Taliban strategy and current situation in Afghanistan

Ebin-Shitmapper May 8th, 2019 (edited) 149 Never
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  1. Taliban strategy and current situation in Afghanistan
  3. The Taliban strategy in Afghanistan throughout most of the war has been one of an insurgent warfare - with the goals of wearing down NATO/Kabul Gov't strength by way of IEDs, ambushes, hit-and-run attacks, assassinations of competent/semi-competent leaders in the gov't.
  4. However, in the past decade, especially starting in 2015, the Taliban have switched to an asymmetrical war against the gov't and NATO with the goal of recapturing land and cities, and the ultimate goal of overthrowing the Kabul government and ruling Afghanistan for the first time since 2001.
  6. I will outline the Taliban strategy and how the government's current strategy will inevitably feed into the Taliban's strategy.
  8. The Taliban are their strongest in the rural regions of Afghanistan (mountains, desert, deep countryside) and in Pashtun-majority areas (Southern Afghanistan in general, most of the Pakistani border, and scattered in Northern Afghanistan) while winning over Uzbeks (Northern Afghanistan, Faryab to Takhar), Tajiks (NE Afghanistan, especially Badakhshan province), Aimak (Parts of Herat and almost all of Ghor provinces), and Turkmens (Turkmenistan border); the gov't is the strongest in the population centers of Afghanistan (Kabul, provincial capitals, populated areas in general) and in Hazara-majority areas (Central Afghanistan)
  11. Thus, the Taliban have adopted the strategy of capturing the massive rural regions of Afghanistan due to a weak government presence in those regions, and using those regions as a staging ground for attacks on more populated areas.
  12. The ultimate target of this strategy however is the provincial capitals - Farah, Ghazni, Kunduz, etc. - but capturing the countryside is key since a frontal assault on the gov't strongholds is doomed to fail due to NATO air support; the only exception is Kunduz, which was captured by a mere 500 Taliban on Sept 28, 2015 due to abysmal leadership on the gov't part.
  15. The Taliban strategy goes in five phases
  16. Phase 1 (Insurgent level) - capture the deep countryside to have a starting point (Panjshir, Bamyan provinces)
  17. Phase 2 (District level) - capture the populated countryside to gain recruits, staging areas, strategic (out)flanking positions (Nimruz, Nuristan, Daykundi, Parwan, Kapisa, Balkh, Kabul provinces)
  18. Phase 3 (Provincial level) - advance on the provincial capitals by surrounding the capital cities via capturing the countryside on multiple flanks in preparation for cutting the roads leading to them, placing them under a de-facto siege (Kandahar, Herat, Khost, Ghazni, Faryab, Kunduz, Badakhshan, Baghdis, Helmand, Jowzjan, Sar-e-Pul, Zabul, Paktikia, Paktia, Laghman, Takhar, Samangan, Logar, Ghor, Wardak, Baghlan, Nangarhar, Farah provinces)
  19. Phase 4 (Capital level) - wage a passive siege by simply cutting the roads and waiting for an opportunity like Kunduz (the provincial capital was under passive siege, keep reading for more) or a protracted active siege with insurgent attacks, assassinations, IED attacks, insider attacks (Such a strategy is high risk but potentially high reward - however, opportunities like Kunduz may arise and the Taliban will seize these chances wherever they surface.); then storm the capital cities with an overwhelming force, forcing the surrender/retreat of the gov't & NATO forces or killing them. (Uruzgan province - Tarinkot is under passive siege; such a siege has succeeded before in Kunduz -
  20. Phase 5 (National level) - use the captured provincial capitals as a base for military and civilian operations, using the fighters freed up from the battle to attack other provincial capitals in a snowballing attack. All it takes is for the Taliban to capture and hold just one provincial capital.
  22. -
  24. Furthermore, we take these figures into account:
  25. >#News During the year 2018 a total of 8010 soldiers & police surrendered to Mujahidin, surrendering 1120 unit heavy/light weaponry along with 53 APCs & pickup trucks.
  28. >
  29. >Death toll of 22,594
  30. >Injury toll of 14,063
  31. Add 22,594 to 8010, and that's 30,604 losses - not including injured - for the gov't.
  32. For reference, the gov't lost around the same amount over the course of 3 years from 2015-2018.
  34. >In a report released on Tuesday, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, or SIGAR, said the number of forces in the Afghan National Defense and Security forces (ANDSF), which includes the army, air force and police, totaled an estimated 296,400 personnel as of January. That was a drop of 10.6 percent compared to the same month in 2017.
  35. >The authorized strength of the ANDSF is 334,000 personnel.
  38. 296,400 - 30,604 (assuming the losses the Taliban claim to inflict on the ANDSF weren't already being inflicted as of date of that 296,400 figure (Jan 2018) = 265,796. Which means 10.32% losses, not including injured.
  39. Now, we add in injured: 22,594 + 14,063 + 8,010 = 44,667 losses inflicted on the ANA as it existed in Jan 2018 over the course of 2018.
  40. 296,400 - 44,667 = 251,733. Which means 15.06% losses on the ANDSF as it existed in Jan 2018 over the course of one year!
  41. 334,000 - 251,733 = 82,267 total losses assuming ANA started at full strength (334k). Which means a total of 24.63% losses, with 61.14% of those losses (15.06% figure) being inflicted over the course of one year!
  43. -
  45. The government is losing its army at a rapid rate - especially having already lost a quarter of their military - and thus are unable to effectively defend the countryside against Taliban attacks, even with NATO air support. Therefore, they have only one choice:
  47. - Stay in the countryside to maintain a defense of the rural areas and restrict Taliban freedom of movement.
  48. However, this strategy disintegrates the ANDSF faster as it entails manning hundreds of checkpoints in areas with heavy Taliban presence, and where the population is also hostile to the government. Thus, we see attacks against isolated checkpoints by an attacking larger group armed with laser-sighted weapons, and said group also attacks from multiple directions for maximum effectiveness; such attacks end with the checkpoint being overrun and everyone in it is killed, wounded and/or taken prisoner, or the survivors flee to friendly areas/desert.
  50. - Retreat to the cities and populated regions to maintain cohesion and enable a stronger defense due to units being grouped together.
  51. However, such a retreat plays right into the Taliban strategy as the countryside the gov't retreats from is part of their strategy against the provincial capitals, and gives the Taliban more freedom of movement as well as free staging areas against the provincial capitals and thus makes them more isolated and vulnerable to Taliban attacks.
  53. The choice then translates into:
  54. - Fight in the countryside thus risking encirclements and overwhelming of units that became isolated from each other as well as disintegrating the military faster with losses inflicted by Taliban attacks on undermanned checkpoints heavily scattered throughout Afghanistan (strategy of 1000 paper cuts), leaving the capitals with less soldiers to defend them.
  55. - Retreat to the capitals, keeping the military more or less intact, but in a worse strategic position as they will be grouped together, but also isolated when the Taliban inevitably surround the capitals and lay siege to them.
  57. However it appears the government has chosen the latter for the sake of cohesion and keeping the military intact.
  59. Therefore we can expect the military to gradually retreat to the highways and populated areas, setting up larger bases on the highways to keep them relatively secure as well as the populated regions. We can expect govt counterattacks to come from these ‘secure’ areas in a bid to reclaim the fringe regions despite being too undermanned to permanently hold them against withering counterattacks.
  60. However it can also be a catch 22 as the soldiers will be more grouped together but also present the potential of a much higher kill count from Taliban attacks on those bases, namely ones using VBIEDs/SVBIEDs driving into the base and detonating with several other Taliban following up by entering the base and shooting the stunned survivors in what is known as “complex attacks”.
  61. Expect the rural regions to be captured by the Taliban quicker and for disruption/permanent closure of the highways to be the main focus afterwards; as well as attacks on bases with dozens dead afterwards, delivering increasingly devastating blows to already abysmal ANDSF morale with each successful attack.
  63. -
  65. One thing is certain however: the government will lose the war, as the ANDSF is disintegrating due to major insurgent attacks like the one below
  69. Or defections/surrenders/desertions, exacerbated by abysmal or even nonexistent(!) pay ( plus lack of enlistment and abysmal morale due to successful insurgent attacks (, assassinations of competent/semi-competent leaders (like this one that almost claimed General Miller, the top NATO commander for Afghanistan though the target was General Raziq - while leaving the incompetent leaders in charge.
  71. As well as the fact that the Afghan population is becoming more militant against the government due to:
  72. election fraud (
  73. inadequate security (
  74. casualties from raids (
  75. and lastly but certainly not the least: Afghan Local Police sexually abusing young boys ( who then turn to the Taliban - who abolished such abuse under penalty of death - for revenge against their attackers. (
  77. There is also the fact that the Taliban are picking up American-supplied combat gear, equipment, and weapons due to ANDSF soldiers leaving behind such things during their flight from many Taliban attacks, which the Taliban then acquire and use in future attacks that are more successful due to the tactical edge, leading to a snowball effect.
  80. Furthermore the Taliban have established an entire system of governance throughout Afghanistan that has influence even in areas under gov't military control: appointing shadow governors for districts and provinces, high-level commissions that govern finance, health, education, justice and taxation, with clear chains of command and policies from the leadership based in Pakistan down to villages in Afghanistan.
  81. Gov't-provided goods and services such as healthcare, education, service delivery ministries, utilities, communications are coopted and controlled by the Taliban, to the point that gov't schools have their curricula regulated by the Taliban, the teachers and staff are vetted by the Taliban, and the Taliban monitor teacher attendance and observe the classes as an example of their far-reaching influence.
  82. An important note is that Taliban governance doesn’t follow capture of territory but PRECEDES it due to their massive influence behind the lines.
  84. Finally in this category, the gov't provide salaries for institutions, but said institutions are run by the Taliban.
  86. This leads to a conclusion that the Taliban do not intend to do away with the entire Kabul administration to install their own from scratch, but to eliminate only the top leadership and corrupt officials while selectively merging the body of the Kabul administration with the Taliban administration.
  88. Plus, the Taliban are establishing diplomatic relations with neighboring countries, especially the countries that have major political clout in the region, and are very well on their way to becoming an internationally-recognized group.
  90. China -
  92. Pakistan -
  94. Russia (not a neighbor but still relevant) -
  96. Iran -
  99. Uzbekistan -
  101. Finally, even America - among other countries in the region - recognizes that the government will fall, as exemplified by the US-Taliban negotiations that completely exclude the Kabul government, and the Kabul government was also excluded from the Moscow negotiations -
  102. Such exclusions result from the Taliban refusal to even be present with the govt at the negotiating table.
  104. Back in 2017, the Trump administration dropped a MOAB in Afghanistan. An interesting note is that of all the Taliban targets across the entire country to choose from, Trump chose to drop the MOAB on IS-K instead, thus not worsening the relations between US and Taliban; This leads to the theory that the MOAB indirectly announced the presence of a pre-Trump era pro-negotiation mindset of US government.
  106. -
  108. In conclusion, time is on the side of the Taliban, and against the Kabul gov't. Casualties in battles or insurgent attacks involving the Taliban will continue to mount; defections, surrenders, and desertions will rise as the ANDSF finds itself disintegrating and in a increasingly precarious strategic position while the Taliban grow in strength and political clout. More Afghanis join the Taliban for varying reasons while the gov't faces an increasing struggle to recruit, which means more fighters for the Taliban and less soldiers for the government.
  109. The provincial capitals will continue to be increasingly isolated until the Taliban finally storm and hold the provincial capitals which will start a domino effect that goes all the way to Kabul, where the Kabul leadership will either flee before Kabul falls or be arrested, brought before a Sharia court, found guilty of crimes against humanity by the Sharia court, and then sentenced according to Sharia law, thus cementing Taliban rule over Afghanistan for the first time since 2001.
  111. -
  113. Bonus sources and analyses
  114. Zabul -
  118. Districts Spreadsheet and ArcGIS maps
  123. -
  125. Map PDFs
  127. Badakhshan Map -
  129. Baghdis Map -
  131. Baghlan Map -
  133. Balkh Map -
  135. Bamyan Map -
  137. Daykundi Map -
  139. Farah Map -
  141. Faryab Map -
  143. Ghazni Map -
  145. Ghor Map -
  147. Helmand Map -
  149. Herat Map -
  151. Jowzjan Map -
  153. Kabul Map -
  155. Kandahar Map -
  157. Kapisa Map -
  159. Khost Map -
  161. Kunar Map -
  163. Kunduz Map -
  165. Laghman Map -
  167. Logar Map -
  169. Nangarhar Map -
  171. Nimroz Map -
  173. Nuristan Map -
  175. Paktia Map -
  177. Paktika Map -
  179. Panjshir Map -
  181. Parwan Map -
  183. Samangan Map -
  185. Sar-e Pul Map -
  187. Takhar Map -
  189. Uruzgan Map -
  191. Wardak Map -
  193. Zabul Map -
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