just about every corner in Kabul.  Most impressive was the school attendance statistics, with boys and girls attending classes all over the country.  The freedom with which young Afghans embraced education, both grade school and secondary, was an indication that he continued presence of NATO and U.S. military forces was providing a strong sense of security.  But insidious organizations like the Taliban, ISIS, and Al-Qaida, never really go away.  They will always find another avenue of anger, disappointment and rage to tap into and use to their advantage.  In Afghanistan, the Taliban has always directed their recruitment efforts at the young make section of the population.  Many young men in Afghanistan have difficult lives and not much hope for a better future.  The Taliban blames this on the pervading influence of western culture, and exhorts their target audience to return to Islam, with its familiar traditions and promises of eternal life, scores of virgins, and whatever else is included in the brochure.  Another strong appeal for young Afghan men is the Taliban strict interpretation of the Quran in its instruction regarding women.  The idea of a totally subservient, uneducated wife, always waiting at home and never leaving the house without a burqa, is appealing.  Not to mention that in Taliban society, a woman is not allowed to disagree with her husband.  Beatings are common, and on the occurrence of "accidental" death, no one is prosecuted.  The Taliban has been beaten before and re-emerged, as we are seeing again today.  The ability to always appeal to the same particular common denominators guarantees that they will always have a certain percentage of the population who are willing to drink the Taliban Kool-Aid.

Following the successful September 28 offensive against Kunduz city, the Taliban have increased operational activity all throughout northern Afghanistan.  The initial display of strength has been troubling to NATO and U.S. military officials currently serving in Afghanistan.  The attempt to invest Kunduz city was expected, but the Taliban's ability to conduct large offensive operations in other provinces was not anticipated.  All intelligence had pointed to a resurgence in Taliban influence and numbers, but the Taliban is demonstrating an offensive capacity, including weapons and supplies, that was unknown before the week of September 28th.  It appears that the intel folks will have to review their assessment.  Interestingly, some concern is already being expressed regarding the defense of the capital Kabul.  A quick glance at Iraq reveals a similar scenario.  Iraq has Ramadi, Afghanistan has Kunduz; both the extremists and the government are willing to expend great resources to gain full control of this particular city.  In the last year or so, concern has been raised regarding the threat that ISIS poses to Baghdad.  With ISIS able to conduct operations in Diyala Province to the east of Baghdad, Salah al-Din to the north and Anbar to the west, Iraq's capital city is indeed in a difficult position, although ISIS' ability to actually lay siege to such a large city is in question.  Kabul is also under threat, but just how long it will take the Taliban to reach that point is unknown.  The Taliban will be just as interested in taking Kabul as ISIS is in occupying Baghdad because for many average Afghans the news that Kabul is under the control of the Taliban is all they would need to fall back into the extremist footstep.  Due to predictable Taliban infighting, the Afghan government does have some time to prepare its Armed Forces for a counter-offensive in the north, probably focusing on the recapture of Kunduz.  As far as the Taliban are concerned, Mullah Akthar Mansour is still consolidating his power base by establishing a presence in Badakhshan, Takhar and Bakhlan Provinces.  No doubt the current offensives in Jowzjan, Faryab, and Farah Provinces were also part of that effort.   

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