Consecutive Collapse of Districts; Tactical Retreat or Defeat?

The number of Taliban attacks on metropolitan areas and districts has increased since the announcement of the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan. The group clashed with security forces in at least 15 provinces overnight. According to security sources, the Taliban have carried out offensive attacks in Laghman, Maidan Wardak, Logar, Sar-e-Pul, Balkh, Helmand, Baghlan, Takhar, Kunduz, Badakhshan, Badghis and Uruzgan provinces, resulting in heavy casualties. In the past 24 hours alone, more than 173 Taliban fighters have been killed by security forces and more than 100 others wounded, according to the report. On the other hand, Taliban attacks have been different in recent days. The group has mostly attacked districts and in some cases captured some of them. The recent collapse of the districts has drawn criticism from members of the House of Representatives. They believe that the weakness of the leadership of the security forces has led the Taliban fighters to occupy government-controlled areas. Military experts, however, believe that the Taliban have changed their tactics. According to them, the Taliban are attacking the most vulnerable and easy-to-control districts, thus waging psychological warfare. These military experts suggest to the government to remove the security forces from the vulnerable areas and change the method of warfare from defensive to offensive. Meanwhile, the security agencies, while rejecting the claim of the members of the House of Representatives, said that coordination between the security agencies is lacking and the situation is being managed properly. Officials in these institutions emphasize that they are retreating in some places to reduce civilian and military casualties and to focus on the operations. According to them, the security agencies are trying to retake the occupied territories by launching operations.

The Taliban have stepped up their attacks after the announcement of US troops withdrawal from Afghanistan. The group attacked Helmand, Ghazni, Kunduz and Baghlan provinces before Eid al-Fitr and even captured several districts in Baghlan province. The security forces, however, deflected the attacks with full readiness. Now, however, the Taliban’s attacks have changed and the group is increasingly attacking districts. In some cases, the Taliban has even been able to capture several districts. The group has reportedly taken full control of Jalriz Maidan Wardak and Dawlatshah Laghman districts over the past week. Although local sources confirm the fall of these districts, the security services reject the claim that the security forces have made a “tactical retreat”. However, the recent collapse of the districts has provoked sharp criticism from members of the House of Representatives. A number of members of parliament have accused security forces of incompetence, saying that due to a lack of coordination between them, districts fell to the Taliban.

Fazl Karim Aimaq, a member of the Internal Affairs Committee of the House of Representatives, told 8 Subh that the Taliban were currently attacking areas that were easy to capture. He added that the Taliban have more land in the districts, so they are trying to bring down the districts. In addition, the member of the House of Representatives believes that the Taliban want to gain an opportunity to attend the Istanbul Conference so that they can negotiate with the government and the international community. That is why the group has launched large-scale attacks and is attacking districts as it is unable to bring down city centers, he said. He called on the government to increase airstrikes to prevent the districts from collapsing and to prevent the Taliban from advancing.

On the other hand, Mr. Aimaq pointed to the fall of Jalriz district and the lack of assistance to the trapped forces in the district and said that the government should provide urgent assistance to the security forces who need help or are under siege. He added that if help is not sent, the morale and fighting spirit of the security forces will decline. “If true, then this action is irresponsible,” he said in response to the Interior Ministry’s response to the police chief of Jalriz district in Maidan Wardak province. “This has a 100% negative effect on the morale of the security forces. They resisted for four days, ammunition and food did not arrive and the district collapsed.” Meanwhile, Mujibullah Amini, the police chief of Jalriz district of Maidan Wardak, with a number of forces under his command was besieged by the Taliban until late Thursday night. In an audiotape released by him, he said he had been under siege by the Taliban for three days and had not received any assistance. “When we call the minister and inform him of the situation, he responds with ‘what can be done’,” he said in the audiotape, which apparently refers to the acting interior minister. “When the minister or deputy cannot solve the problems of their soldier with all the resources they have, woe to the soldier who sleeps in the trenches and sheds his blood.”

Mr. Aimaq also stated that the government does not obey the law and does not put an end to the culture of the acting ministers. He criticized the management of key ministries such as the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Interior by the acting ministers. He added that this also has an impact on insecurity and war management. According to him, acting ministers do not have much commitment and perseverance to manage the crisis. The Ministries of Defense and Interior are run by ‘care-takers’. Although the parliament has repeatedly asked the government to nominate new and qualified people for these ministries, the government has not yet complied with these demands.

The Incoordination of Security Agencies Led to the Defeat of Security Forces

Mehdi Rasekh, a member of the House of Representatives’ Defense Affairs Committee, also expressed concern about the current situation. Mr. Rasekh told 8 Subh that the Taliban had increased their attacks and that most of the checkpoints and districts were now under siege. He blamed the fall of the districts and the increase in Taliban attacks on the “incompetency” of security officials. He explained that there was “no coordination” between the security agencies. In addition, he blamed the politicization of the security forces for the collapse and defeat of the security forces. “The officials and commanders of the checkpoints and districts are appointed on the basis of bribery and connection,” he said. “They do not have the competency to manage the war.”

Mr. Rasekh also blamed the declining fighting spirit of the security forces for the defeat of these forces and the fall of the districts. He said that in places where the security forces were under siege, the security agencies did not rescue or assist them. According to him, this has caused the security forces to be killed or to surrender to the Taliban. The member of the Defense Committee added that “there is a belief among the security forces that no one hears their voices and no help is provided. They fight as long as possible and when they can no longer fight, they either leave or surrender. The soldier’s blood is not valuable to the government. The situation is such that a checkpoint and a base collapse in one place, but no one is aware. These factors have lowered the morale of the security forces.”

Rasekh stated that the Taliban’s method and tactics of fighting have changed. According to him, the Taliban now believe that the fall of metropolitan areas has become difficult and it is difficult to enter a crowded city, so they are trying to seize the districts and take full control of them. In the past week, the Taliban have taken the Dawlatshah district of Laghman and Jalriz of Maidan Wardak. Local sources in Laghman province do not accept the fall of Dawlatshah district and say that security forces have made a tactical retreat. Laghman Governor Rahmatullah Ziarmal told 8 Subh that commandos had arrived in the province and that a clean-up operation had begun. He said security forces were trying to clear all districts of the Taliban as soon as possible.

Security Forces Must Shift From Defensive to Offensive

On the other hand, a number of military experts believe that in a state of war, it is natural to advance and retreat. Baz Mohammad Yarmand, a military intelligence officer, told 8 Subh that the Taliban were now attacking areas that were easy for them. He stated retreat in war to be natural and called on the government to withdraw security forces from places where they are vulnerable. According to him, the security agencies should conduct a public survey and withdraw their forces from places where it is difficult to provide assistance. He further states that by withdrawing these forces, the defense lines will be strengthened and used against the offensive attacks of the Taliban. This military intelligence adviser is proposing that the government develop a proper strategy against Taliban insurgent attacks and shift security forces from defensive to offensive. He said immediate action should be taken to change the situation when security forces or a district is attacked. Yarmand added that the defense lines should be cohesive so that the districts do not fall and equip the armed opposition to spread propaganda.

Mr. Yarmand also noted that security agencies should create a “national mobilization” against the Taliban. This means creating a popular uprising force and training these forces to be “guerrillas” to carry out attacks against the Taliban. He also told security agencies to retaliate against the Taliban. Mr. Yarmand explained that the Taliban had mobilized forces from several provinces and then attacked a district or city. According to him, this type of attack is fragile and the security forces must adopt the same method. He said the necessary coordination should be established between the districts and neighboring provinces, and that in the event of a Taliban attack, security forces would also attack and break the Taliban resistance.

On the other hand, he criticized the lack of support for the sieged forces, saying, “Dawlatshah Laghman district has been under siege for several months and no help was delivered.”After all, war has an appetite. When there are no facilities and no support, the appetite for war is weakened.” He said that this shortcoming should be addressed and that when there is an attack on an area and the security forces need help, ground and air support should be provided to strengthen the fighting spirit of the forces.

Fallen Districts will be Recaptured

Meanwhile, security agencies say that there is currently the necessary coordination between these agencies. Ruhollah Ahmadzai, spokesperson for the Ministry of Defense, told 8 Subh that there was unprecedented coordination between the security agencies. He said security forces were in contact during each operation, which reduced the number of casualties. Also, regarding the lack of support for the security forces, he said that the security forces are trying to provide assistance through land and air. However, he added that in places where the threat is high, security agencies are looking for alternative ways to help the forces involved in the war. “Security forces have never been neglected and we are trying to solve the problem,” he said.

On the other hand, he said that the security agencies have a regular plan to launch an operation to retake fallen districts. According to him, the operation has already been launched. Mr. Ahmadzai stated that the security forces will be very careful during the operation to prevent civilian casualties. He added that the Taliban were using people’s homes as strongholds, which had slowed operations. He noted that the slowness in the operation did not mean the inability of the security forces.

It should be noted that the level of clashes has been high over the past month. According to the statistics of the “The Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED)”, by 2021, the average daily casualties of the war in Afghanistan will reach more than 80 people. So far, about 10,000 people have been killed by the warring parties and civilians in the first four months of this year. This is the highest number since ACLED recorded the statistics related to the war in Afghanistan in mid-2016.