Naser Koshan



Can the increasing Taliban resurgence be harnessed with a failing defensive approach?

Afghanistan is challenged with an increasing number of terror plots, putting the country’s already fragile security at limbo. The primary question that arises is, if pursuing a defensive strategy could scale down the number of hostile incidents happening around the country?  Realistically speaking, it is about time to adopt an all-round robust defensive - offense strategy when it comes to identifying, targeting and eventually neutralizing enemy’s hostile acts at its core.

A clear indication of the failing defensive strategy is losing ground and the rising number of personnel loss on the battlefield. This militaristic approach resembles a boxing match, in a boxing match you can only block a certain number of punches thrown at you, before one knocks you down, the same is true when you adopt a defensive strategy, in spite of neutralizing a great number of potential threats, it needs only one spoiler to infiltrate and not only inflict a humongous number of human causalities, but also change the public perception against you.

In today’s unparallel and extremely fragile governments, internal security stands as the blueprint for any country’s mere existence. The fourth generation of warfare no longer depends on sophisticated weaponry and outnumbered armed forces, rather curbing the existential threats posed by homegrown terrorists and dissent society guarantees any state’s stability. Regretfully, Afghanistan lacks a viable institution capable of training career intelligence officers who can then be commissioned for internal and external secret missions. An intelligence bureau that could actively infiltrate enemy’s hotbeds and neutralize their destructive plans at its origin.

Currently, the insurgents fighting the Afghan security forces are forming new alliances for a mutually shared goal. Taliban as the veteran insurgent group, for instance, has already offered services to Iran and Russia. The killing of Mullah Mansour, the reclusive leader of the group en route to Baluchistan apparently returning from Moscow is an obvious testament to this fact.  Frankly speaking, the insurgents are no longer a bunch of disoriented foot soldiers and fanatics, they are accompanied with highly skilled foreign military strategists who assist them analyze, orchestrate and eventually execute terror plots with utter precision and the greatest psychological impact possible. They have gradually grown into a formidable force exploiting the Afghan defensive strategy at its fullest. In fact, they are successfully running a clandestine circle of informants and sleeper cells in the Afghan security apparatus.  An unprecedented array of recent coordinated attacks on army garrisons and military targets are adherent to this fact.

On the other hand, the friction among the Afghan political elite in questioning the very essence of the ongoing war against terror is giving some sort of legitimacy to their cause.  Former president Hamid Karzai and the newly repatriated HIA leader Hekmatyar have both referred to Taliban as brothers, regardless of continuous inhuman atrocities committed by the group on daily basis. At this crucial time there needs to be conformity among the political elite when it comes to who the enemy is, and how to tackle their advances. Afghanistan has a reasonable number of mobilized troops, field intelligence officers and a cache of civilian defense analysts who can be utilized to break the backbone of insurgency, contingent to a dynamic leadership in charge and a proper replication system in place.

We did witness that terrorism only survives when they have safe sanctuaries at their disposal. Terrorist organizations are constantly on the lookout for new safe havens, where they can reintegrate and launch gruesome attacks on their opponents. In Afghanistan, the resurgence only gained momentum when the Taliban and Al Qaeda residuals were welcomed in Pakistan. Pakistan considering its delusional strategic depth policy on Afghanistan adhered to what it knew best, reincarnating the infamous so called Jihad slogan among the remnants fleeing the U.S. led aerial campaign in 2001. It is apparent that Taliban’s inclination to that of a political settlement has been zero to non-existent, any government pleads for negotiations have been met with excruciating terror attacks, and utter rejection. They have gone from lone wolf occasional attacks to highly sophisticated and coherent attacks on urban cities and public institutions.


The Sri Lankan government had a similar problem with the LTTE famously known as Tamil Tigers; the insurgent group was responsible for many guerilla attacks on the Sri Lankan army and civilians ranging from car bombs to booty traps and frequent suicide missions and high profile assassination attempts. It was in 2009 that the Mahinda Rajapaksa government indulged in an offensive strategy confronting the militants in their very sanctuaries and wiping the leadership for good. In retrospect to that, Afghanistan can emulate the same strategy to appease insurgency, and dry up their principle nurturing strongholds at least within its borders.

No doubt, the rules of the game has changed, the enemy no longer needs to fight on the frontline; they easily infiltrate through the security ranks, making them capable of striking any desired target within seconds. While the Afghan army in spite of having minimal military equipment at their disposal is fighting with over 20 insurgent groups on its own, unfortunately, the first line of defense, the intelligence bureau, lacks the incentive and a strategic vision to keep tabs on every individual within and outside the government, so they can bring about a tangible decrease in fatality rates which is on a record high for the army enlisters.

The infliction of physical casualties on Afghan armed forces is both alarming and a stark reminder of an urgent shift in operational guidelines within the service. A steeping fatality slope will have a direct impact on dissertation and unwillingness to enlist in the service after all. Security analysts believe that in the absence of coherent fundamental reforms within the armed forces, there will be an even higher rate of leaving service without the intelligence support and physical presence of allied forces, mainly the United States.

Unfortunately it is the emerging threat of ISIS-K that poses an equally menacing threat to the country’s stability. They have already claimed sophisticated attacks pinpointing Afghan troops and civilians with accurate precision. The very recent attack on a military hospital, later claimed by the group, clearly demonstrates the capabilities they entail and the insider intelligence at their disposal.

Alarmingly, key intelligence officials within the Trump administration are already hinting of a deadlier 2018 Afghanistan. During a recent Senate hearing on Afghanistan, Dan Coats, the director of U.S. national intelligence spoke of deteriorating political and military prospects in the country. He expressed his skepticism on the Afghan army defeating the Taliban considering their logistical and leadership shortcomings.  On the other hand, President Trump is due to announce his administration’s strategy on Afghanistan before the NATO’s leaders meeting in May 25th.  Apparently defeating Taliban and ISIS-K, granting authorization to resident American generals in targeting Taliban leadership, and decision on sending a significant number of fresh troops to the country will comprise the key components of the given strategy.

Last but not least, having pursued the failing defensive strategy for the last 15 years, it is about time to adopt a defensive - offense strategy with the intelligence taking the lead. A defensive offense approach will allow the indigenous forces to defend their posts, while the intelligence is taking the fight back to the nemesis’s doorsteps.


 Author: Naser Koshan

Freelancer Washington, U.S.

May 2017

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