Conflict Alerts

Conflict Alerts # 421, 11 August 2021

Afghanistan: Eight provincial capitals fall as the Taliban's offensive continues
Abigail Miriam Fernandez

In the news
On 10 August, the Taliban captured Pul-e-Khumri, the provincial capital of Baghlan province, 200 kilometres north of Kabul. This is the eighth provincial capital to fall during the last two weeks. On the same day, Farah city, the provincial capital of Farah in southwest Afghanistan, was also captured. The Taliban has claimed they were closing in on Mazar-i-Sharif, the region's biggest city in the north and a key area for the government's control. Since 6 August, the Taliban have overrun several provinces including, Aybak, the capital of the northern province of Samangan, Kunduz city, a strategic location close to the border with Tajikistan, Taloqan, the provincial capital of northeast Takhar, Sheberghan, the capital of northern Jawzjan province and Zaranj, on the border with Iran in Afghanistan's southern Nimroz province.

On 6 August, the UN Security Council meeting on Afghanistan was held during which the members strongly condemned the increase in violence in Afghanistan, asserting that the "Taliban must hear from the international community that we will not accept a military takeover of Afghanistan or a return of the Taliban's Islamic Emirate." This meeting comes days before the extended Troika meeting was held in Qatar on 11 August.
 
Issues at large
First, the Taliban's calculated offensive. Since May 2021, the Taliban has launched a large-scale offensive across the country and have seized control of much of rural Afghanistan since international forces began the last stage of their withdrawal. Over the recent weeks, the Taliban's offensive has focused on targeting Afghanistan's provincial capitals, urban city centres and border crossings. Additionally, the fighting has taken place in regions that are not traditionally Taliban's strongholds.

Second, the Afghan government's response. In efforts to counter the Taliban's offensive, the Afghan forces have lead operations and counterattacks against the Taliban in several provinces. The Afghan government has the advantage of a functional air force as well as its special forces, even though are stretched quite thin have been able to counter the Taliban's offensive. Amid the Taliban's offensive, the Afghan refused to acknowledge the falling capitals and has continued to emphasize on the Taliban deaths and the strength of the Afghan security forces.

Third, the muted international concerns. Although several countries have raised concerns over the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, there has been no action from these countries. Similarly, in its previous meeting, the "extended Troika" which included Russia, the US, China and Pakistan, made it clear it would not support the restoration of an 'Islamic emirate' or the old conservative order. However, the Taliban's relentless military offensive over the last few months has increased concerns about the Taliban ignoring the warning and the effectiveness of such regional groupings.
 
In perspective
First, the Taliban offensive has taken a new and bloodier turn. The Taliban's firm focus is now on Afghanistan's cities. The successful takeover marks a significant milestone in the groups relentless March to increase their control on the Afghan government and retake power in the country. Additionally, the Taliban's strategy of taking over the border regions shows that they plan on sealing the country, thus fighting from the outside in.

Second, the Afghan government's strategy. The Taliban's offensive has left the Afghan government in disarray. However, the government seems to be following strategically retreating in certain areas to help consolidate power in other key regions of the country Third, the questions of multinational efforts. The convergency of regional countries because of their common security concerns over Afghanistan's deteriorating situation makes the meeting such as the extended Troika extremely important. Platforms such as these could help in mitigating the problems in Afghanistan if the member countries bring the warring sides to the negotiating table.

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