The Afghan army may not be capable of combating Islamic terrorism on its own

by JAKUB GORSKI March 14, 2017

On March 8th, four Islamic State terrorists attacked a military hospital in Kabul killing over 30 people and wounding over 50. The group included two suicide bombers who detonated upon entering the hospital. The attack lasted several hours and it was not until mid-afternoon that Afghan forces were able to begin clean-up operations.

The IS attack on a military hospital, which is located in Kabul's heavily guarded diplomatic center and near two civilian hospitals, shows that the Afghan army will likely be unable to defeat the Islamic terrorists alone in the foreseeable future.

IS began operating in Afghanistan in 2014 when members of Pakistan and Afghan Taliban began pledging allegiance to the organization. This occurred the same year that the U.S. and NATO officially ended the ISAF combat operations in the country.

The Islamic State has successfully carried out attacks on politicians, sectarian demonstrators, and foreign consulates. They have also been in constant conflict with the Taliban whose members have been carrying out their own terrorist attacks.

Since NATO combat operations ended the number of attacks has risen. Most of these attacks have been perpetrated by the Taliban. The jihadists have gone so far as to attack NATO military bases still in the country, with one such attack at the Bagram air-base last year killing 4 soldiers.

The NATO troops that were attacked in Bagram were part of "Resolute Support." The alliances new Afghanistan mission, provides security assistance and training to Afghan forces. The mission suffers from endemic problems within the country's armed forces however. This is most visible in problems with the military supply chain where corrupt practices have left soldiers with little to no access to water, food, or ammunition.

The corruption within the Afghan army has made it difficult to supply the army with the necessary equipment and hindered combat operations to the point where U.S. troops had to be deployed.

In the Helmand province the fight against the Taliban has been stymied by corruption among high ranking Afghan commanders. The corruption made it difficult to supply troops and led to desertions. U.S. responded to the developments in Helmand by sending around 300 Marines to help the Afghans fight back the jihadists in January, 2017.

This may not be enough because as of November 2016 Taliban controlled much of the Afghan countryside while the Afghan army is holding onto the cities. The USFOR-A (The U.S. army command in Afghanistan) report from August, 2016 the Taliban controls only 8 of the country's 407 districts downplays the groups influence in rural areas and portrays only the best-case scenario.

Additionally, the Taliban was able to launch assaults on Afghan cities like Kunduz and cut off all roads to Maidan Wardak (a provincial capital near Kabul) in November, 2016 further showing the group's ability to project their influence.

To keep Afghanistan from completely falling apart U.S. troops would probably have to be redeployed into combat missions in the near future. The U.S. troop surge from 2009 to 2012 saw American forces defeat the Taliban in their strongholds of Helmand and Kandahar while making the country more secure.

Given the success of the Afghan surge a similar mission could be launched, but this time it would likely have to be followed by restructuring the Afghan army and government. Since corruption permeates all levels of government and the military replacing just a few politicians and generals will not be enough. The problem is so endemic that the structure will likely have to be rebuilt from the ground-up.

This could take time, would face heavy opposition from the local population and would likely lack much political support in the United States., if Afghanistan is to have a military capable of suppressing the Taliban and maintain control of the country the entire institution needs substantial rebuilding..

Jakub Gorski writes for the Center for Security Policy


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