‘OP Mansouri’ gains Momentum in Afghanistan
‘Op Mansouri’ and the Taliban
The end of July saw the beginning of an important phase for ‘Op Mansouri’ of the Taliban in Afghanistan. 21st July saw attacks in Badakhshan[i], Kunduz[ii] and Farah[iii] with both Police and ANSF compounds being directly attacked. These resulted in the deaths of 41 Afghan soldiers and 11 policemen along with a number of them being wounded. In addition 20 policemen also went missing from Tagrab, Badakhshan following the attack[iv]. To top it all, an air strike by the USFOR-A ‘accidently’ killed 11 policemen in Gereshk,[v] Helmand who had just recaptured a Taliban held post.
Thereafter, 23rd July saw 10 attacks where-in Taliban captured Taywara District in Ghor Province[vi], Kohistan District in Faryab Province[vii] and launched attacks in eight more districts of Faryab Province. These were followed by attacks on 24, 25 and 26 July in Kabul[viii], Farah[ix], Khandahar (ANA Base in Khakrez)[x], Nuristan and Paktiya with Taliban capturing Waygal District[xi] and Janikhail District[xii]. Violent clashes between Taliban & ANSF also took place at this time in Baghlan, Helmand and Uruzgan.
Funding for Taliban is also secure as in addition to the poppy cultivation (where a new poppy seed has reportedly been discovered which blooms more quickly)[xiii], Russia has stepped in with its support[xiv] (both in terms of equipment and funds)[xv] while Pakistan’s erstwhile support continues.
Control of Areas in Afghanistan
Though the recent Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) Report to US Congress ascribes control/influence of only 11% area to Taliban (11 Districts under control and 34 Districts under influence out of a total of 407 districts) with 29% area being contested[xvi], the situation presently seems far worse. It looks like Taliban controls or influences much more and is likely to increase its hold further.
Taliban’s aim as enunciated in April this year was to control Helmand, Uruzgan, Zabul, Farah, Faryab, Kunduz and Sar-e-Pul[xvii]. Most of these are on track as can be seen. In addition, Kandahar always remains close to Taliban being its birthplace and it presently controls four and dominates five out of the 18 districts in Kandahar.
State of ANSF and ‘Op Khalid’
The ANSF had laid its aim in ‘Op Khalid’ of launching operations around vulnerable provincial capitals and regaining control or secure districts around them. The main capitals identified by the ANSF were Helmand (Lashkar Gah), Uruzgan (Tarin Kot), Kunduz (Kunduz) & Farah (Farah). Presently both Helmand and Kunduz seem to be the main focus for them.
Internally, they seem to be besieged by a number of demoralizing factors. Primary among these are widespread corruption, poor leadership and a number of personnel being AWOL[xviii] (up to 11% as per some reports). In addition there seem to be inflated reports of recruited strength and ‘Ghost Soldiers’[xix] also filling up the ranks (this may primarily be to absorb the financial aid from the US and other international donors). Some troops are also being diverted towards the eastern districts to support the US operations against the ISIS-K thus affecting overall requirement. To increase the troop level, strength is being generated to Afghanistan Local Police[xx] and building up of National Uprising Forces[xxi] (locals as holding forces) is being done, but these are not as well trained or equipped as the others hence don’t have the same effect.
There have been some successes by the ANSF nevertheless in the past few months. They have been able to successfully repulse attacks on Kunduz in May, recapture Nawa district in Helmand[xxii] (after it was in control of the Taliban for nine months), beat back and recapture a post in Gereshk[xxiii] as well as recapture the ANA post in Khakrez in July while presently keeping the provincial capitals safe. Most of the main successes are being credited to the Special Forces (SF) troops of ANA who are a valuable commodity. Increase in their strength has thus become a main priority.
The recent political crisis facing Afghanistan President, Ashraf Ghani by the forming of the new ‘Mehwar’ party by first Vice President General Abdul Rashid Dostum[xxiv], Balkh Governor and Jamiat-e-Islami Chief Executive Ata Mohammad Noor, Deputy Chief Executive Haji Mohammad Mohaqiq and former NDS Chief Rahmatullah Nabil may also be one of the reasons for lesser interest on the operations of the ANSF.
USFOR-A and US Government Support
The US forces in Afghanistan continue to target the ISIS-K with good results (including killing of the 3rd Emir Abu Sayed)[xxv] but are really not able to stop their operations which are centering around Kabul. The suicide bombers or vehicle based IEDs (VBIEDs) are able to achieve substantial results and thus questions the results-versus-effects of operations by USFOR-A.
The additional forces requested by Gen John Nicholson for Afghanistan seem to be in a limbo with President Trump sending back the file repeatedly even after delegating the issue to DoD[xxvi]. President Trump has also refused sanctioning private contractors in Afghanistan to support the troops. Though President Trump has not reduced the funding but next year may see reduction in this too.
The USFOR-A aims to increase the SF strength of ANA (doubling it in near future) but would need troops, funding and equipment for the same. This is an important facet which in addition to the TAA (train, advise and assist) part with other troops would enhance the self-sufficiency factor of the ANSF.
It seems that unless ANSF gets its act together and along with considerable support from US troops (in both enabled or partnered operations) chooses its operations of ‘fight, hold and disrupt’ correctly it looks in danger of the Taliban capturing some strategic Provincial Capital which will be difficult to dislodge as they had done last year.
There are likely to be many attacks on ANA and Police posts definitely with specific targeting of District/Province heads along with constant pressure being built on Kabul with suicide bombers and VBIEDs.
The main battle finally rests in Lashkar Gah or Kunduz with Taliban preferring Lashkar Gah definitely though other Provinces can’t be ruled out. The ANSF must ensure control of both these areas definitely along with securing important communication routes.