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Implications of the Taliban’s 2015 Spring Offensive

Brig. (Retd.) V. Mahalingam is a security affairs analyst.
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  • May 06, 2015

    In a statement released on the Taliban propaganda website Voice of Jihad, the “Leading Council of Islamic Emirate,” better known as the “Quetta Shura”, declared that the Islamic Emirate began its spring offensive with chants of ‘Allah-o-Akbar’ at 5 A.M. on 24 April 2015.1 It also mentioned that the inspirational name of ‘Azm’ – meaning Resolve, Perseverance or Determination – has been given to this offensive.

    The statement went on to note that the main targets of these operations would be the “foreign occupiers especially their permanent military bases, their intelligence and diplomatic centers, officials of the stooge regime (read Afghan Government), their military constellations, especially their intelligence, interior ministry and defense ministry officials and other pernicious individuals.”

    As for the fighting techniques, the statement listed the following: “Martyrdom seeking attacks for the devastation of infidels (read suicide attacks), infiltration attacks among the enemy ranks (read insider attacks where Afghan security forces personnel target their own or Coalition forces), attacking the huge and relatively fortified centers of the enemy with heavy and long-range missiles, confrontational attacks against the already demoralized mercenary forces of the enemy and guerrilla attacks in all major cities.”

    The Offensive

    The Taliban launched its offensive in the northern province of Kunduz in the districts of Imam Sahib, Aliabad, and Qala-i-Zal as well as other areas. The group is said to have advanced to within miles of the provincial capital of Kunduz city. After the Taliban offensive was launched, the head of the provincial council estimated that more than 65 per cent of the province was under Taliban control.2

    After the commencement of the offensive, the Taliban released a video titled “Kunduz and Renewed Resolve” that showed its fighters in control of Afghan security forces’ outposts, captured security personnel, and vehicles and weapons seized during the fighting.

    Associated Press3 quoted Sediq Sediq, the Spokesperson of the Interior Ministry of Afghanistan, as saying that the terrorists are coming from Pakistan and that they include foreign fighters as well – Chechens, Uzbeks and also from other regional countries. Here, we must bear in mind the fact that Pakistan is involved in a major military operation in its tribal areas bordering Afghanistan. Could the Pakistan Army, which is on the lookout for militants in its operation, have failed to notice a large scale movement of militants from its territory to Afghanistan? Is it normal practice in all such military operations to place stops in echelons to prevent militants escaping from an ongoing area of operations?

    The entire world is aware of the ISI’s links with and support to the Afghan Taliban and other militant groups operating in Afghanistan including the Haqqani Network. Some of these terror groups, long considered Pakistan’s strategic assets, were moved out of the area before the commencement of military operations. Is it possible to accept that the rogue elements have moved into Afghanistan without Pakistan’s concurrence? In hindsight, is this the reason why Pakistan has not brought the Taliban to the negotiating table despite assurances that it will happen by mid-March 2015? Is Taliban acting as a proxy for a larger game plan?


    Shifting the centre of gravity of fighting from their traditional strongholds in the South to the northern parts of Afghanistan in this operation is indicative of the Taliban’s shift in focus to other regions that are also in the al Qaeda’s radar. In his first and only Guidelines for Jihad issued on September 14, 2013, Ayman al Zawahiri, the supreme leader of Al Qaeda, had indicated his targets thus: “It is right of our Muslim brothers in the Caucasus to perform Jihad against the Russian aggressor and its allies. It is a right of our brothers in Kashmir to engage in Jihad against the criminal Hindus. It is equally a right of our brothers in Eastern Turkistan (read Xinjiang) to engage in Jihad against the Chinese oppressors.”4

    The Taliban’s possible capture of Kunduz has strategic implications not only for Afghanistan but also the Central Asian Republics, China and Russia. Reports suggest that the Taliban have attacked the Military Base in Imam Sahib District in the proximity of the Amu Darya region. The capture of Kunduz and especially the Military Base ‘Imam Sahib’ will threaten the bridge connecting Tajikistan and Afghanistan across the Panj River in Shir Khan Bandar Afghanistan. This bridge was constructed at a cost of approximately US $40 million by the US Army Corps of Engineers with the aim of opening up lines of communication to Central Asia. The two-lane 672 metre-long and 11.6 metre-wide bridge is one of the main land routes from Afghanistan to China and can well be misused by the Taliban. This raises the risks for China’s Belt and Road initiative in the region.

    Control over Kunduz province would provide a safe haven for the Taliban and open up the gateway for infiltration into Central Asia, Xinjiang and the Caucasus. It would also facilitate cooperation and linkages with the al Qaeda affiliated jihadi groups in these areas. Jihadi elements in Central Asia could be exploited to destabilise the region and to further al Qaeda operations into Xinjiang and the Caucasus, with the ultimate aim of crafting uprisings and chaos and exploiting them for effecting regime change. The ethnic composition of Kunduz, which is home to Uzbeks and Tajiks besides the Pashtuns, would make it easy for the Taliban to sow the seeds of sectarian violence.

    What Next?

    Last year, 5400 Afghan Police and Army personnel were killed in the struggle against the Taliban. But already in the first 15 weeks of 2015, some 4950 personnel have been killed or wounded.5 This points to the reality that the threat and the scenario being crafted by the Pakistan-Taliban nexus is beyond Afghanistan’s capacity to handle. Once Afghanistan gets overwhelmed, the spill over effect of the menace is bound to reach the doorsteps of Central Asian countries. The next logical target would be Russia and China. It is time the world wakes up to the reality and perils of the situation.

    Rather than leaving the situation to a single country to handle, it may be most appropriate to tackle the problem through a grouping of regional players. The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), strengthened by India, Iran and Afghanistan as permanent members, may be the answer. Inducting Pakistan as a member in the SCO for this initiative will only perpetuate treachery and delay peace and stability in the region, besides increasing unimagined and unmanageable risks. The fact that the mighty US was cheated on Osama Bin Laden should open the eyes of the countries that collude with and support Pakistan. There is no logical reason why this perfidy would not be repeated to a different country in the future. Despite 14 long years of military operations in Afghanistan and a huge expenditure and casualties to itself and its allies, the US has been put on the back foot without substantially removing the threat from the world. The reasons thereof are there for the entire world to see.

    To provide legitimacy and moral authority to military operations, UN approval for undertaking military operations and carrying out cross border operations in terrorist safe havens will have to be obtained. Pakistan will have to be made accountable for its collusive acts with terror affiliates. The concept of Good and Bad terrorists will have to be shed by one and all in the larger interests of humanity. Military forces pooled from countries of the affected regions and employed under a unified command may be the answer. The world will have to be prepared for the long haul and accordingly military operations will have to be planned and scheduled for a minimum period of 10 years and extendable by another 10 years. A regional intelligence network to acquire and share intelligence will have to be created. This war against the Taliban cannot be won by air and drone strikes. There is no option but to put boots on the ground to hunt and destroy militants. These operations cannot be done selectively in limited areas. This needs coordinated operations in the entire region including across borders. The world will have to come together to deny resources and weapons to non-state actors. While a certain amount of violence will have to be accepted in such operations, ensuring the safety of innocent civilians would be necessary to acquire local support, which is vital for success in such operations.

    Will the world see the logic and act?

    Commissioned in the Madras Regiment, Brigadier (Retired) V. Mahalingam is a defence analyst.

    Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the IDSA or of the Government of India