ISW Senior Research Analyst Jeffrey Dressler discusses the possibility of French withdrawal from Afghanistan following the deadly shooting.
The Trump Administration is attempting to deny jihadists a safe haven in Afghanistan while pursuing a negotiated end to the war there. There is also a brewing political storm surrounding the U.S. partner government in Kabul. Is the U.S. plan for Afghanistan at risk?
The U.S. and Afghanistan have an opportunity to advance their strategic goal of negotiating an acceptable settlement with the Taliban. Large numbers of rank-and-file militants expressed their support for peace during unprecedented joint celebrations amidst a nationwide ceasefire for Eid al-Fitr on June 15 - 17.
Stalled negotiations between Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and his political rival Balkh warlord Mohammad Atta Noor may lead to a protracted conflict that would endanger the U.S. mission in Afghanistan. Atta has negotiated with Ghani for over a year in order to gain a greater share of power for himself personally and for his political party, Jamiat-e Islami. Atta has threatened imminent mass demonstrations if Ghani does not agree to electoral and constitutional reforms that would likely set favorable conditions for Atta to run for president in 2019.
ISIS Wilayat Khorasan may be developing a regional powerbase in northwestern Afghanistan. Former Taliban militants operating in the name of ISIS executed international aid workers and held others captive in a prison in Jowzjan Province in February 2017, a step change in ISIS’s operations in Afghanistan.
Taliban militants’ military successes during their 2016 campaign, Operation Omari demonstrate requirements for U.S. policy in Afghanistan. The ANSF is incapable of securing major population centers like Lashkar Gah or Kunduz cities or increasing government-controlled territory without significant U.S. support. The ANSF remains highly dependent on current levels of U.S. support to regenerate units and secure government-controlled territory. Resolute Support Commander General John Nicholson stated on September 23 that the Afghan government controls or heavily influences 68- 70% of the population, and Taliban militants control 10% of the population, leaving roughly a quarter of the country contested. The continued expansion of ungoverned spaces in Afghanistan allows global extremist networks like al Qaeda and ISIS and their allies to carve out sanctuaries from which to target the U.S. and its national security interests.
Taliban militants are successfully expanding their territorial control across several regions of Afghanistan during their 2016 summer offensive, Operation Omari. The ANSF’s counter-offensive, Operation Shafaq has repulsed individual Taliban operations, such as the August offensive to isolate Helmand’s provincial capital, but the ANSF remain unprepared and under-resourced to conduct operations in more than one region simultaneously, despite NATO and U.S. assistance.
President Obama announced on July 6 that the U.S. will maintain 8,400 troops in Afghanistan through the end of January 2017 instead of the planned drawdown to 5,500. He then stated that the only way to achieve a full drawdown of forces is to reach a peaceful political settlement between Taliban militants and the Afghan government.
The ANSF is unprepared to counter the Taliban militants’ summer campaign. Northern warlords will take advantage of Taliban militants’ gains to establish themselves as security providers and gain leverage against the fragile National Unity Government.
Security in Afghanistan has been deteriorating since U.S. force levels dropped from a high of 100,000 in 2011 to the current force size of 9,800 they reached in June 2014. Lt. Gen. John W. “Mick” Nicholson, the incoming commander of Operation Resolute Support and U.S. Forces in Afghanistan, agreed with the remark that “the security situation in Afghanistan has been deteriorating rather than improving” in a Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) hearing on January 28.