Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Taliban Northern Offensive Mortally Wounds Ghani Government

All the happy talk emanating from the U.S. military and the Afghan government of Ashraf Ghani that the Taliban have given up on Kunduz City and are drifting into the bush is debunked by an excellent story, "Taliban Gain Advantage in Tug of War in Kunduz," written by Rod Nordland and Najim Rahim. The entire piece should be read, but the last three paragraphs speak directly to the dire situation the Afghan government finds itself in Kunduz:
A senior Afghan military officer blamed a lack of American airstrikes over the past two days for the Taliban advance on Tuesday, in the wake of the American airstrike that destroyed the Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz on Saturday and killed 22 people, mostly hospital staff and patients. 
“The U.S. airstrikes are halted since yesterday evening,” said the officer, who confirmed that the city remains divided between the insurgents and government forces, with some fighting on Tuesday even in the Sare Dawra neighborhood, close to the airport, where the Afghan Army and American Special Operations troops have headquarters. “Until the airstrikes resume, it will be hard to have any progress in the fighting against the Taliban,” he said. 
The senior officer also blamed a lack of coordination among Afghan units. “There are 10 generals from different organs, and they aren’t under the command of one person who should lead the fighting,” the officer said. “This way, it is unlikely for the Afghan security forces to achieve anything so quickly. The fighting might last for months and Kunduz city may not be retaken.”
Residents are streaming out the city, voting with their feet in a display of distrust for the Afghan military and its NATO allies. What makes this all very Tet like is that it is not just Kunduz under siege; it several northern provinces. According to Alissa Rubin reporting yesterday in "Afghan Forces Report Progress in Kunduz as Taliban Press Other Fronts":
With much of the attention still on Kunduz, where fighting continued Monday and where a devastating American airstrike on Saturday deprived the city’s residents of its most important hospital, new fighting was reported near the provincial capital in Faryab, in northwestern Afghanistan. It was the third northern hub to come under Taliban attack in recent days.
The onslaught on the Faryab provincial capital, Maimana, was barely repelled by the Afghan security forces, said the acting governor, Abdul Sattar Barez. He estimated that some 2,000 Taliban fighters had been involved, but that number seemed high, given that the Taliban managed to take Kunduz City last week with an estimated 300 to 400 fighters.
Regardless, the attacking force was said to include insurgent fighters from four nearby provinces as well as from Faryab: Sari Pul, Jawzjan, Badghis and Ghor. The fighting went on for nearly 10 hours as Taliban attacked the city from three directions, Mr. Barez said. He credited the combination of a united Afghan force backed up by Maimana locals as well as air support from the American-led coalition for repelling the attack.
“The reason we managed to push them back was thanks to the Afghan National Security Forces and the people of Faryab who stood against them and stopped them from achieving their ominous goal,” he said. 
“Thanks, too, to NATO for their air support,” he said, referring to the international coalition, adding: “Their jets flew all night in the skies, which demoralized the enemy. If it wasn’t for the NATO air support, we would not have made it.”
Without U.S. air power the Ghani government's days would be significantly limited, as the reported recapture of Kunduz City by the Taliban proves.

The United States Forces in Afghanistan must be trying to work out the protocols for future airstrikes since General John F. Campbell is granting that the rules were broken in the obliteration of the Doctors Without Borders hospital. How an AC-130 gunship can loiter for over 30 minutes blasting to smithereens the only hospital in the region defies understanding, particularly when Doctors Without Borders says it provided GPS coordinates to both the Taliban and the Afghan/U.S. forces, and then alerted the military of its mistake while the attack was in progress.This is a snafu in the same category of the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade during the NATO air war against Yugoslavia. Doctors Without Borders is not going to let this drop quietly; it is calling for an independent investigation under the Geneva Conventions. This is a big, powerful multinational NGO that usually works within the Western imperial system. The attack on the hospital is a war crime if ever there was one.

Before signing off, it is worth one's time to read the lengthy story on Mullah Mansour (Joseph Golstein, "Taliban’s New Leader Strengthens His Hold With Intrigue and Battlefield Victory"), the newly minted leader of the Afghan Taliban riding high now with the success of his northern offensive. What Goldstein's piece brings home, even though it is too reliant on anonymous sources from Afghan intelligence, is the extent to which Mullah Mansour, and hence the Afghan Taliban, is a creature of Pakistan's national security apparatus:
As acting leader of the Taliban over the past few years, he closely kept the secret that Mullah Omar had been dead since 2013. And he wielded that edge powerfully, issuing orders in Mullah Omar’s name, moving against rival Taliban commanders and steadily consolidating power, according to Afghan and Taliban officials. 
He has also benefited from a powerful alliance with the Pakistani military spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence, the original sponsor of the Afghan Taliban insurgency. That relationship, along with a hefty dose of cash payouts to fellow commanders, was a crucial factor in his ability to manage the succession crisis this summer after news of Mullah Omar’s death finally got out, Taliban and Afghan officials said. 
Pakistan’s role in Mullah Mansour’s rise and rule has offered a bit of hope to Afghan and Western officials that Pakistani officials might be persuaded to force the Taliban to accept a peace deal. 
But it has also sometimes been a political liability for Mullah Mansour, embittering some Taliban figures who resent Pakistan’s influence on the leadership and who are not likely to forgive his deception about Mullah Omar’s death. Some alienated commanders have sought a new direction with the Islamic State offshoot that is growing in Afghanistan and Pakistan. 
Mullah Mansour’s biggest mystery to Western and Afghan officials is wrapped up in the question of how he will try to shape Afghanistan’s future now that he has consolidated power: Will he attempt to return the Taliban to power as conquerors, or will he try to turn military victories into a strong hand in peace talks? 
His own words and actions would seem to support either path.
Right now there is no mystery at all. War is working for the Taliban. The Ghani government, already inherently weak, is now mortally wounded.

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