TSG IntelBrief: Afghanistan Forever on the Brink
January 11, 2017

Afghanistan Forever on the Brink

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Bottom Line Up Front: 

• The Taliban is suspected of being responsible for three bombings across Afghanistan on January 10; the bombings provided clear evidence of how insecure the country remains.

• In Kabul, 30 people were killed in a double suicide bombing outside the Afghan Parliament; 18 more were killed in bombings in Kandahar and Helmand provinces.

• U.S. Marines are being redeployed to Helmand province to serve as advisors to the still-struggling Afghan National Army.

• More than 15 years after the U.S.-led invasion, Afghanistan remains perpetually on the brink of further violence and collapse.

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Despite the ostensible end to the U.S. and NATO combat missions in 2014, fighting across Afghanistan has continued unabated. The Taliban has persistently demonstrated its strength as well as the inability of the central government to maintain control over large parts of the country. Several developments over the last week highlight Kabul’s inability to generate and maintain security while reducing corruption and increasing effective governance. 

On January 10, the Taliban—which currently controls more territory in the country than at any time since 2001—conducted three bombings in three major Afghan cities. In Kabul, two suicide bombings outside of the Parliament building killed 30 people and wounded at least 80 more. Despite the ‘ring of steel’ defenses that surround areas of the capital city—specifically government buildings and foreign compounds—the Taliban has demonstrated a clear ability to strike targets assumed to be well-defended. 

In Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province, a suicide bomber struck at a guest house, killing seven people. In neighboring Kandahar province, a bomb exploded in a guesthouse where the UAE’s ambassador to Afghanistan was attending a dinner. The ambassador sustained injuries in the attack, along with several other UAE diplomats and Kandahar’s provincial Governor, while 11 people were killed. As with the attacks in Kabul, the Taliban’s ability to infiltrate areas that were supposed to have effective security demonstrated the group’s capabilities in placing operatives in positions with key access, as well as the continued poor performance of various Afghan security forces.

On January 8, the U.S. announced that 300 Marines would be heading back to Helmand province. The announcement reflected the fact that the long-running U.S. ‘Train, Advise, Assist’ program has failed to deliver lasting results on a scale large enough to increase government control. From 2009 to 2012, U.S. Marines engaged in major combat operations to retake parts of Helmand lost to the Taliban. Those gains are now at risk of being overrun by the Taliban, which has shown no sign of weakening despite enormous resources dedicated to fighting the insurgency. Afghan police and military forces continue to pay dearly in casualties as they try to hold the line, with a determined foe on one side and an ineffective and corrupt government on the other. The sacrifices of the Afghan security forces—and the civilians they try to protect—remain one of the few constants over the last 15 years of war. The upcoming spring and summer months will likely see an increase in fighting, though the fighting never truly pauses during the winter. It remains to be seen if maintaining the current strategy of advising and assisting Afghan security forces will produce a different outcome in 2017 than in previous years.

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