Former British Army officer Col Tim Collins on how the Afghan Taliban is morphing into Islamic State, and what to do to defeat them.
As 2014 passed and 2015 dawned NATO’s mission in Afghanistan ended and Operation Resolute Support – the NATO mission to support the independent Afghan effort, began. NATO’s handover did not see an orderly handover to the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (GIRoA) of a stable tranquil nation; rather it saw a transformed and capable Afghanistan, better in every way than before 2001, handed to a new Afghan government and still at war.
And that is right and proper. The Afghans are not children whom we have to treat as orphans. It is a sovereign nation with the complexities of history bearing down on it and a huge resolve to survive. The peoples of Afghanistan look to a self-determined future in harmony with its neighbours for mutual prosperity. But first the enemy must be beaten and that means war.
I visited Afghanistan last week and had privileged access to senior officials including HM Ambassador and Lieutenant General Alizai, the head of The Department of Police Intelligence – the Afghan Special Branch and the head of Army Intelligence Major General Farahi. The message from the senior Afghans is clear; the war is not over. We have not won yet, but we can – but only with the support of our allies. General Alizai was more specific. He said that three types of help were vital – Financial support because Afghanistan’s economy is not yet ready to fund a war, economic support to make room for Afghan goods and exports so that they can pay their own way as soon as possible and moral support in the face of the huge task ahead.
Both wished to tell the people of the world that NATO did make a difference. The old threat – the multitude of groups known collectively as the Taliban was badly damaged. So much so in fact it is dying. But as it does so it is transforming and like a phoenix rising is transforming into the Islamic State (IS). Once again it is all our fight.
As the black flags of IS appear in Kunduz, Logar and Nangahar and even in Helmand the problem compounds. The Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) have not just taken over the battle – they have taken it to the enemy. The war will step up. Where NATO saw areas where it was best to give space the ANSF will fight for every inch of the country. It is no longer a counterinsurgency. It is war. Expect casualties. The enemy will have plenty too. But this is not a fight to be judged by the count of the dead – it will be judged by the belief and loyalty and security of the living. That is why there can be no ground conceded.
The dip in fortunes that the Afghans experienced post NATO ending ground operations was the same as the South Vietnamese Army experienced after the US withdrawal. They could not call for support from the waiting artillery because, up to the last moment, a foreigner was there to do it, same for air support. But as General Farahi told me in perfect English, ‘We have leaned to do it ourselves already – because unlike the Vietnamese our morale is strong.’ They don’t need all of the NATO assets and capabilities but they do need some help especially in Logistics and Intelligence and training – always more training.
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