Taliban in Afghanistan have regained Kandahar, Afghanistan’s second largest city after Kabul. The fall of Kandahar to Taliban after two decades since they last held it, while added significant strategic advantage to the Taliban, it also means so much to the group because of its history and what it means to them. Kandahar was their headquarters back in 2001 when they held control over most of Afghanistan and were bombed in the aftermath of 9/11 by the US. Hence, the fall of Kandahar is the Taliban getting back to their 2001 headquarters from where they projected power across Afghanistan during their “golden days” prior to 9/11.
Taliban have been capturing Afghan provinces in what appears to be ‘blitzkrieg’ similar to Adolf Hitler’s World War II military strategy of swiftly conquering strategic territories of the adversary. In the past few days, Taliban have captured many provinces including Kunar, Paktia, Paktika, Herat, Ghazni, Kandahar and now Mazar-i-Sharif. With the fall of Mazar-i-Sharif, that served as the last bastion of Ghani government in the North, Taliban stand just two steps away from capturing the Afghan capital. Before entering into besieged Kabul, the Taliban would eye on capturing Jalalabad which is strategically very important as it connects to Kabul to the West via highways and Pakistan’s Peshawar to the East, located just 65 km away from the Torkham border crossing with Pakistan. Jalalabad is a significantly important city in terms of social and trade activity.
the fall of Kandahar is the Taliban getting back to their 2001 headquarters from where they projected power across Afghanistan during their “golden days” prior to 9/11.
Looking at how the Ghani government’s forces have performed in the battlefield, when put to test deprived of partner US boots on the ground, the Afghan National Army (ANA) has turned out to be surprisingly weak. Kabul administration and Washington, both anticipated Taliban’s gains and had assessed that after these gains, though Taliban would become even more stronger, some kind of dialogue will have to take place since a stalemate would likely persist. However, persistent US assessments have turned out to be hyperbolic and far-fetched. The on-ground situation was very different and it very well appears that US failed to read it well despite having boots on ground for two decades.
The US overrated and overestimated both the capability and resolve of the Afghan National Army. It completely overlooked the psychological factors playing critical role in the conflict. Not only the ANA troops remained incapable of waging an effective counter-insurgency based grand-strategy despite all the US training, assistance and equipment or facilities, they also suffered from a low morale. The recent gains of the Taliban are a testament to low morale of Ghani’s troops vis-a-vis a resurgent Taliban who engaged in talks with the US directly, insisting on not including Ghani’s government that they never recognised. The Taliban are also ideologically committed to their cause. They are religiously motivated and believe that they are fighting for an Islamic system in the country, hence their fallen fighters would be ‘martyrs’. They are fearlessly pursuing the resurgence en-route to Kabul. On the other hand, the ANA troops faced with a low-morale and lack of clarity or puprose of war, have appeared too hesitant to walk even a mile, let alone an extra mile in getting their job done.
The recent gains of the Taliban are a testament to low morale of Ghani’s troops vis-a-vis a resurgent Taliban who engaged in talks with the US directly
US President Biden’s recent statement reflects anguish towards Ghani government as he blamed Afghan military for its incapability and lack of will. He stated, “One more year, or five more years, of U.S. military presence would not have made a difference if the Afghan military cannot or will not hold its own country.” Biden also called Afghanistan’s situation as “another country’s civil conflict” where American presence is “unacceptable” to him. For key officials in the Afghan government, the only sigh of relief in the entire statement is the American acknowledgement of their role in US war efforts in Afghanistan and its willingness to safely evacuate of key Afghan people along with US and allied officials and personnel prior to a Taliban assault on Kabul. Earlier, US government instructed its officials located in Kabul to annihilate confidential files, data and equipment so that the Taliban would not get hold of it in the event of Kabul’s fall. The US is anticipating fall of Kabul already and is therefore making all the arrangements to ensure safety of all its nationals.
Over the years, Ashraf Ghani has wielded power in Afghanistan as a person, spent a lot on projecting himself as one of the best leaders Afghanistan ever had and on portrayal of his image as the saviour of Afghanistan. However, he failed to check rampant and unbridled corruption that continued to consume the polity and state from within. Ghani remained focused on projecting to the US, his credentials as being “the man” to achieve shared objectives in the US war in Afghanistan, but he failed to instill infidelity in his troops and the generals that led them.
Over the years, Ashraf Ghani has wielded power in Afghanistan as a person, spent a lot on projecting himself as one of the best leaders Afghanistan ever had
Instead of working on a mechanism to improve the synergy of the democratic institutions that could prevent the state structure from collapse and make execution of Ghani’s policy smoother in his bid to contain if not eradicate the Taliban, Ghani’s government kept banking on foreign investments especially those that came from the US and India in the name of reconstruction. which of course were for fulfilling the strategic purposes of the two states under Ghani’s government. As for his democratic credentials, he failed to organise free and fair elections and although managed to win presidency again, the entire election became controversial as his rival Abdullah Abdullah who finished close, also declared himself the winner and alleged Ghani’s government for rigging.
An important factor that both Washington and Kabul missed, was the local support that the Taliban have been enjoying across various parts in Afghanistan. Ghani and US kept considering Taliban nothing but a rag-tag militia group that Ghani would eventually be able to defeat with Afghan nation’s resolve in a US-supported counter-insurgency campaign. However, Ghani failed to realise that the Afghan nation he claimed to lead was split on ethnic, political and religious grounds so much and that the Taliban enjoyed support even in the cities that his government controlled with confidence. This became evident in Taliban’s recent advancements in a blitzkrieg that would have been impossible had the locals turned against them and vowed to defend their territories with support of the ANA. When the Afghan army is surrendering and retreating without putting up a fight and its officers are flying in choppers to safer locations, it is now evident that it was naive to expect Taliban facing any real resistance from the locals. Hence, major cities kept falling like a house of cards.
Ghani’s government kept banking on foreign investments especially those that came from the US and India in the name of reconstruction. which of course were for fulfilling the strategic purposes of the two states under Ghani’s government
Ghani government was counting on the local Afghan warlords that had pledged support to his government, as if they had vowed for their support in their infidelity to Ghani or the democratic credentials he represented or projected. The warlords, a massive majority of them, have always pursued power and influence and are not nationally or religiously committed to any cause. This miscalculation also became evident when the Taliban easily managed to lure them away, making them surrender along with their troops. Only infidelity could make these warlords fight till the last bullet against the Taliban, which most of them never had and had only pledged to Ghani for political benefits that are now fast-withering with US giving a cold shoulder to Ghani after its withdrawal. Taliban have been knocking at the gates of the warlords and offering them amnesty, making them surrender. This was written on the wall for those who could read it, perhaps Ghani could but he did not want to, and the US could not, thanks to Ghani’s awesome projection stunts.
The question is not if Kabul would fall to the Taliban in the current scenario anymore, rather it is when will Kabul fall, given the swift advance of the Taliban forces that are now equipped with aerial support as they are flying choppers too. Kabul is besieged already and Taliban are camped just kilometers away.
Whether Taliban would spare Kabul march if Ghani resigns and a door to transitional interim government including Taliban opens? It looks unlikely that the Taliban would leave Kabul power-structure intact when they have always claimed that their fight is against the foreign forces as well as the political system they have imposed upon Afghanistan. If Ghani persists in his obstinacy and does not resign despite all the pressure, then the fall of Kabul is not months away, given the Taliban blitzkrieg. Even if his resignation comes in the days ahead, it is unlikely that Taliban would settle on negotiating from a position of power when they would control all major cities and a sizeable majority of the Afghan provinces. The Taliban are an ideological group and hence, are likely to continue their assault until Kabul falls.
About The Author
Abubakar Farooqui is the brains behind Rationale-47. He Studied International Relations at Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad. His areas of interest include National Security of Pakistan and International Politics, particularly of Afghanistan and Middle East. He tweets @AbubakarTweets
The views expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect or represent the views of Rationale-47.