Is the Taliban Mounting a Resurgence in Afghanistan?

Almost seventeen years since the United States first set foot in Afghanistan, the fragile nation, plagued by government corruption as well as terrorism and insurgency, still faces constant bouts of political and social unrest.  Although the U.S. mounted a robust and deliberate ousting of the Taliban government in Afghanistan immediately following the terror attacks of September 11, the group still managed to maintain the presence of an insurgency and dispersed across both Afghanistan and parts of Pakistan.  Since then, the Taliban has launched attacks and implemented strategies of terrorism against the Afghan government, civilian targets, and U.S. forces within Afghanistan.

The latest development in the complex, dynamic situation includes a seemingly emboldened Taliban that has increased its activity, trying to take advantage of a crippled government.  The apparent resurgence reached a critical apex a few weeks ago when Taliban militants launched a series of attacks across Afghanistan.  This included an attempt to take control of the Afghan city of Ghazni located just south of Kabul.  Government security forces were able to repel the initial attack, but not before Taliban soldiers killed approximately 100 security personnel and another twenty civilians.  However, the attack on Ghazni city was not the only one carried out.

Implementing a sophisticated degree of coordination, the Taliban also launched attacks throughout the rest of the province of Ghazni and surrounding areas.  An additional fifty members of Afghan security forces were killed by Taliban militants in the district of Ajristan.  Furthermore, the insurgent group also carried out assaults in Afghanistan’s northern Baghlan Province against police and army checkpoints as well as against an Afghan Army base in the northern province of Faryab.  These attacks resulted in nearly 150 Afghan Security casualties.  While the Taliban may appear to be increasing the frequency, sophistication, and lethality of their attacks, certain members of the U.S. government and those among the international community are hesitant to call the recent activity a resurgence.

In an article for ABC News written by Luis Martinez, Lieutenant Colonel Martin O’Donnell commented on the wide spread Taliban activity: “They [the Taliban] attack for the purposes of gaining attention and recognition as being stronger than they are at the expense of the Afghan people.  However, they retreat once directly and decisively engaged by Afghan National Defense and Security Forces as they are unable to seize terrain and unable to match us [Afghan, NATO, and U.S. forces] militarily.”  Martinez continues by including the insights of Secretary of Defense James Mattis on the Taliban’s capabilities: “To me, it simply means a continuation of their willingness to put innocent people in harm’s way.  There’s nothing new.  It’s the usual endangering of civilians, part and parcel of what they’ve done for the last 20 years.”

Following the events throughout Gazni and neighboring provinces, Afghanistan’s president, Ashraf Ghani, offered the Taliban a second cease fire since June.  The proposal would also allow the United States to negotiate potential peace talks with the group.  In recent weeks, many analysts believed the Taliban were potentially leaning towards Ghani’s proposal.  However, the group has instead accepted an offer extended by Russia for peace talks in Moscow.  Michael Kugelman, an expert on Afghanistan at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington is quoted in Pamela Constable’s article in The Washington Post voicing his perceptions of the Taliban’s acceptance of Russia’s peace negotiations: “This could be a political ploy by the Taliban to exploit Washington’s poor relations with Russia and pressure it to agree to more generous terms, or they may merely want to see what Russia has to offer.”  The talks are scheduled for some time next month and will not include either the American or Afghan government at the negotiating table.