Leaving Territories to the Taliban is Suspicious

Heavy and decisive battles for peace and war in Afghanistan are in full swing these days. The issue of concern among all this is the withdrawal of government forces from areas, military camps, and districts. There is no doubt that the army and the forces that are at the forefront are showing unforgivable courage. The subsequent fall of the districts may be a long-term military ploy or tactic, but the consequences are severe for the government. At least one local official in Badghis province has claimed that some military bases and pro-government forces were evacuated in a “treacherous conspiracy”. Army forces successfully defended government-controlled territory during May, when Taliban attacks on government positions escalated. However, the collapse of districts and the security force’s bases reinforces it being “suspicius”, according to some officials.

Some of the government forces’ retreats may have been tactical, aimed at preventing civilian, army and police casualties, but Badghis Governor Hussam Shams has claimed that “treacherous conspiracies” were also involved in handing over territory to the Taliban. In some areas, government forces have even been reported to have withdrawn from district centers without heavy fighting. It has also happened in places where government forces have been forced to retreat after a long siege, which denies the withdrawal to be tactical. In some areas, it has happened that groups have appeared in the role of “tribe elders” to facilitate the surrender of major military bases to the Taliban, and thus the major centers have been handed over to the Taliban without any problems. Considering that withdrawing from some military bases and districts may be a military trick, but given the Taliban’s long-term “conquering” method at the start of the third round of talks, more attention needs to be paid. In addition, the psychological warfare waged by the Taliban with the narrative of “conquering” and the cold-bloodedness in the think tanks of Afghanistan’s war-torn institutions could seriously damage the morale of the soldiers on the front lines of the war. Some videotapes have also become popular in recent months, with the local Taliban commander calling the local army and government officials at the camps and demanding their surrender. In these tapes, the response of the security forces is decisive for the Taliban.

The practice of “tactical retreat” will not be useful in the long run while the international forces are completing the withdrawal process, especially when it is not properly managed or at least the logic behind the retreat is not clearly explained to the people and the front line forces. While handing over military bases may be a “tactic”, it has happened in many cases that battlefield forces, after long periods of being under seige have been forced to hand over areas and positions, which shows the weak management at the core of Afghanistan’s war leadership.

Given these cases, the “suspicion” of leaving some territories behind needs to be taken seriously. The war is raging more in the north and northeast of the country these days. One reason for this could be the suppression of the Taliban in the east and south but another reason may be that security threats in the north of the country are not taken seriously. The Taliban’s attack on the evening of May 24th to seize the city of Mehtarlam Laghman was pursued seriously by the Ministry of National Defense, and Chief of Staff Mohammad Yasin Zia came to the battlefield to manage the war. The Taliban, who had previously captured Dawlatshah district of Laghman, suffered heavy losses in Mehtarlam and Alishing and Alingar districts. But the attitude of government officials towards the situation in Sar-e-Pul province, which has been under heavy siege for some time, is an indication of a double standard. The capture of Dawlatshah district in the way it was reported is also suspicious. Some have seriously claimed that a number of “tribe elders and mediators” have prepared the ground for the fall of the district. In the same way, Doaab district of Nuristan province was handed over to the Taliban through the mediation of “tribe elders” after some clashes.

Government forces have retreated from nearly 20 districts in the past two months, but the Taliban claim to have taken control of the districts by launching offensive attacks. While the government has not yet made clear to the people the need and rationale for evacuating districts, the expansion of Taliban territory, which means limiting the government’s geography, has strengthened the Taliban’s “narrative of conquest.” This issue has become a serious concern of the people.

The Afghan government, as it ought to provide the people with mental and physical peace, needs to prove to the world during the withdrawal of international forces and beyond that, as a government in power, it is reliable and that it can defend itself against subversive groups such as the Taliban. It is a firm belief that peace in Afghanistan goes beyond the battlefields, and the party that has the upper hand on the battlefield will have the power to persuade the other side and impose its demands at the negotiating table. In this regard, the government and security agencies must prevent the collpase of districts and, in parallel with managing battlefields and strengthening their defensive positions, also shield themselves against the Taliban’s widespread psychological warfare and their propaganda.