On Friday 12 April, the Taliban announced the beginning of the Spring Offensive in Afghanistan called Operation Fath, or “Victory”. In a statement, the group reinforced their “unbreakable Jihadi determination,” and stated that they had “new tactics, public support, influence inside enemy ranks and advanced weapons.” Townships and urban areas were named as particular targets for the fighting this year in their struggle against U.S. forces in the country. A stated aim was also to encourage Afghan military and police personnel to join forces against the Americans. Since Afghanistan is, according to the announcement, still in the “clutches of foreign occupation”, the Taliban’s Jihad is far from over.
The practice of announcing a “spring offensive” began in 2016 with Operation Omari, and is thought to be a largely symbolic action, as fighting in the country does not abate over the winter months. Before the statement from the Taliban, over 200 lives had been claimed by fighting and bomb attacks in the previous week alone, all while representatives of the insurgency are engaged in various negotiations and peace processes. The Taliban, which currently controls over a half of the country, are currently in discussion with the Americans regarding the withdrawal of U.S. troops. The U.N. has even lifted travel sanctions on 11 senior Taliban leaders for the express purpose of travelling for peace talks, in order to facilitate peaceful resolution. On 19 April, a new round of intra-Afghan talks beings in Qatar, where the Taliban has an office base.
“Mere propaganda” is what a spokesperson at the Afghan Ministry of Defence, Qais Mangal, called this year’s spring offensive. “The Taliban will not reach their vicious goals and their operations will be defeated like previous years.” On Twitter, Mr Khalilzad emphasized that “the Afghan people have clearly voiced their desire for peace.” As the American peace envoy to Afghanistan, he also called the renewed offensive “reckless” and said it was “irresponsible to suggest that an increase in violence is warranted because the government announced a security plan.” This referred to the Afghan government’s Operation Khalid to counter the insurgency, which was announced shortly before this statement from the Taliban.
While the statement may be nothing more than publicity in the ongoing war for Afghan hearts and minds, it nevertheless highlights the fact that violent resistance is a continuing problem. The Taliban, despite currently engaging in guerilla warfare and acts of terrorism, can operate as a legitimate political group if it chooses. As Mr Khalilzad observed, “If the Taliban give up fighting and violence and sever their links with the terrorist groups and turn themselves into a political entity and fight for their cause politically and join the political process, the people of Afghanistan will be ready to accept that.” If the group can act as a political party, it will be recognised as such, and can partake in building a future for Afghanistan. At the moment, its military activities disqualify it from such participation.
What’s clear is that the war in Afghanistan needs serious attention if it is to be resolved. It is the longest war the U.S. has ever been involved in, lasting nearly 18 years, and there are still 14,000 U.S. troops on the ground. And although the cost of the war is mounting into the trillions, it is the people of Afghanistan who suffer the most. Both Taliban and American forces claim that they only attack military targets, but civilian casualties are extremely high. According to United Nations statistics, there were 10,993 deaths recorded last year alone, the majority of which were non-military personnel. It is imperative, for the sake of ordinary Afghan citizens, that peaceful political process be held up as the only viable resolution to this war.
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