30 Sep 2015

Kunduz: a military, strategic and political disaster

The point about the fall of Kunduz is that it fell. The Afghan forces, who as our western political leaders endlessly tell us can now bring security to Afghanistan, failed.


So today the first town to fall to insurgents after the Soviets pulled out of Afghanistan, and the last town the Taliban subsequently left when pushed out by the US, is now again in Taliban hands.

Or not quite. For sure, the motorbike  and Toyota Land Cruiser insurgent  army that sent the US packing from this country are in control of the city and moving out to the airport today, but they are not behaving like the grim-faced Mullah Omar Talibs of yesteryear.

Smiling men with Kalashnikovs are taking selfies in the city centre. They were happy to pose for photos now appearing across newspapers globally.

There are no reports, as yet,  of reprisals. Nothing about banning TV and music or banishing women from the streets. Just as IS is trying to gain a foothold on Afghanistan by the spilling of very public blood, these fighters in Kunduz are not, apparently, out for revenge.

The Taliban’s new leader Mullah Akhtar Mansoor has said “…we do not believe in revenge…” But these are very early days and how far his writ fully extends across the insurgency, which has many brands in Afghanistan,  is not clear or quantifiable yet.

Here is Dr Abdul Ahad, quoted on AP and speaking from Kunduz Hospital yesterday: “They have been behaving very well with everyone, especially doctors. They may win people’s hearts if they stay longer.”

As they will need to do. The fact is that year upon year it is insurgents like the Taliban who kill more Afghan civilians than any other group in this 14 year-long phase of war in Afghanistan.

It leaves the beleaguered government of Ashraf Ghani, down in Kabul, floundering about what is happening. He claimed yesterday the situation was under control in a move which would convince few.

In fact the insurgent forces of about 1,000 Talibs pushed the Afghan National Army (ANA) out of Kunduz to the airport and is proving effective in attacking ANA convoys; establishing choke points along key routes out of the city and pushing out to the airport where a number of government officials had fled to.

All this, precisely a year into Ghani’s agonisingly slow and hotly-disputed election to office.

And the west?

Another signpost on the long road of Afghan failure. The Taliban have retaken regional centres like Musa Qala in northwestern Helmand province where the British ill-fated war with the insurgency  ended in withdrawal.

But this is Kunduz – a major northern Afghan city. Because western ground troops have basically left the country, options are rather limited for the US.

Airstrikes? Into a densely populated city now controlled by highly-mobile militias on motorbikes?

Well the occasional strike is going on but this is now a ground-offensive theatre and nothing else will do that job. That means thousands of soldiers, soldiers whom the government can ill-afford to redeploy from other areas of the country also being pressured hard by the insurgency.

It also means the use of western ground forces for which, again, read American. Thus the US confirmed this morning that their special forces have been involved near to Kunduz airport in both and advisory and combat roles today.

Proof – were any more needed – that the ANA cannot manage alone despite the billions of dollars the west throws at it. Proof that western ground forces remain a strategic necessity despite the White House’s political necessity to pull them out.

It is a military, strategic and political disaster for the Afghan government and its military backers in Washington, London, Paris and beyond.

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