By Drew Berquist
Despite fifteen years of efforts in Afghanistan and numerous victories by the U.S. led coalition, the war-torn country is again in rapid decline. While several reasons for the regression exist, the United States’ unwillingness to finish the task being one of them, perhaps the most critical point of failure at this juncture is President Ashraf Ghani and his band of Pashtun partners.
During his reign, the government and its constituents have been divided in epic fashion – a bold statement for a region vehemently divided by ethnicity – and the Taliban have concurrently seized large swaths of territory throughout the country. An OpsLens source and senior Afghan government official stated that the Taliban controlled as much as fifty percent of the country, a dramatic spike after the U.S. successfully ousted the group from power, forcing them on the run throughout the region. However, as the conflict with ISIS in Iraq and Syria has catapulted to the front of the line and the American public has grown tired of the very necessary fight in Afghanistan, the level of support from policy makers in Washington has dwindled.
…the country will return to its status as a terrorist wonderland where inspiring, training and developing new tranches of leadership will be all the more possible and eventually bite America once again.
According to the senior official, the situation has deteriorated so much, that President Ghani is no longer allowing Afghan journalists into contested or Taliban controlled areas in order to shield the public from the bitter truth, their country is falling back into the hands of radical enemies. Furthermore, corruption continues to run wild and troops are being inadequately supplied to hold off the Taliban in key regions. Just last week the Ministry of Defense in Kabul sent 9 million rounds of ammunition to Helmand Province to help fight the encroaching Taliban, but the delivery never arrived leaving the soldiers with empty or partially filled magazines. “The ammunition likely found its way to Pakistan,” said the senior official. “These things happen on a daily basis,” he continued.
The vast majority of Taliban concentrated areas are located in the south, particularly Helmand Province, which has always been hotly contested and dangerous for Coalition troops. Additionally, several northern Provinces, such as Kunduz, Baghlan, Faryab and Badakhshan have fallen to the Taliban, as well as several districts within other regions of the country.
Within Helmand Province, the Taliban control so much of the territory now that the group’s Quetta Shura council, a militant organization comprised of Afghan Taliban leaders in Pakistan, has moved elements of their command structure back across the border and into Helmand Province. Furthermore, according to a Senior Afghan official, their push has been so significant that their front line is now just 3-4 kilometers away from the main governorate building in Lashkargah, the capital of Helmand Province.
President Ghani is no longer allowing Afghan journalists into contested or Taliban controlled areas in order to shield the public from the bitter truth…
“Beyond the issues in Helmand, if government officials wish to travel North from Kabul, it is no longer safe to move with anything less than fifty armed guards and armored vehicles,” said the official. Still despite the violence, Afghanistan’s Envoy on Good Governance, Ahmad Zia Massoud, the former Vice President and brother of legendary resistance fighter Ahmad Shah Massoud, traveled to Takhar Province, another contested region, to rally the Mujahedeen against the Taliban. Thousands showed up to listen to their legendary leader’s brother and subsequently picked up arms and drove the Taliban out of two districts within Takhar Province. The move came amid growing tensions between Massoud and Ghani, who rarely speak to each other any longer, a growing sign of dissatisfaction and ethnic divides within the current government structure. “Things have gotten so bad that he [Zia massoud] no longer attends cabinet meetings any longer,” said the official.
With the country once again falling into Taliban hands, a number of questions will be raised. Among them will be whether or not a new government will be erected to right the ship, if such an effort is even possible, and whether or not the United States will surge its efforts to stop the bleeding. Still, perhaps a more likely outcome is the U.S., as so many have done before, will abandon Afghanistan, even if only in principle – not a complete troop withdrawal, and allow the country to crumble. My fear is that doing so will not only allow the Taliban to rule again and oppress the people of Afghanistan, but the country will return to its status as a terrorist wonderland where inspiring, training and developing new tranches of leadership will be all the more possible and eventually bite America once again.
Drew Berquist is the founder and a Senior Contributor for OpsLens. Drew served as a counterterrorism officer for the United States Intelligence Community, where he performed more than thirty deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan to conduct intelligence operations. Drew has commented on national security matters on Lou Dobbs, Dennis Miller and a number of other shows throughout the country. Follow Drew and his staff of contributors on Twitter at @OpsLens