By Bijan Razzaghi
The recent attacks in Afghanistan hit Kabul’s Downtown area and led to the deaths of 90 people and over 400 wounded. The attack took place in a heavily secured diplomatic area and involved vehicle born explosives. The attack reflects a possible attempt to bring NATO and US ground forces back into Afghanistan. At this point in time it is unclear if ISIS in Afghanistan perpetrated the attack or if it was the Haqqani Network, a terror group that operates in and around the Afghan Pakistani border. Such attacks are reminiscent of the deadly bombings that took place in Bagdad leading up to the ISIS assault into Iraq in 2014. The destabilizing factors of such attacks has the potential to tie up Afghan security forces and compromises Afghanistan’s ability to maintain a strong posture against multiple terrorist and militant threats including the Taliban and ISIS in Afghanistan. That destabilization leads to the possibility of international forces to return to the frontlines and augment Afghanistan’s security forces. This is likely what both ISIS and possibly the Taliban might be attempting to do in Afghanistan.
The return of NATO and US ground troops to Afghanistan opens up the opportunity for terrorist factions to open up another front against allied forces. The nearly 15 years of major combat operations in Afghanistan lead to the temporary seizing control of Taliban held territory and the elimination of Al Qaeda’s base of operations, yet also tied up resources and put US troops in a vulnerable position constantly facing deadly attacks from an enemy they could not see. This strategy has not proved feasible and does not constitute as a long term solution, Instead the withdraw from Afghanistan has allowed the existing US soldiers in an advisory capacity to train the Afghan military with less exposure to enemy threats while at the same time give commanders the ability to focus on using Special Operations Forces to go after high value targets. This strategy puts allied forces at less risk and maintains a lower US profile in Afghanistan, which has a positive physiological effect on the locals who are more likely to assist US forces and provide valuable human intelligence under these circumstances. This is because some locals viewed the large amounts of US regular ground forces as an occupying force.
The key to continuing this strategy while preventing further terrorist attacks lies in building up Afghan Security forces while integrating Afghanistan’s fragmented and isolated communities. Afghan Security forces have suffered from corruption and lack of modern equipment; while elite units such as the Special Forces have the latest equipment regular army units continue to use thin-skinned Humvees and improvised fighting vehicles. Lack of proper protection has lead to more Afghan casualties and has brought the moral and confidence of Afghan forces to a low. Securing areas in Afghanistan that function as terrorist safe havens are vital in preventing future attacks as past examples have shown when terrorist do not hold territory the intensity of their attacks decreases due to lack of resources and training. US training can allow Afghan forces to be effective in combat yet lack of sufficient numbers of modern equipment presents a problem in facing the ongoing threat from the Taliban, ISIS and the Haqqani Network.
It is unlikely US Forces will return to the high profile ground operations that were being conducted between 2001 and 2015, yet an increase in raids and strikes on terrorist infrastructure in Afghanistan along with providing high quality equipment to Afghan security forces can prevent future deadly attacks such as the May31st Kabul bombing. It is likely that terrorist and militant factions will continue to attempt to draw allied ground forces into Afghanistan.