To defeat the Taliban, the government of Afghanistan needs to implement comprehensive reforms with its security establishment.
One of the prime challenges within the government and institutional framework of Afghanistan over the past 15 years has been improving security and economic well-being of the country. After more than a decade of western intervention and reconstruction, the Afghan Taliban remain potent and capable of striking and inflicting harm on innocent civilian populations. The recently deteriorating security situation demonstrates that the insurgency is still resilient, posing a challenge to Afghan and US objectives. This is partly because of the strategic blunders of the coalition forces born by a lack of a coherent strategy in the fight against Taliban and Al-Qaeda.
From the beginning, the US and allied military strategy against the Taliban was ambiguous. The ostensible major objective behind toppling the Taliban regime was due to their harboring and supporting of the international terrorist group, Al-Qaeda. While the fight against international terrorism began with George W. Bush’s slogan of “you are either with us or against us”, it quickly lost its direction due to real definition of terrorism. Moreover, the lack of a meaningful US strategy in Afghanistan over the years led to a protracted conflict, consuming enormous funds from the US and allied countries coupled with the loss of tens of thousands of human lives. As the war is now reaching 15 years in duration, making it the longest American war in history, it appears that the US and Afghan governments are equally invested towards a political settlement.
This fact is nowhere as obvious as when it comes to negotiation with the Taliban group. The Afghan government, along with its international partners and particularly the United States, are desperately seeking to find a political solution to the ongoing conflict. As the worsening security and severe economic challenges continue unabated, the important question is: Will the Afghan army and rest of the country’s security forces be able to defeat the insurgency on the battlefield? Or perhaps the Taliban will make more advancements and gain further momentum in order to enter the peace process from a position of strength? Whatever the result may be, next summer is going to be critical and will have a huge impact on Afghanistan’s peace and stability. This is because the tactical gains on the battlefields either from the government or the Taliban will be decisive for determining prospects for the negotiation process.
In fact, these are some of the most significant questions that the leaders of the National Unity Government are confronted with at the moment. Although the US lacks a coherent strategy with respect to Afghanistan, to be fair, the primary failures are not the US’s. It is a serious Afghan issue and therefore the responsibility must lie with the Afghans. On the other hand, the failures in Afghanistan are visible from the political to the military and economic fronts. The present Afghan administration is faced with real security challenges and enormous economic stagnation. Despite the various attempts to address the present situation, not many serious efforts have taken place to implement reforms.
This is because of the divided leadership at the national level, as well as poor direction in ministerial and managerial levels across the government. This was also mentioned by the outgoing Resolute Support Commander General John Campbell on his last press conference in Kabul on February 13. According to the General, though the Taliban have not been able to seize and capture any major city or town, the Afghan army and police are still set to face a tough fighting season in the coming weeks and months.
The comments are made by a senior American General who has supervised the training, mentoring and assisting of the Afghan forces in the last two years amid high security tasks in Afghanistan. Furthermore, the announcement has taken place at a time that the Afghan Ministry of Defense and Interior are in serious need of reforms and leadership change. Most importantly, in the face of a resilient Taliban insurgency and growing footprints of Daesh (the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State, or ISIS), these institutions must remain ready and resilient. It is because of these and other challenges that the Afghan security forces must be professionally prepared and capable of confronting the enemy.
However, this can only be achieved through implementing comprehensive reforms at the security sectors sooner than later. Since leadership is all about discipline and ability, therefore more inclusive reforms are necessary to be implemented in terms of building capacity and capability of the Afghan security services. Undoubtedly, the introduction of reforms will have an enormous effect in order to overcome the impending security challenges of the country. To this end, the Afghan Ministry of National Defense and Interior Affairs must devise a coherent strategy to implement leadership reforms at the senior, middle and junior levels of the security establishments. Likewise, the agencies must ensure that the rotation process of units engaged in battles against the Taliban and other extremist groups are properly managed. It is important in order to avoid combat stress and lack of morale of the troops. Certainly, this readiness of security forces would allow the government to make it clear to the Taliban that they can no longer win militarily; and that the only option is to join the political process.