June 19, 2018
IntelBrief: U.S. Troubles Continue in Afghanistan
The Eid ceasefire in Afghanistan lasted only three days and brought a rare period of relative calm to this country that has seen almost continual violence for nearly 39 years. Hundreds of Taliban fighters who have stayed out of the cities and towns under government control ventured into these areas and mingled and ate with their countrymen. This included police and military personnel against whom the Taliban have waged a relentless and bloody war since losing political power in 2001. The ceasefire was portrayed as a good thing by all, highlighting that both ‘sides’ were still one people. The Afghan government offered to extend the ceasefire past the Eid holiday period, hoping to build some momentum towards peace. The Taliban, however, flatly rejected the offer, saying it would resume targeting ‘foreign invaders and their internal supporters.’
The prime ‘foreign invader,’ the United States government, has spent almost 17 years in Afghanistan. No matter how effective an outreach program is, or how well-intended is its aid and support, the U.S. is still a foreign military operating inside Afghanistan, and this taints every action in which it engages. This reality is rarely openly acknowledged, but it is a significant hinderance to peace in Afghanistan. The Taliban’s language was deliberate; it was not resuming its fight against the Afghan people but rather against a foreign invader. Its rejection of the extended ceasefire supported this language, set against the backdrop of Afghan insurgents embracing Afghan police officers during Eid celebrations.
U.S. military‘ surges’ are intended to buy time for the Afghan government to counter the military gains and to win hearts and minds by developing an alternative narrative to the one presented by the Taliban. However, the increase in a visible U.S. military presence—along with the increase in fighting and civilian casualties—more than outweighs the temporary successes of taking or retaking Taliban-controlled areas. The harder the U.S. tries to make military gains, the worse the political situation becomes for the government in Kabul.
Adding to the difficulty is that the so-called Islamic State has established an operational capacity in the country that is distinct from the Taliban. Two suicide bombings in Nangahar Province during the ceasefire are thought to have been carried out by the Islamic State. The Islamic State has nowhere near the overt or tacit local support that the Taliban has, but it doesn’t need that support; it is merely focused on upending the status quo. The Islamic State’s presence in Afghanistan means the U.S. will have to fight a counterterrorism campaign against the Islamic State while fighting a counterinsurgency campaign against the Taliban, all the while being seen as a foreign invader. Since 2001, the U.S. has been in the position of attempting to support the Afghan central government so it can withstand internal and external pressures – even while that very support leads many to see the government as illegitimate and nothing more than a U.S. puppet.
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